Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time

While Atlus has for some been a godsend among role-playing game enthusiasts, given their localization of niche titles, one franchise they have largely given the shaft is the Career Soft-developed Growlanser series, with its very first installment seeing no localization, and Working Designs translating the second and third games after struggling to obtain a license to do so. Granted, Atlus did localize the fifth entry, Heritage of War, although they skipped the fourth game. Years later, however, they teased two localizations with clues leading to two games, the Sting-developed Gungnir and the PlayStation Portable port of the fourth Growlanser game that they would localize as Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time, giving Western RPGamers a taste of what franchise fanatics have termed one of the best installments of the series. Does it live up to this hype?

Like its predecessors, Wayfarer features a real-time tactical battle system, with the player able to encounter enemies by coming close to them in fields between towns and the occasional dungeon. At the start of battle, the player inputs commands for their party of up to four playable characters (although a fifth A.I.-controlled ally may rarely join the action), after which they engage in combat with the enemy, with some commands such as magic and knacks having charge times before execution, with enemies able to delay this execution with their attacks. Normal encounters are mostly a breeze, although story missions with special objectives, the most common of which is to eliminate all opposition on the battlefield, are in some instances a different matter.

There are also some problems inherent in the core game mechanics, such as the fact that whenever one of the player’s characters or an enemy executes a command, the real-time action of battle grinds to a complete halt, largely hampering what would have been an incredibly fluid pace of combat. Lengthy animations accommodate most spells, furthermore, although the player can mercifully skip through these, with there being incredibly little incentive to view magical animations in their entirety. Frustrating objectives occasionally accompany story missions, as well, along with some nasty bosses towards the end, and this reviewer in some cases having to beg for help online for advice to advance, something no person should ever have to do when playing a game.

Worse than the game mechanics, though, is the control scheme, which is superficially decent, what with easy menus and shopping, although Wayfarer of Time in many instances does an absolutely terrible job telling players where to go next to advance the main storyline, with protagonist Crevanille’s fairy companion not helping most of the time, despite her “Event Memo” function. The fourth entry also half-asses its solution to the common problem of unskippable cutscenes, merely allowing players to fast-forward through them by holding the L and R buttons rather than including a simple scene skip feature, and in the end, the developers should have given interaction a once-over.

The story is actually fairly decent, focusing on a war between a few nations and a few ironically-evil angels, with occasional plot branches and multiple endings, although the biggest point off the plot is the aforementioned terrible direction on how to advance the narrative. The localization, however, is largely solid, with no visible spelling or grammar errors.

Due to a combination of a limited budget alongside the inability to license the Japanese voiceovers leaves the game’s English version with no voicework aside from those during the rare anime cutscene, although the fourth Growlanser fares just fine without voices, with the music filling the void decently, even if it doesn’t rival the very first game’s excellent soundtrack.

Like its predecessors, Wayfarer of Time features photorealistic prerendered environments along with characters sprites, with the environs in most instances looking wonderful, and the sprites accurately representing their respective character designs (which are the high point of the visuals during cutscenes), although said sprites sometimes appear pixelated when seen close-up.

Finally, the game can be fairly lengthy, taking somewhere from forty to sixty hours to finish, with a New Game+ providing players the opportunity to take alternative story routes to see different endings. Ultimately, while Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is a decent title, what with its decent core mechanics, music, and visuals, it often made this reviewer wish it were over long before it actually was, what with things such as the occasional frustrating missions and bosses and absolutely terrible direction on where to go next. Series fanatics will definitely relish at the opportunity to experience the fourth installment in English, although skipping over the title most certainly wouldn’t kill.

The Good:
+Decent tactical battle system with plenty customization.
+Good story with variations and multiple endings.
+Solid music and graphics.

The Bad:
-Some annoying missions.
-Often terrible direction on how to advance.
-Voice acting removed from English version.

The Bottom Line:
A half-decent game that can be frustrating.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Portable
Game Mechanics: 6/10
Controls: 5/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: 40-60 Hours

Overall: 7.5/10

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