Sunday, August 6, 2000

Grandia | 8.5

Grandia is a great game all around. If not one of the best, it is definitely one of the most fun RPG's I've ever played.

The first thing which strikes my memory, like so many other games, is the characters. They are good, fun characters. If nothing else, Grandia does make you care about them and what happens to them. Unlike almost every other RPG ever made, there really aren't any dark, brooding characters, or even evil ones (even the bad guys weren't very evil seeming), and I know that will put a lot of people off. Justin, the main character, is a total jerk. He's a nice guy at heart, but just a little clueless. There is some voice acting, which is entertaining, and some of it is okay. I like it well enough to keep it. It set the characters well. There is a little love story, too, which is corny, but it fits well with the rest of the game. Nothing in this game is very serious.

Except the combat. The fighting system in Grandia is awesome. It is still turn-based, but instead of just standing in a row, you're characters actually move around, which is important against many bosses and special attacks. It uses a timing system with an action bar to determine who goes when. When you hit enemies, or are hit yourself, you move back on the bar. This is important for strategic reasons. Basically, you can do more damage with a combo than a critical attack, but a critical moves them further back on the bar. The special moves and magic system is very well done. You level up specific moves and spells by using them. This makes some of your early moves devastating even into the later parts of the game.

On a similar note, the experience system is one of the best in the industry (whether or not it is innovative or original). There are standard level ups, running on the normal experience system. Then Grandia goes the extra mile and adds in the specific weapon and magic class levels. When you use a specific type of weapon, you level up in that specific weapon, getting a small stat boost and allowing you access to new skills. This makes it necessary to switch up what kind of weapons each character uses. Magic also levels up in this same way, and to get access to new spells, especially the ones which are mixes of elements, you will have to mix-up what kinds of magic you use. It is a fun system to work with.

Grandia has a fairly simplistic, happy plot. It is not unique by any right. I guess it kind of is by its lightness. It really is cheery, and a total departure from dark, depressing insight into the human soul type stories (did someone just mention Xenogears?). You spend a large portion of your time on side-quests and adventures which have nothing to do with the overall plot, but that was okay, because you are a young, aspiring adventurer, after all. That, and the combat system is great, so fighting lots of monsters is fun. The main story is nothing special, but it is interesting. I did find myself wanting to know what happens. Despite the general and generic plot, individual events and occurrences are still exciting now and then.

The graphics aren't anything special, like most Playstation games that are three years old. The characters themselves are well observed, done with a high level of detail, and the character dialogue portraits are neat. Every character has two or three, expressing different emotions. Again, nothing outstanding or brilliant, but a nice touch. In general, the dungeons themselves and the enemy monsters don't look so great. But then again, I've never really cared much about graphics in RPGs. Your call.

There are a couple things which really makes Grandia stand out above the rest of the crowd. For one thing, there are no random encounters. Nobody likes those. There are still wandering monsters, but you can see them on screen before you have to fight them, and they are avoidable. I thought that was absolutely awesome. The music in Grandia was excellent. I think it is the absolute best soundtrack on a RPG so far. I absolutely loved it. People who weren't watching would occasionally glance in to see if I was just listening to classical music. That is a bit of an overstatement, but still.

All in all, Grandia is great. It is an epic. It only took me 40 hours to beat. Nowhere near this 90 hour stuff the other reviewers were talking about. I did almost everything too, including talking to everybody in town three times in a row (one of Grandia's more annoying points). The dungeons are well designed, if short, and easy. I had a more difficult time fighting wandering monsters than some bosses (mainly because you can hit them so many times they never get to move). Anyway, Grandia is definitely one of the most fun RPGs ever, even if it isn't one of the technical best. And it has Puffy. All RPG fans should pick it up. And beat it. It is great.

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