Growlanser III: The Dual Darkness - Review  

Less Than or Equal to the Sum of its Parts
by Simon Seamann

25-40 hours


Rating definitions 

   As the second half of the Growlanser Generations set, Growlanser 3 has the curious distinction of being both a prequel of Growlanser 2 and an almost complete revision of its core style of gameplay. Instead of inventive, free-roaming tactical battles like its predecessors, Growlanser 3 features streamlined and simplistic action more akin to mainstream RPGs. Furthering the shift, it also sports a longer playing time and a much stronger focus on plot and character development. While a greater focus on the things that make most RPGs more enjoyable is welcome, Growlanser 3 supplants these gains with some of the worst aspects of mainstream RPGs.

   For fans of the original, the most immediate change will be recognized in the battle system. The basic interface and the way orders are given and executed remain the same, but the battles themselves are smaller and typically end in half the amount of time with little or no strategy necessary. By reducing the total number of playable characters per battle down to four, fighting loses any sort of epic feel or meaningful tactical value. Characters level up more frequently and stats commonly achieve their maximum values. While forcing multiple mages to cooperatively cast magic in order to take advantage of area of effect spells was novel, it is largely a useless endeavor as magic points are a scarce resource with the increase in the number of battles. One change of dubious merit is the ability to use items in the midst of combat. This ability completely destroys all difficulty in the game as healing and even resurrection items are cheap, readily accessible by all characters, and far superior to their magic counterparts in terms of speed.

   Instead of the world map consisting of a set number of locations like most tactical RPGs, Growlanser 3 features the free-roaming world map along with towns and dungeons. While this grants a certain amount of freedom to explore, it also opens the door to a large number of rather annoying random battles. Making matters worse, dungeons are randomly determined. Random dungeons were used to good effect in games such as Diablo 2, as great care was taken to keep rooms from becoming too familiar. But in this game, dungeons consist of identical square rooms connected by between 1 and 4 pathways. Each room may contain a small set of enemies, which are typically dispatched in less than a minute by the Auto-Battle function at the player’s command. A wasted minute remains wasted regardless of whether the Auto-Battle feature is utilized though, making exploring these dungeons in search of the exit rather tedious.

And therefore are usually boring. Most battles take place on a smaller scale.

   Outside of combat, veterans of the series will be relieved to see that most everything else has been preserved. The rather brilliant Ring system remains intact, with the only changes being the increase in the number of unique Gems. And yet, a curious dichotomy prevails throughout Growlanser 3 for those that played through Growlanser 2. Everything is just about the same. The player faces the same sort of enemies with the exact same sprites at just about the same approximate time. All of the spell effects have been recycled, along with pretty much the entire soundtrack of the first game. There is the distinct feeling that all Atlus did was simply erase the script from the previous game and write another in the empty template. Whether such an action is excusable, especially in the sort of two-game set Growlanser Generations is, remains a player's decision.

   For what it is worth, it is clear that this iteration of the series has focused a lot more attention on the development of the overall plot and characters to good effect. The player controls Slayn, a painfully cliché amnesiac bent on saving the world from certain destruction. In this regard, the player is given quite a lot of freedom in choosing various dialogue options that shape the possible responses made by Slayn later on in the story. While it has no real impact on the overall outcome of the game, being able to play the noble knight or selfish antihero is still a nice gesture. Luckily enough, the gains in character development and a deeper plot are more concrete. Hit-or-miss voice-acting still makes truly emotional scenes somewhat hollow, but on the whole characters and party interaction remains enjoyable.

Unfortunately, as most of the characters are pretty interesting. The storyline boost isn't quite enough to save the game.

   What was less enjoyable was the aforementioned recycling of pretty much the entirety of the previous game’s visuals and music. Textures both on and off the battlefield have improved, but it does little to alleviate any aggravation stemming from the cut-and-paste job. Indeed, in the few cases where new music has been composed, it generally sounds worse than before. Considering that the game is nearly twice as long as the previous title, the player is thus subjected to repetitive, bland dungeon tunes and absolutely terrible battle music for longer periods of time. While a case might be made in defense of the lack of advancement in the audio and visual realms, Growlanser 3 is without the excuse of an earlier release which its predecessors enjoy.

   That said, any final analysis about Growlanser 3 has to take into account the circumstances surrounding its release. As the final part of the Growlanser Generation set, the game itself does a good job as a prequel to the other games, in explaining the backstory and what would later happen to the world left behind. If Growlanser 3 were released as a stand-alone title however, it would fail in almost every regard held in esteem by RPGamers aside from an enjoyable story. In essence, Growlanser 2 alone makes the set worth the purchase price, with the inclusion of Growlanser 3 being a somewhat questionable bonus.

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