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WTB Ring Weapon
By: Christopher Beaupre
In 1999, Growlanser II was released in Japan. There was little hope of the series seeing the light of day on this side of the world. Five years and a couple of delayed release dates later, Working Designs releases a localized English version of Growlanser II and III. The Growlanser series are Tactical RPGs that sports gridless map combat. In Growlanser II, the combat system is the high point of the game, but the main storyline is anything but.
The voice-over work in Growlanser II is actually decent. Bad voice acting has spoiled games in the past, but that is certainly not the case here. While some cheesy dialogue is to be expected, there are several hilarious moments. Once you hear Wolfgang speak you will not be disappointed. Let's hope he's in many more games yet to come.
You are Wein Cruiz, a new recruit who one day wishes to obtain the lofty position of an imperial knight. His back-story aside, the player gets an impressive amount of control over his character. The game starts with Wein being interviewed by his superior. There is a series of dialogue choices which allow the player to customize Wein's character. Wein's strengths and weaknesses will be decided by these choices, determining such things as whether he will be a fighter or mage. However, you are given a very strong melee-related item in the beginning of the game, so it is highly recommended that Wein be made the grunt fighter type.
The player is given complete control over what happens to his or her characters as they level. There are three areas that can be upgraded when characters level up: Skills, Magic, and Tech. Skills are always in effect; they include abilities that let characters move faster, add status effects to their attacks, and have more HP or MP. The magic area simply allows some choice as to which spells are learned. Tech abilities have to be triggered during combat, and they only function for a limited time. It is more than possible to complete the game without even using a single Tech ability.
And now we will talk about the best part of Growlanser II, the ring system. In the Growlanser universe some characters use ring weapons which take the shape of the user's personality. Each ring has three slots for gems. Gems that are inserted into the rings give your characters special abilities. The ring system is very reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII's materia system, and there is a lot of fun to be had from trying out different combinations.
Combat is mostly in real time. At the start of the battle the player gives orders to each of his or her characters telling them to move, attack, cast magic, or use a tech skill. The player can interrupt what the characters are doing at any time by pressing the square button and giving new orders. There is also an auto battle feature which is nice for those unwanted random encounters on the world map. The only real flaw with the battle system is with "character pathfinding." If one character bumps into another while moving, they will stop rather than attempt to walk around.
The main storyline 'sadly' is throwaway. The storylines for each of the characters are far more interesting then the main story of the game. There are also a couple returning characters from the original Growlanser. These characters tend to make references to the first Growlanser, which will be lost on the majority of the people playing this game.
As is the case with most tactical RPGs, the game is very linear. The world map consists of dots and lines, There is no actual exploration of towns or dungeons. Every time the party arrives at a location the following menu items are shown: Gather Information, Go to Inn, or Shop. When gathering information the party gets to talk to NPC's which can unlock new paths on the map as well as offer hints and subplots.
For a game that was made in 1999, Growlanser II holds up pretty well. Although the in-battle graphics appear dated, the dialogue character art is gorgeous. The characters are interesting and your many dialogue choices throughout the game will affect their ultimate fate. There are two main branches in the game and it will be necessary to play through it at least twice to experience all the game has to offer. Look forward to unlocking some extras upon completion of Growlanser II. Fans of tactical RPGs should definately look into Growlanser II.
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