Grandia II

During the fifth console generation, Game Arts developed Grandia for both the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation, with the latter port, however, having some issues, and the former not seeing the light of day outside Japan. The following generation, Game Arts developed the game’s first sequel, Grandia II, releasing it on both the ill-fated Sega Dreamcast and the Sony PlayStation 2. The port to the latter system has some issues, but is nonetheless a decent experience.

As in the original, Grandia II sports visible encounters in dungeons and on fields, with foes charging the player’s party regardless of levels and abilities. Either the player or the enemy can get the initiative depending upon how they contact one another. Ryudo approaching an enemy from behind typically yields a surprise encounter for his party, while the enemy contacting one of his visible allies typically results in the enemies getting the initiative.

Like in the first game, all the player’s four active characters and the enemy share a turn order meter on which they move leftward until their turn comes, with a variety of commands such as attacking with two normal attacks, attacking with a critical strike that can cancel an enemy’s move if the enemy’s skill or move is still charging on the gauge after the command point, defending, using MP-consuming magic that requires a character to equip a Mana Egg, or using an SP-consuming ability, with SP, unlike MP, gradually recharging as the player attacks the enemy.

Since timing cancellation attacks can be somewhat tricky, given the need to consider the locations of characters and the enemy on the battlefield, it’s usually a good idea to invest points into characters’ SP-consuming attack skills that can cancel enemy attacks, since maxing them out guarantees immediate execution that can cancel an enemy’s skill regardless of their placement on the battleground. The player can breeze through most normal encounters with area-affecting magic abilities, although bosses typically require more strategy, with most having multiple appendages that get turns of their own in battle, and which can easily slaughter the player if they’re not careful.

Winning battles nets all characters experience, money, occasional items, points they can invest into SP-consuming skills or physical book abilities, and points they can invest into Mana Egg spells and magical book abilities, with the player also getting a number of books that allow them to equip allies with innate skills that do things such as speed up item use and increase maximum HP. The battle system generally works well, although there are some tricky bosses, a little luck required for some, especially towards the end, long unskippable spell animations at times, and occasional points of no return where the player can’t turn back to level up if they’re having trouble with one of the bosses.

The game interface generally works okay, in spite of some oddities such as the main spherical menu that takes some time to get used to, although there are some good points such as the ability to use a compass to guide the player through dungeons or to shops and inns in towns. Still, dungeon design can be irksome, given the lack of in-game maps that have been present even in some sixteen-bit games, and the aforementioned points of no return are another mark off, not to mention the inability to skip cutscenes, particularly those preceding tough boss fights. In the end, interaction is okay, although there are some areas that could have been much better.

The story is probably Grandia II’s strongest suit, with a nice cast including wisecracking protagonist Ryudo and his pet bird Skye, priestess Elena who occasionally transforms into the devil woman Millenia, and many others, although there are no visible links to the original game. The narrative touches on religious themes, and while there are some similarities to the plot of Lunar 2, another Game Arts game, the story ultimately helps the game far more than hurts, with a nice, lengthy ending rounding things out, along with a good translation that however occasionally sounds unnatural with a visible lack of contractions at points.

Noriyuke Iwadare, composer of the first game’s soundtrack, returns to provide the second installment’s music, which has plenty of decent tracks and even a few central themes and remixes, although there are some occasional silent cutscenes. The voice acting is well above average during cutscenes and in battle, in spite of some unnatural battle dialogue at times, and ultimately, the game sounds decent.

The graphics are perhaps Grandia II’s low point, with mouthless character models, bland environmental textures, general dull colors, and visual slowdown in areas with many character models, although the character art looks decent, and attack and spell effects in combat are generally pleasing. The CG cutscenes look decent as well, and there is one anime cutscene that plays whenever Millenia uses one of her special abilities. Despite these positive points, the visuals are the game’s nadir.

The sequel is also generally lacking in terms of replayability, with maybe only one extra area that’s missable, and a playing time of somewhere from twenty to thirty hours. In the end, Grandia II is a half-decent game with solid battles, a great story, and nice music, although it has plenty going against it such as points of no return that may occasionally make the game unwinnable, dated visuals, and little replayability. Despite its flaws, the battle system would prove popular to the point where it inspired a spinoff focusing mostly on the game mechanics, Grandia Xtreme, and one more sequel on the PlayStation 2, Grandia III.

The Good:
+Solid battle system.
+Excellent story and good localization.
+Good soundtrack and voice acting.

The Bad:
-Some points of no return and tough, sometimes repeated boss fights.
-Some dialogue sounds stilted.
-Some silent cutscenes.
-Dated visuals with occasional graphical slowdown.
-Little replay value.

The Bottom Line:
A good sequel, even if the port is sloppy at times.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 9/10
Music/Sound: 7/10
Graphics: 5/10
Localization: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 4/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: 20-30 Hours

Overall: 6.5/10

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