Grandia II - Retroview  

A Great Game Possessed by the Lag of Valmar
by Cortney Stone

Very Easy
30-40 hours


Rating definitions 

   Grandia II first arrived on the ill-fated Dreamcast in 2000. Two years later, it was ported to the PlayStation 2 and the PC, thus giving it a larger audience and a second shot at wider recognition. This review refers to the PS2 version of the game.

   In Grandia II, great scars from the final battle between good and evil remain on the landscape. The souls of humans are likewise scarred as well; they live in an age of peace and prosperity, but dark secrets remain buried within hearts and ruins alike. Ryudo, a swaggering, sardonic adventurer, takes a job as the escort of Elena, a church songstress with a dark secret. Their journey evolves into much more than a job; they travel across the world and come face-to-face with the darkness and light within the heart of humanity. Each character in Grandia II receives a considerable amount of development, and the plot is, for the most part, executed beautifully. There are, however, a handful of baffling moments and a few points that beg for elaboration.

   Like the Star Ocean series, the true quality of the Grandia titles is in their battle system, which returns in this sequel. It is simple, yet delightfully sophisticated. A bar stretches across the bottom right corner of the screen, and icons representing the characters and the enemies slide across from left to right. The bar is divided into two sections: a long waiting period, followed by an arrow indicating a point at which commands may be entered, and a much shorter waiting period, followed by another arrow at the end of the bar indicating when the entered commands will be executed. This shorter waiting period is often critical in battles. If characters or enemies are interrupted by certain attacks during this short waiting period, these attacks are cancelled and the icon of the assaulted character or enemy is knocked back down the bar, thus delaying their action by a considerable amount of time. While this means being foiled by quicker enemies hell-bent on stopping the player's attacks, it also means that the player can retaliate with the same measures. Characters can execute consecutive canceling moves to repeatedly knock a boss's icon back down the bar, and thus prevent the boss from making any moves at all during the ruthless beatdown. Should such a tactic not be feasible, an array of elemental magic attacks, stat enhancements, and degenerative spells are available for use -- although healing and attacking spells will generally be the most useful.

A moving cutscene. A moving cutscene.

   Grandia I had characters suddenly learn new magic and improve existing spells through battling, but Grandia II changes that routine. Enemies drop special coins that are used to purchase abilities and spells through the main menu. Coins may be allocated to buy every ability, or to strengthen a handful of useful abilities. For example, a player may choose to upgrade a potent fire spell instead of purchasing a mostly useless poison spell. Coins may also be used to purchase and upgrade equippable bonuses that raise attributes such as HP, vitality, or elemental magic potency.

   Grandia II does very little to improve over its predecessors. The excellent and enjoyable battle system is lifted from the first Grandia. Spell names, such as Diggin', WOW!, and Heal are lifted from Grandia. Delightfully, the meal conversation sequences have returned in Grandia II, and these help develop the characters and fill out the plot. All this is great for establishing the cohesion of the series, but it does not make the game innovative. The story weaves classic and cliched RPG threads -- the outcast hero, sibling rivalry, the love triangle, the triumph of humanity's faith in itself, and the shifty clergy -- into a mesh of well-developed characters and a largely captivating story.

   In the sound department, Grandia II is hit-or-miss. Noriyuki Iwadare's soundtrack is on target throughout the game. The tunes suit the colorful environments, and a few songs -- such as Elena's hymn -- are superb compositions. Voice acting clips are largely well done; characters speak with a variety of emotions - despair, sadness, joy, and anger -- in ways that are completely credible. Sound effects, despite suiting their purposes and sometimes sounding authentic, suffer from serious execution problems. Frequently, during battles, voice clips and battle sound effects are played at the same time, creating a perplexing cacophony as a character's voice is drowned out by a loud noise.

By the power of Greyskull! By the power of Greyskull!

   Because Grandia II was originally on the Dreamcast, the graphics are not up to PS2 standards. However, environments are very colorful and pleasing to the eye. Battle animations are accompanied by brief FMV clips, rather than mere flashy effects. Unfortunately, the FMV used to illustrate the story outside of battle is somewhat grainy. Because the port brags about "all new, never before seen cinematics" on its back cover, more attention should have been devoted to making these look their best on the PlayStation 2.

   One of the major problems with Grandia II is not with the game itself, but in the PS2 port. Polygon surfaces and environmental planes sometimes disappear or flicker like fluorescent lights, and small objects such as the coins dropped by enemies appear to be black instead of gold or silver. In certain areas, the post-battle menu will become strangely transparent and pale blue. Worst of all, the game lags horribly in larger areas. Some towns and dungeons are excruciating to traverse; not only is it frustrating to drag oneself through the area, it is also hard on the eyes.

   Lag aside, Grandia II is a very easy game. All of the dungeons are easy to explore, and only one offers a small challenge to complete. Enemies are barely any trouble; only a few dish out annoying spells and status effects, and bosses are only time-consuming, not ferocious. The game takes about 30-40 hours to complete, and it is completely linear with no sidequests to be found except for an optional area.

   With a fun battle system and an above average story, Grandia II is a game that should not be missed. However, it may be worthwhile to drag out an old Dreamcast for the original instead of trying to play the PS2 port, unless one can tolerate large amounts of lag while trying to explore.

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