|This, obviously, is an extremely
after the fact review of a game that came out last fall. However, I have two (albeit
shaky) justifications for publishing this so late: no one at GF! had for one reason or
another (I suspect it was mostly the fear of incurring the RPG time-debt that fans of the
genre relish"What time is it?" "I dont know
what day is
it?" "I dont know, what time zone am I in?" etc), and because I never
had a chance to play it during last seasons rush of super-titles. Well, I can assure
me that I really missed out. Grandia is a fabulous title, on a par with FFVIII in terms of
gameplay, graphics, and sheer enjoyment. If you happened to miss this low-profile (under
the circumstances) masterpiece like I did, then continue on, gentle reader
Grandia was originally a Saturn title, which explains why I havent ever seen it before, and why I cant tell you how the series has faired under conversion. I can tell you one thing though, this game is so incredibly long it defies comprehension. Under normal circumstances, I would have considered that one of the games strong suits, but having to play this on a dead line, it did start to get to me sometime after the sixtieth hour and a solid week of repetitive motion fever dreams.
Played under normal circumstances, however, this game is undoubtedly an absolute pleasure, as effete as that sounds. If FFVIII satisfied your gritty space-opera need for "realism" then Grandia should fill the gap left over for cartoony, super-cute "fakism." The environments look a great deal like those in Xenogears (although that may be due to the similar 3-D rotating camera), but the characters look considerably better. The sound well, well get to that in a special section titled "the most irritating voice acting ever" which will objectively evaluate that part of the game.
You are Justin, of totally indiscernible age. I bring this up because for me it was a major source of psychological trauma. From the ever popular "characterizing-expository-playable-intro-mini-level" Justin appears to be ten or so, and his cousin (Sue) about half that. When he first meets his inevitable love interest (Feena), he seemingly admits that she is much older. However, as the game progresses and the "panty" jokes, as well as the unbearably long "lovey" cut-scenes escalate, it becomes increasingly apparent that the sexual undertones are not to be mistaken for something related but subtler. By the end of the game, Justin seems to be older than Feena, although his character graphics have aged not a bit. All of this is just so disconcerting, the only way I can rationalize it is to remember that Japan is after all the country that gave us the "short-shorts monster-boys" in the Gamera series. Not that that is much of a consolation. There are also bizarre moments of near incest.
The three characters mentioned above form the nucleus of your little band of "Adventurers" (Im not just throwing that title outit is harped on to a mantra-like degree in this game), but other playable characters enter and leave for various segments of game play.
Gameplay, since Im on the subject, is one of the most captivating features of this game. Each character has two or three specific weapons they can use, each of which "levels up" every hundred "weapon points" and adds to a specific character attribute when it does so (e.g. Sword=plus 1 to Strength). Weapon levels and magic levels also combine to give you character specific "Special Moves," which take "SP" points rather than the "MP" points that, of course, are used for plain old magic. Magic is acquired through "Mana Eggs," which may be traded for magic in the four time honored categories: Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire. Eventually all your regular characters will have all four types, which can be combined for additional effects (e.g. Fire+Wind=Lightning), but this doesnt happen until midway through the game, which means that in the early going you have to apportion your magic strategically. Your magic gains levels through use, as per FFVII, so you are often forced into those long, tedious, skill building fights.
There is however, a way out of the rut that this generally implies: you have a Tactics menu with which you can set your players to automatically build certain skills in battle (weapon, healing, etc). This thing is a life-saver, especially if you need to build weapon points, which you always, always do
Did I mention the plot? Well, as is to be expected in this sort of game, it is a chaotic admixture of weird religious/technological/political agendas that leaves you frequently stupefied, occasionally bemused, and more often than not trying to remember what happened five hours ago. Basically, Justins father left him a "Spirit Stone," the ancient symbol of the bond between the spirits and the humans. The stone, of course, belonged to an ancient civilization that has enormous tactical importance to the military, and equally enormous "Adventure" appeal to Justin (Im telling you, you will come to hate that word). So, in between looking for the ancient civilization of "Angelou," and running from the "Gargyle Military" the game consists of a series of semi-related episodic mini-adventures. Ill just let you watch the uh, plot unfold for yourself.
If this review has an overall unpleasant bent to it, its only because the time it took me to play it destroyed two relationships, permanently alienated my cat, and landed me in the hospital with an advanced case of dehydration. Twice. Other than that though, it is a great game. RPG fans should love it.
THE MOST IRRITATING VOICE ACTING EVER!
Okay, there are probably worse jobs than this, but because this goes on for so long it really, really starts to get to you. Especially since the cut-scenes that involve voice acting (and not all of them do, by the grace of God and the lack of memory space) are so @%#$ing long. Although Justin does kind of sound like Fry from Futurama at times, he more often sounds like Jay North from Dennis the Menace. Everyone else? Just hideous. Hideous. Its all I can say. Why cant they find people with Japanese accents, or subtitle the damn thing? Why does every voice actor sound like some vaguely recognizably out of work 80s TV star? Its not like this complaint is new; why dont they listen?
Oh, and the translation is pretty fast and loose too. My favorite hateable example is the dialogue cue for Sues TREMOR spell, which goes as follows: "Earthquakes are scary!" (Trust me, it sounds ridiculous in context.)