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Mankind Has No Need for a God That’ll Use Us as Puppets!
By: Noj Airk
I’m not going to lie. I only bought a Dreamcast so that I could kill zombies, with games like Zombie Revenge, Carrier, and House of the Dead 2. While RPG’s have for the most part been my life when it comes to cinematic or character inspiration, with their own complete worlds and immense stories, I’ve somehow in the mean time been able to construct a single zombie slaying epic that involves all games of the genre, into one big epic. I was looking for chapters to my story, not another whole story. However, then I saw Grandia II, and Skies of Arcadia, in the used section. Grandia II had the lower price tag, and more appealing graphics on the images, so I bought it, and it’s since become the game that I’ve spent about 60% of all my Dreamcast playing.
It’s all because the developers clearly had a love, comparable to mine, for a strong character driven story. Based off the epic Final Fantasy series in nature, the game clearly went out of its way to become its own thing that’s significantly different. As such, saying that Grandia II is a Final Fantasy wannabe is like saying that Jackie Chan is a Bruce Lee wannabe…both were derived from the other, but both aspire to be anything but it. While many RPG’s try to change the whole RPG formula and go stray, Grandia II holds onto what most of us players find most valuable and important, while still molding into a new, unseen shape. As such, Grandia II is a winner.
One thing that separates it from the conventional Squaresoft clone is that the game aspires to be all three things: fun, cheery, and yet deeply epic. Almost never does this combination work, but here it most certainly does. Normally drawn away from excessively happy stories, I at first wasn’t getting too into the game at first, until a nice large disaster struck our heroes, and they were thrown into an adventure to save all that is.
It’s the obligation of the heroes to get involved that I really liked, for that was what made the cheerful-hearted adventure possess a more serious underlying serious tone. The story itself is a very enjoyable one, full of betrayal and quite a few surprises, while remaining almost unnaturally sincere. The story circles around two main characters: Ryudo, a “Geohound” (treasure hunter), and Elena, a songstress of “Granas” (the god of all things light). During a ceremony to keep the god of darkness: Valmar sealed away from the world, something goes wrong, and the wings of Valmar come through and start the revival, as other chunks of Valmar enter the world and spread evil. Such events cause some great surprises, and some great quests and boss-battles.
The game’s plot is full of imagery and originality. However, after closer look, I realized that all of the primary, creative events were derived off of one main philosophy of the world…I would tell you this philosophy, but it would act as a spoiler of the main plot twist of the final chapter. The whole concept of fighting individual chunks of the evil power of the land, however, was already used in Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, and probably in a few anime series’ as well. The game does, however, serve as an example of taking one great idea and maxing it out well. Another reason I give the originality a lower score is because it feels like half of the plot twists were created solely because the creators had a scene in mind, and they wanted any way to execute it…that and that the spell “Hellburner” is obviously a copy of Sephiroth’s “Supernova”.
The characters are what really drive the story, as with all good RPG’s. The writing for each character is very well done, each with their own personality. Having a total of only six playable characters, creating unique personalities may not be hard, but it is a definite must for a good story. The characters both have their own drives, and own philosophies on life, and the current situations. Most interesting, however, as one could guess, are Ryudo and Elena, as they are the epicenters of the whole story, and what happens between the two is just as interesting as what happened between Rena and Alex, Fei and Elly, or Cloud and Aeris. Grammatical errors are almost completely non-existent, and the amount of text is plentiful, but not overwhelming like in some RPG’s.
The little amounts of spoken dialogue are somewhat well acted and written. However, apart from Ryudo, Elena and Millennia, the voice acting fares rather poorly, save a few other performances. What really stands out as being weak is the voice for Skye, Ryodo’s eagle partner. His voice is very deep, with no regality to it, and all of his lines are spoken as dry as a granite stone in the middle of the desert. All the battle cries are nice, however, reminiscent of Koei’s Kessen series, where every major action has some kind of line said about it by the command executer. The foley in the game isn’t all that great either, and certainly don’t add to the overall effect of the game, or show off the Dreamcast’s fine audio capabilities.
