Growlanser: Heritage of War

North America got its first taste of Atlus’s Growlanser franchise thanks to Working Designs’ Growlanser Generations, despite the very first installment remaining absent from U.S. shores. The closure of Working Designs seemed to eliminate the possibility of future Growlanser localizations, although Atlus’s American branch decided in 2007 to localize the fifth installment of the series, Growlanser V: Generations. Because of nomenclatural conflicts with Working Designs’ collection and the absence of the fourth game from U.S. shores, Atlus renamed the game Growlanser: Heritage of War. While it doesn’t push the Playstation 2 to its limits, the fifth installment nonetheless proves to be a decent evolution of the franchise.

As with previous installments, the fifth Growlanser features real-time tactical battles, with fights initiated when the player draws near enemies. The player, before doing so, can have a character cast an offensive spell to gain an advantage in the subsequent battle, where all characters execute various commands after charge times. This time, the player manually controls the protagonist and can have him approach an enemy and target it for physical attacks with the X button, or the player can access his and his allies’ battle menus to input specific commands (otherwise, the A.I. will control the protagonist’s allies).

Heritage of War dumps the Ring Weapon system of its predecessors in favor of a Plate Flow system where each character has a grid with several arrow-connected boxes representing skills whose levels gradually increase as the player fights battles. Throughout combat, each character will occasionally gain more plates to place on their fields, with the player able to set one path of skills to level up, from left to right, at a time. The player can use various items to change the flow directions of plates, alter their locations, remove them, and so forth.

In addition to the normal battles encountered regularly on fields between towns and the occasional dungeon, there are also many story battles with specific objectives, such as keeping certain characters alive, killing a certain enemy, preventing certain foes from escaping, or simply killing all enemies. Completing these battles results in a great amount of money and experience for all characters. Unlike previous Growlansers, leveling up is a relatively unceremonious event, simply increasing most stats of a character. The battle system, overall, flows smoothly for the most part, yet the game is a little on the easy side, with the only real nod towards difficulty being the stinginess of certain battle objectives. It can also be a bit difficult for the player to recoup the party when close to death, but otherwise, combat is the game’s high point.

The interface is efficient for the most part, with easy menus, shopping, and the like, and the lack of the Ring Weapon system from previous installments eliminates a character management nightmare, with the Plate Flow system being easier to maintain. The player also eventually gains the ability to revisit previous towns for a small price, sparing constant retreads of the same areas. The only real shortcomings are the lack of an internal game clock and the obscurity at times of the protagonist’s fairy companion’s clues on how to advance the main storyline, but otherwise, interaction is more than adequate.

The Plate Flow system mainly sets Heritage of War apart from its predecessors and other RPGs, though it naturally borrows elements from previous Growlansers such as real-time tactical combat, and the story, while with some unique elements, has some unoriginal aspects as well.

The story takes place from the perspectives of a few characters, mainly the silent protagonist, Haschen, who works for the Peace Maintenance Brigade, attempting to maintain peace in the land, chiefly between two nations, Grangale and Cyriltia, and also trying to fend off strange creatures known as Screapers. The plot more emphasizes conflict over character development, although there are certainly a few twists revealed about certain characters throughout the game, alongside some decent twists in the main storyline, even if some of these twists are a little on the derivative side. In the end, the story isn’t superb, although it could have certainly been worse.

The music is okay, even better than that in Growlanser Generations, with the town pieces shining the most, although there are plenty of weak tracks, as well. The voice acting, though, is largely hit-or-miss, with most monster voices being the low point and the quality of character voices varying greatly, yet still largely being below average. All in all, the aurals aren’t bad, yet aren’t great, either.

The same goes for the visuals. Like its predecessors, Heritage of War uses pre-rendered environments, though this time, character and enemy models make the leap to 3-D. The models themselves look okay, yet are fairly shaky and blurry at times, somewhat characteristic of graphics from the original Playstation. The character art mainly used to narrate cutscenes, however, is very nice. Still, the graphics could’ve easily been better, but certainly aren’t the worst on the Playstation 2.

Finally, playing time ranges somewhere from thirty to forty-five hours, with a replay mode and some additional character modes increasing playtime. Overall, Growlanser: Heritage of War is a solid addition to the franchise, with its gameplay standing out the most. It has some aspects that could’ve easily been better, such as its sound and visuals, although it nonetheless provides a nice look at the Growlanser franchise.

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