Growlanser Generations

In its final years of operation, Working Designs rose to notoriety by openly clashing with Sony over their desire to localize certain titles Sony’s American branch deemed technically unfit to cross the Pacific Ocean. Among the final titles Working Designs localized for American audiences were the second and third Growlanser games, both of which fell under the radar of titles Sony saw as technically unfit given their two-dimensional visuals. Nonetheless, Working Designs miraculously managed to localize both titles, albeit with their signature endless delays, under the moniker Growlanser Generations, which proves to be a decent collection.

Both titles are real-time strategy RPGs, with combat in both games involving inputting commands for the player’s party and letting them and the enemy beat each other up, with a number of things to consider such as battle objectives, magic charge times, enemy location, and so forth. Whereas battles in Growlanser II are generally massive in scale and involve up to eight playable characters, fights in Growlanser III are normally more subdued (although there are still some battles of decent scale) and involve up to four playable characters, albeit with the rare A.I.-controlled guest character.

In each title, all playable characters can equip a Ring Weapon with up to three slots into which the player can place gems of different levels with unique effects such as increased damage or defense. Concerning experience gain, Growlanser II gradually rewards each character experience based on actions performed in battle, while Growlanser III chooses instead to reward experience at the end of each battle (which the second installment does as well, albeit only after story battles). The third installment also features normal random encounters on its overworld (with enemies visible in dungeons) that reward experience and money.

Combat is easily the collection’s high point, though there are frustrations such as the extreme annoyance at times of certain story battles in the second installment and the generally poor character pathfinding in both titles. Story battles, incidentally, are generally less frustrating in the third installment, which seeks to be a more mainstream RPG like the original Growlanser, with things such as town exploration, an overworld, dungeons, and so forth, whereas the second installment seeks to be more of a traditional tactical RPG, containing a more simplistic overworld with dots representing locations and random encounters akin to Final Fantasy Tactics. Overall, battles are what really define Growlanser Generations.

Interaction in both titles is okay, with easy menus and controls, although character management can be nightmarish given the need to consider endless stats when contemplating changing Ring Weapons, with the unfortunate lack of an “equip best” option. This can really be a burden in the second installment, given the player’s massive party, though it’s a lesser problem in the third installment, given the player’s smaller party then. In the third game, moreover, finding out how to advance the story can be difficult at times given the poor direction by NPCs and inability to get a reminder on where to go next. Overall, interaction isn’t particularly bad in either title, although it could’ve been far better.

Both installments bequeath the tactical gameplay of the original Growlanser, although they introduce some new features such as the Ring Weapon system, alongside changes in their general gameplay structure, that help them feel fresh.

The stories of both games vary in quality, with development and backstory varying from character to character and the conflict aspects of each plot being okay yet nothing superb. Moreover, Growlanser III is a prequel to Growlanser II plot-wise, with their links at best being distant. Overall, both games *almost* have good stories.

The quality of the music is also inconsistent throughout the collection, with the second installment, for one, having many generic tracks that hardly hold a candle to the original game’s soundtrack, and a horribly underused central theme. Many of these tracks also show up in the third installment, although the composer actually lengthened them and in some respects made them catchier. The quality of the voicework, lamentably, is rather horrid throughout the collection, sounding as though Working Designs’ programmers and janitorial staff did the work themselves, with most characters utterly lacking the art of subtlety and having an annoying happy-go-lucky attitude in their voices. All in all, the aurals in both games are passable at best.

Both Growlansers use remarkably similar visual styles, consisting of two-dimensional pre-rendered scenery with sprites representing characters and monsters. Both installments, moreover, use character portraits to narrate many of their cutscenes, with portraits during voice-acted scenes (unless the player turns off the voicework) moving their lips similar to Conan O’Brien’s cardboard cutouts of celebrities and politicians. This combination works nicely for the most part, although the sprites do look slightly out of place with their environments, and slowdown can occur in battles with countless character and monster sprites. Overall, both Growlansers fall into the category of games that *almost* have good graphics.

Finally, both titles have a combined playing time of somewhere from thirty-five to forty-five hours, with replay modes in both games allowing for additional playthroughs of each. In the end, Growlanser Generation was a decent swan song for Working Designs, with both of its titles’ combat systems largely compensating for most of their shortcomings, their other aspects only ranging from average to slightly above average. Though neither title stands out as the strongest installment of the franchise (perhaps the original game), they nonetheless provide a decent look at the series, and enjoyable experience at that.

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