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the game that plot forgot
By: Johan Jakobsson
Grandia 2 is a few years old now, but a game that I managed to find stuffed deep down into the bargain bin of my local gaming store. It follows steadfastly in the footsteps of the console RPGs that have gone before it, but manages to fail in several key areas. Despite decent graphics and an attempt at a more tactical battle system, a horrendous plot and even worse dialogue manage to sink this game in a quagmire that only gets deeper the further into the game one plays. You start out as a "Geohunter" named Ryudo who along with his trusty bird Skye insults everyone in your path as crudely as possible. You are hired to protect a Singstress of Granas (the good god) named Elena as she is to seal in a piece of Valmar (the bad good). Things go wrong, and Elena finds herself possessed by the wings of Valmar. Ryudo is once more hired to protect Elena as they begin their quest to deal with the pieces of Valmar scattered around the world and save everyone, and in the process turn Ryudo from a guy who insults everyone into a hero that both insults everyone and moralizes!
The battle system in Grandia 2 is heavily reminiscent of Chrono Trigger, albeit much more cumbersome. Just like Chrono Trigger, monsters are visible before combat, making it possible to avoid them. Due to map designs, however, this is often very difficult as you run up and down through endless corridors. Once in combat, an initiative bar shows how close every character and monster is to acting, and when a certain point is reached, you issue commands that are executed when the character reaches the end of the bar. Special attacks can interrupt enemies as they are in the middle of preparing their move, adding some tactics. Characters move around a lot during the battle, which often looks good, but at other points makes characters run in circles. The more effective attacks all require the player to sit through 20-30 second long animations that can't be turned off. While they look good the first few times around, after a few hours it is more than tiresome and slows down battles a great deal. The commands one can issue are standard console fare: defend, attack, special attacks, magic, items, run. Due to the easy difficulty of the game, however, many fights can be won with just normal attacks or one or two special moves done over and over.
As in many console RPGs, you have absolutely no control over your character plot wise. No choices you make matter, you can't decide what to say, and you must simply follow the course set out for you. Seeing as how the main character is extremely unsympathetic, and possibly suffering from mental illness, the lack of control might frustrate gamers much more than in a game with sympathetic, intelligent main characters such as Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy X. Ryudo is constantly angry, and constantly changes what he is angry at, resulting in endless rants. Actually, there is one area that you can control, and that is powering up your characters. You gain four types of points from winning battles. Gold for buying items, and three different kinds of xp. One for standard levels, one to upgrade magical eggs that let you cast spells (how this actually functions in the world is never explained in the game), and one to upgrade special attacks. You can also upgrade special books and equip the skills learned in the books for certain bonuses. As for the control system, actually running around on the maps, it works quite well.
The music in Grandia 2 is standard meat and potatoes with nothing remarkable and nothing really horrendous, apart perhaps from the poor electric guitars in the battle music. The voice-overs range from awful to semi-decent, with a surprising lack of both emotion and acting skill. It feels as though the actors responsible were ones fired from Cartoon Network for being too unskilled. There is also a problem with the game sometimes getting entirely quiet with no music, and an even bigger problem with the footsteps of the characters being extremely loud, drowning out everything else. The other sound effects are very standard, with a few voice-over comments here and there in battle. Since there are so few (roughly 2 per action), and you hear them every time, you will have heard them all after about an hour of playing. After that, you will keep hearing the same comments, over and over and over, until you finally beat the game. So all in all, the sounds effects are functional but repetitive and standard.
The visuals are Grandia 2's strong point. This is not to say that the graphics are stellar or will blow you away, but that they work well for the game. Every town looks distinct and different, and the architecture is impressive. The game runs very smoothly, and there are neat cut-scenes that reinforce the mood. Models are fairly detailed for such an old game, and everything flows smoothly. Although the later levels become fairly outlandish, the earlier parts of the game shine. The characters are extremely cartoon-like, and the monsters are either weird or cute, not scary, but all in all the graphics are slightly above average and pass without any real critique.
There's really nothing original about the game, although i doubt anyone would play this game with the hope of seeing something revolutionary. It aims to be a combat-focused console RPG with a pretentious plot and humour. It fails. The true let-down of the game is the story and the dialogue. Filled with embarrassingly unoriginal twists and turns, the story of the game revolves around a great battle between good and evil ages ago, and how now evil is coming back while the good apparently does nothing. Now humanity itself must act to protect itself. Virtually all the dialogue in the game can be summed up in the following ratio: insults 20%, facts 10%, emotions-out-of-the-blue 10%, moralistic rants 60%. It seems as though the main characters run around lecturing one another (and the NPCs) constantly. While this is bad, what gets even worse is that they're constantly changing their opinions in-between every other sentence, so they are in fact moralizing against themselves! They also yell out insults whenever someone doesn't agree, and generally act like they need both medication against schizophrenia and to grow up. Add to this that in-between the never-ending, self-contradictory rants about morality (exactly what morality changes all the time, the game is anything but consistent) there are spontaneous outbursts of love, friendship, more love and willingness to die for people you've barely met and who've insulted you constantly. The game ends with about an hour of ranting about how humanity must believe in itself and so on, which contradicts the earlier stated plot that everything was great thanks to the good god until mankind itself made the evil god out of greed and dissent. Lacking in intelligence, consistency, and everything else, the game's plot is a complete and utter disaster that poses as deep philosophy when it is in fact an embarrassing quagmire of shallow rants. The fact that you can't even speed up or skip any of the dialogue makes it all the more painful, as you are forced to sit through every stupid sentence that prints out on the screen at a snail's pace.
The game is easy and beginner friendly. I was never even in danger of dying, although sometimes i was actually praying for it. It will take about 20-25 hours for an experienced gamer to complete Grandia 2 and perhaps 30-35 for a beginner. There is no replay value as there is nothing in the plot that you can change or alter. Once you've beaten it once, you've seen it all.
In a game where you more or less only run around killing monsters over and over for new powers, the plot needs to be good in order to compensate, to make the player feel part of the world and feel as though one is doing something important or finding out some big secret. Instead, every moment you're not busy unleashing yet another 30-second-long animation of a power to kill monsters, you are forced to sit through a mind-numbingly poor plot with aggressive, moralistic dialogue that can never decide what it wants, only that it must violently take a new stand every other minute. The plot contradicts itself, it's unintelligent, and quite frankly an insult to console RPGs. Add to that a stone-age view of women where in the game's perfect world the most powerful women end up as nurses, kindergarten teachers and a singer who does the laundry for her boss, and you've got anything but a masterpiece. Perhaps the game needed some moralizing against itself? :)
I kept playing Grandia 2 hoping that the game would get better or that the plot would somehow end up becoming decent and making sense. Sadly, it didn't. The way I see it, the only reason for even playing this game is because one might perhaps enjoy the combat system, although honestly, if that's all one wants, one might as well play Counter-Strike or Soul Calibur 2 for much better combat.
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