Growlanser II: The Sense of Justice

Wein Cruz is a young man who aspires to be a knight for the Kingdom of Burnstein. However, tensions have recently risen with the neighboring Kingdom of Rolandia, while darker powers are at work behind the scenes. Growlanser II: The Sense of Justice, along with its sequel in the Working Designs collection Growlanser Generations, gave American gamers their first taste of the Career Soft-developed strategy RPG series, and proves to be a fun, albeit sometimes frustrating and annoying, title.

Growlanser II features a real-time tactical battle system where the player inputs various commands for the party and lets them and the enemy fight, with factors such as charge time and location to consider. Each character can also equip a Ring Weapon with up to three slots that can contain status and ability-affecting gems of various levels. Characters gradually gain small amounts of experience as they perform commands, and after the end of battles, all characters gain a fixed amount of experience (whose amount is far greater during story battles). Upon leveling up, each player gains a certain amount of points the player can invest into various innate skills, MP-consuming spells, and techniques with a fixed number of uses per battle.

The combat system is functional for the most part, although there are some flaws such as weak character pathfinding at times, traffic jams among the party’s characters, and often poor A.I. if the player has all characters automatically use their commands. There are also some battles with unique objectives that can really be frustrating, such as a few timed battles and one where the protagonist, all alone, has to torch two chambers of a storehouse and escape while dealing with endless enemies trying to kill him. Still, it’s by no means a bad battle system, and is perhaps the high point of the game despite its shortcomings.

Strategy RPGs with solid interfaces, lamentably, are rare, and Growlanser II is no exception to this. The menus actually aren’t that bad, although managing Ring Weapons can be nightmarish, given the lack of an “equip best” option and the need to manually calculate overall stat increases (and there are a lot of stats) before changing Ring Weapons. World navigation, given its simple dot-connected disposition, isn’t bad, either, although this reviewer believes that random encounters have absolutely no place whatsoever in strategy RPGs. Overall, interaction has both its strong and weak points.

Growlanser II retains plenty of features from its predecessors to feel like a logical continuation of the franchise, such as real-time combat, the setting, and even a few characters, though it does contain its own unique features, such as a greatly-expanded combat party, simpler world navigation, Ring Weapons, and such, to make it feel unique in its own right.

Growlanser II, to some extent, has a storyline that can branch at times, which can alter the ending somewhat, although many of the characters themselves don’t receive much emphasis, with greater weight on the conflict aspect of the story. The localization is acceptable, moreover, aside from the typical lame contemporary humor Working Designs was known for, as well as the tendency of most of the voice actors to make perfectly decent dialogue sound horrible. All in all, the story is neither a draw to the game nor a repellent from it.

The audio is perhaps the low point of Growlanser II. First is the weak voicework, with most characters having an annoying happy-go-lucky disposition in their voice, and completely lacking the art of subtlety; other voices, such as Sereb’s, are plain disturbing. Second, the music is a definite step down from that in the original Growlanser, with a horribly underused central theme and many bland, unmemorable tracks. Granted, the music is by no means bad, though the voicework is a possible repellent (while the player can turn it off during events, it unfortunately remains during battles).

The visuals are better, but by no means perfect. Like its predecessor, Growlanser II features 2-D scenery, which has excellent detail this time around, and decently-proportioned sprites that, however, look a little out of place in their environments. The character portraits are nice, although voice-acted cutscenes, where the portraits’ lips move, are eerily reminiscent of Conan O’Brien’s interviews with cardboard cutouts of celebrities. Furthermore, battles where many characters and enemies are moving around can experience a bit of slowdown. In the end, Growlanser II is one of those games that almost has good graphics.

Finally, playing time ranges somewhere from fifteen to twenty hours, with few sidequests of which to speak, and a replay mode allowing for additional playthroughs. Overall, Growlanser II is a decent sequel, with its battles standing out the most. It isn’t as solid as its predecessor, though, and can have its frustrating moments, yet is still an enjoyable romp.

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