I was severely worried about the music in this game after playing Shenmue and Evolution, spending hours on both games, listening to painfully bad music. I was afraid that there was no good music on the Dreamcast. The music here, however, is quite grand. The music is layered and heavily melodic in nature, and expresses quite a lot of the emotions of the adventure at hand. The music of the locations and battles are better, however, than most of the music used in the emotional sequences. Don’t expect anything as moving as the theme of Aeris, but it’s still quite adequate…the sadder tracks just aren’t the reasons I’m going to buy the soundtrack soon. The major standouts in the soundtrack, according to me, are the mountain climbing theme (first heard at the “Raul Mountains”), and the nice creepy battle theme when fighting the pieces of Valmar throughout the game, as it also contains some elegance that is reminiscent of the show The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, starring Jeremy Brett. The best aspect of the music, however, is probably the fact that listening to it, you can notice a definite difference between the music in Grandia II, and music by Nobuo Uematsu, Yasonuri Mitsuda, Hitoshi Sakimoto, or any of the other great RPG composers.
The battles, apart from having great music, also feature a really nice interface, which commonly makes battles lots of fun, and is extremely different than the conventional RPG. Like the Final Fantasy battle system, it mixes real time and turn-based action, but here it’s reversed. Instead of all the characters (and monsters) having their own active time meter, the battle is given one big primary one, where the first 80% is charging up to be given commands, and the last 20% is the time between giving the command, and the character executing them. Simple commands like attack or item take a mere second or two to pass through this last section, while the more complex abilities can take upwards to ten or twelve seconds to execute. However, these abilities, be they special abilities or magic spells, can be powered up; the powering-up of it doesn’t increase its power, but its speed.
This powering up isn’t done by levels, however, like one might think. Along with experience points, you also gain magic and specialty points, that are gathered into one big stockpile for the group to use. Specialty points are gathered and then distributed in one of two ways: characters’ special abilities, and adventure books. The adventure books work in an interesting way. Each one contains six attribute enhancements, such as life up, or more magic power, and your characters equip these enhancements as the player sees fit. Each of these enhancements, like each special ability and magical spell, has a level number of 1-5, which controls the enhancement’s power. This, tied with decent enemy out-of-field AI, a great shopping system, and lots of interesting puzzles make Grandia II’s interface a winner.
However, with such a winning plot, soundtrack and play system, I honestly thought that this’d be one of the RPG’s I’d play through all the time. However, this is not true. Maybe it’s the fact that the plot twists are more shock-powered plot twists instead of cinematically narrated plot twists, or maybe it’s the very mediocre FMV, or the fact that some of the locations are easy to get lost in, or that some of the puzzles are so hard that it’d be a nightmare to have to go through them again. After much thought, however, I think I might have figured out why this game, and some other similar RPG’s have low replay value, and I think that most would agree. It’s because there are no secrets that the characters hold away from everyone else, where the symbolism only makes sense at the end, and because there are no chunks of the plot that require a second run through of the game to understand fully. Perhaps it’s just that the game is so straight foreword that the game isn’t on my list of games to play in the near future, or those other problems I mentioned earlier, but I’m not playing this game again any time soon, tragically.
The visuals in Grandia II are pretty amazing for their time, as the game was released over a year before Final Fantasy X. The textures are very lifelike, the movement very smooth, and the framerate is perfect. The polygons high, the colors lush, the environments interesting, and the spells in battle are simply amazing. In some ways, this game actually looks better than FFX at times, as the textures, lighting and polygon counts seem to somehow be superior at times. The graphics are amazing, and certainly a plus. So, why only a 9? Well, there are a couple of reasons. One is that the FMV is rare, and some of it is, frankly, comparably as bad as the worst Squaresoft FMV on the PSX. Another is because the character models are far, far inferior to that of most PS2 RPG’s, as the characters seem squat. The third and final reason is because the locations seem to have everything the same size. It’s like this: walls are 1 unit in height, houses are 2 units, and palaces or castles are 4. The changes in size between structures is not only very limited and practically non-existent, but it also makes the game’s world feel a lot less realistic. It looks like the perfect society of people built it so that every story is exactly the same, worldwide. If only such perfection could be found on Earth.
All in all, however, Grandia II is a very good game. Apart from all the problems I mentioned just in the past few paragraphs, the game is a winner. It’s endearing, creative, and fun, yet epic. Now that I’m gonna go and start shooting zombies again with my Dreamcast, I’ll always look at it with the thought of Grandia II being the real reason I own it today, and smile with the memory of this great RPG, despite that it’s the only good one I’ve played on the system.
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