Growlanser II - Review  

See the World. Meet Interesting People. Kill Them.
by Simon Seamann

14-18 hours


Rating definitions 

   For most of Working Designsí releases, the entire point of the purchase is to experience a humorous translation while playing through merely an adequate RPG. The Lunar series did not exactly change the way we view this genre, nor did Vanguard Bandits exactly usher in a new paradigm of strategy game design. The Working Designs touch demonstrated that a superb localization can usually save an otherwise mediocre game from being forgotten. However, with the release of the Growlanser Generations set, and Growlanser II in particular, Working Designs has shown how a revamped localization can breathe new life into a strategy RPG that is perhaps one of the best out on the market.

   As with all strategy RPGs, the focus is almost entirely on the battle system. The player controls Wein Cruz, a cadet in the royal military academy with dreams of becoming an Imperial Knight. Wein attempts to realize this dream through quite possibly the most entertaining and strategically interesting battles this side of Final Fantasy Tactics. The system itself is a merger of real-time movement with turn-based decision-making, all of which is done without the traditional battle grid. Once attacks have been made or magic is being cast, an ATW meter appears beside the character's stat block, showing the amount of time necessary to carry out a subsequent action. This immediately adds a level of urgency not normally seen in this particular genre, as concerns begin arising as to whether your fighter will attack the enemy wizard again before the spell is cast, or whether the healing spell will save a character in time or not. While this does open the very real possibility of aggravation stemming from an action not being carried out in time, the ability to save anywhere at anytime mitigates it somewhat for those that remember to take advantage of such a feature in a heated battle.

   Growlanser II offers more than this sort of strategy however; it offers a system where battlefield position and preparation is very important. While height and differing terrain regrettably play little part in attacks, a well-placed character can nevertheless block hordes of attackers from reaching the weaker wizard-types. Additionally, Growlanser II manages to avoid most of the strategy RPG monotony associated with endless "Defeat All Enemies" winning conditions by not only having multiple winning/losing conditions, but also by always injecting dynamic variables in combat. Some of these dynamic variables are changing the winning/losing conditions mid-battle or the arrival of enemy reinforcements at critical moments.

Battles have a tendency to get busy. Battles have a tendency to get busy.

   The factor that sets Growlanser II apart from most other strategy RPGs though is its relative simplicity outside of combat. All characters can equip a single piece of armor and a Ring Weapon: an item which boosts stats and has slots for Gems, which themselves can boost stats again or otherwise provide access to various abilities. An element of strategy exists even in this simple system, as a 6-5-4 ring is pretty useful in terms of being able to hold multiple higher-level Gems, but the player may decide to go with a 7-1-0 ring if its base stat increases are greater. Additionally, characters have the ability to wear almost any type of armor, but if their strength score is not above a certain level their movement rate will be significantly penalized. Of course, there are situations in which a higher defense is preferable, and as an added element of sneakiness, characters can change their armor (or Gems, for that matter) at almost any time to take advantage of their movement before it becomes restricted.

   Just about the only disappointing thing about Growlanser II is its length: it will take most RPGamers about 14-18 hours to finish the game the first time. Due to the fact that story battles offer incredible amounts of experience for completion and random battles offer nearly zero, players are encouraged to advance the story as quickly as possible. The story itself is rather benign in terms of execution, but it remains enjoyable due to the aforementioned excellent battle system and the Working Designs translation. The fact that there are multiple endings and two significant branching paths, however, help ease the sting that comes from such a short experience.

Mmmm. Numbers. Mmmm. Numbers.

   Indeed, beyond the battle system and translation, Growlanser II does not have much to set itself apart from anything else. The sprite-based game does feature some high-quality anime characters for dialogues, but it helps little when a RPG being re-released as a fourth-generation PS2 game has graphics that can be easily done on the GBA. Similarly, the music is not exactly Final Fantasy Tactics fare, and the voice acting manages to convey more humor than emotion. In spite of this, veterans of any amount of strategy RPGs will recognize these sorts of flaws as being par for the course.

   Overall, Growlanser II happens to excel in the one area that is of critical importance in this particular sub-genre: the battle system. For this reason, it is almost worth the entire $50 or so necessary to purchase the Growlanser Generations set. The fact that you happen to get Growlanser III as part of the deal just makes it all the better.

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