Grandia
Grandia.jpg

Once upon a time, the fifth generation of videogame consoles reigned supreme, the chief competitors being the Sony PlayStation and the Sega Saturn, the Nintendo 64 joining them a few years later. At the helm of Sony then was Bernard “Bernie” Stolar, who instituted draconian practices such as denying American gamers 2-D games and RPGs, which he felt were too nerdy, were detrimental to the PlayStation’s image, and didn’t properly demonstrate its processing power. Mercifully, his reign over Sony saw its end, after which he moved to Sega, implementing many of the same policies he had while President of Sony, for instance denying American gamers the Saturn version of Game Arts’ Grandia, which would see a port to the Sony PlayStation that did see foreign release.

The franchise’s first entry features visible enemy parties in dungeons, and contacting them naturally commences combat. If the enemies haven’t turned red on the field, the player can get a preemptive strike against their foes, although if the enemy contacts one of Justin’s visible allies, the enemy will get the first strike instead, and regardless of levels, unfortunately, enemies will always charge the player’s party when they draw near, a step down from the superior encounter systems of other role-playing games such as EarthBound.

Regardless, combat is actually fairly enjoyable, with the player’s party of up to four characters and the enemy sharing a gauge showing turn order, with both sides moving across it at different speeds, and reaching their turns near the right end. If one of the player’s characters has their turn, the player has a variety of options available, such as two different kinds of standard attacks, the first being a two-hit combo that briefly halts an enemy’s progress across the turn order gauge, and the second being a critical strike that can cancel an enemy’s command if they’re on the short action portion of the gauge, or push their turn order back if they’re still on the gauge’s longer wait portion.

Another notable command is each character’s ability to use Moves and Magic, both sharing an inventory, with Moves using Skill Points that characters can slowly replenish when attacking enemies, and Magic consuming three different levels of MP depending upon a spell’s level. Each character, furthermore, has different proficiencies with different kinds of weapons that gradually increase when they use those particular weapons, with weapon skill level-ups also slightly boosting some of that character’s stats, something of a godsend since normal experience levels increase very slowly.

Allowing characters to perform magic are Mana Eggs, a limited quantity found throughout the game’s dungeons and occasional open fields, with each allowing a character access to one of the four main elements, fire, water, wind, and earth, each with their own levels increasable in, and in the case of water-based healing magic, out, of battle. Increasing magic levels also provides supplemental stat gains to characters, with new magic, and occasionally new special moves, unlocked through increased spell levels. Since a certain character on which players can use Mana Eggs will eventually leave the player’s party permanently, it’s possible that some newcomer players, unless they use a guide, may waste Eggs on that particular character.

Even so, Grandia is most certainly beatable even if the player hasn’t acquired every element for their final party, although the difficulty does somewhat depend upon what skills and magic each character has at their disposal, with moves affecting all enemies, for instance, being the difference between victory and defeat against bosses that have multiple appendages and therefore multiple turns. The pace of battle is generally fluid aside from the action of combat halting during the execution of moves and spells, and in the end, combat is pretty much the biggest draw to the first game in the series.

Control is a mixed bag, although Grandia contains a general linear structure that keeps the player moving in the right direction, alongside a compass with a spinning arrow that can either point gamers forward through a dungeon or field or back to its entrance; however, the compass doesn’t indicate whether it’s pointing forward or backward. Another issue is the general abominable nature of dungeon and field design, worsened by the lack of in-game maps, and odds are most players will want to simply make their way through the game as quickly as possible without exploring for every item. Speaking of which, the game limits inventory space, although players can luckily stash excess items away at special points. In the end, interaction is slightly above average, with plenty flaws.

The story is abominable, with an unlikeable cast although there are occasional twists concerning a few characters, and the backstory of the ancient Angelou civilization, while somewhat derivative of other RPGs that contain similar background, is half-decent, and the ending is reasonably conclusive. The translation, though, contains plenty of errors that even elementary school students could detect, the battle dialogue bearing the blunt end of the poor localization.

Noriyuki Iwadare’s soundtrack is actually fairly enjoyable, with a few central themes and a few remixes, although some tracks are weird and a little ambient. Worse, though, is the English voice acting, horrendous enough to earn the game a page on Audio Atrocities, and making already unlikeable characters even less likeable, with some irritants such as Justin’s pubescent-sounding voice, and plenty of horribly unnatural battle dialogue.

The visuals, however, are more of a mixed bag, combining two-dimensional character and enemy sprites with three-dimensional scenery that’s generally colorful in spite of some frequent bland texturing. The aforementioned sprites, however, constantly appear pixilated, and the environments in battle are for some reason fairly blurry. There are some occasional FMVs, however, that look nice, sometimes combining traditional 2-D and 3-D elements. Ultimately, the graphics are at best middling.

Finally, completing the game can take somewhere from thirty to forty-five hours, with little in the way of sidequests and little replayability. In conclusion, Grandia is an odd duck, with many positive elements such as the battle system and soundtrack, albeit many negative elements countering the positives such as the weak story and translation, not to mention the lackluster English voicework. Even so, the transition from the Saturn to the PlayStation was generally fluid, what with the general lack of technical issues (with this reviewer having completed the game on a backwards-compatible PlayStation 3) and, of course, the retention of the franchise’s enjoyable battles.

The Good:
+Solid battle system.
+Decent direction on how to advance.
+Great soundtrack.

The Bad:
-Limited inventory.
-No in-game maps.
-Weak story and localization.
-Subpar voice acting.
-Graphics often unpolished.
-Little to no replay value.

The Bottom Line:
Has an equal amount of good and bad points.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 4/10
Music/Sound: 7/10
Graphics: 5/10
Localization: 3/10
Lasting Appeal: 2/10
Difficulty: Depends on Skills and Levels
Playing Time: 30-45 Hours

Overall: 5/10

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