Growlanser III: The Dual Darkness

In a world where the sun’s power is fading and the land is dying, an amnesiac warrior named Slayn Wilder finds himself working for the Xironia Federation, whose president seeks to stop a war over the world’s remaining food. Growlanser III: The Dual Darkness, was the second half of the Working Designs collection Growlanser Generations, which proves to be every bit as enjoyable as its predecessors in spite of a few changes and occasional flaws.

Combat largely imitates that of the second game, with real-time tactical battles where the player inputs commands for all current characters and lets them and the enemy fight; the player must consider elements such as battle objectives, charge times, enemy location, and so forth. This time, battles are of a smaller scale since the player’s party is down to four characters (although an additional A.I. controlled guest character will rarely join). The Ring Weapon system from the second installment, where each character equips a Ring Weapon with three different slots into which the player can put various levels of gems with diverse effects, returns as well.

There are also some changes from the second installment such as an overworld with random encounters, some with optional objectives such as preventing a victimized monster from being killed or stopping enemies from killing a merchant’s chocobo/horseclaw-like creatures, which can grant certain rewards such as Ring Weapon gems and the ability to purchase items. Furthermore, the player’s party receives experience only at the end of battle in addition to money (and even dead characters receive experience as well, albeit a lesser amount). Larger-scale story battles similar to those in the second installment return as well, many of which aren’t nearly as frustrating as those in the second game could be. Overall, the battle system works well, although there are some minor flaws at times such as poor character pathfinding.

The interface is okay, with decent menus and controls, although there are nonetheless some annoyances such as those with Ring Weapon management, with endless stats to consider when changing Ring Weapons and the unfortunate lack of an “equip best” option (although luckily there are fewer active characters this time around), and it can be very easy at times to forget how to advance the main storyline since NPCs don’t do a nice job of pointing the player in the right direction. Some also might take irritation at occasional randomly-generated dungeons that magically regenerate whenever the player leaves and reenter them. Still, interaction is by no means bad, although it could’ve been better as well.

Gameplay-wise, Growlanser III more resembles the very first installment, although it does have some unique features of its own and changes from its predecessors, such as an overworld, random dungeons, its story and setting, and so forth, that keep it plentifully fresh.

Like its predecessors, the third installment attempts to assemble a largely politically-themed story, with some environmental themes thrown in as well given the ecological disturbance of many areas of the game’s world. Certain characters do have some slight development, although backstory is largely neglected for others. The story has some pretty good ideas as well, although the general flow of things leaves something to desire, and overall, Growlanser III *almost* has a good story.

The third chapter *almost* has good music, as well, with some themes carried over from the second installment, although most have received extensions that make them better and even a little catchier. However, there are many weak tracks as well and even some weird ones such as a strange “redneck” theme taken from the second game. As in the second installment, furthermore, the voicework leaves a lot to desire, with just about every character’s actor overacting, and lacking any semblance of subtlety, though mercifully, the player can turn it off in and out of combat. Overall, Growlanser III’s aural presentation is above average, yet still falters.

The third installment almost has good visuals, too, largely recycling those of its predecessor, with two-dimensional pre-rendered scenery and sprites. The scenery looks nice, as do the sprites, though they do appear slightly out of place with their environs. The character designs used to narrate many story scenes are decent as well, although battles can experience a bit of slowdown when the screen is busy. In the end, the graphics aren’t bad, although they could’ve used more technical polish, especially considering the capabilities of the Playstation 2.

Finally, the third game is a little longer than its predecessor, taking somewhere from twenty to twenty-five hours to finish, with a replay mode allowing for additional playthroughs if desired. Overall, Growlanser III is a decent addition to the franchise, with its battles standing out the most. Admittedly, its other aspects could’ve used some polish, although the third chapter nicely rounds out Working Designs’ collection.

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