Skankin' Garbage's Grandia Review
Email the author: Skankin' Garbage
Late in the 90's, a company named Game Arts, responsible for the wonderful and charming Lunar series, made a game called Grandia. Originally released on Saturn, it didn't see the light of day here until Ubi Soft decided to release it in the states for PSX. It wound up being the first of an ensuing series with a sequel and a dungeon crawler side-story (An official third game will be released soon). A few years ago, I had the pleasure of playing Grandia 2 on Dreamcast, but almost everyone I knew told me that the first one was better. Just what was the hype about? I had to see. In the words of Public Enemy: "Don't believe the hype."
The game starts off in the quiet village of Parm. Two friends, Justin and Sue, fool around all day, getting into trouble while having make-believe adventures. Justin, the main character, happens to be the son of an adventurer and a pirate, so he often dreams of following in their footsteps. Through a kind gesture, they are given a pass to explore a ruins near the town, where an army from another continent happens to be occupying. Deep in the ruins, Justin's Spirit Stone - a rock that serves as a memento of his father - activates something in the ruins. A mysterious lady appears and tells Justin, "Come to Alent, the capital of Angelou, and your questions will be answered." Or, something along those lines, anyways. So, of course, Justin then tries to find a way to travel to the next continent to begin his own big adventure.
...Aaaand, that's pretty much it. Not many new objectives are ever given throughout the course of the game. Sure, you'll meet new people, like the beautiful, charming adventurer, Feena, or the serious, honorable knight, Gadwin...Their conversations might even be very interesting, too; when staying at an inn, the current party has dinner discussions that you can conduct at your leisure, which makes the character interaction and development in the game top-notch (In fact, the interactions are what kept me playing through til the end). But, the actual story doesn't progress very much. Occasionally, along the way, you'll go through some ruins, and meet some people. You'll save a village from a random peril. You'll encounter the army a few times when you visit certain ruins connected to Alent somehow. But, you don't actually have any other incentive to reach Alent other than just simply reaching it until near the end of the game, when you finally reach it. Justin's constant optimism and love for adventure helps a lot, but going through two to three dungeons in a row without anything interesting happening several times in the game begins to wear thin. Just as you feel you're about to accomplish something, you wind up needing to do more and more. It feels like the game drags on forever (In this case, forever was about 40 hours for me).
This wouldn't be so bad if the battles were interesting. Perhaps they would have been if I hadn't played Grandia 2 first, which touches up on a lot of boring and tedious aspects of combat in the first game. It might not be fair to compare an older installment to a new one, but it's hard not to when it's obvious how much better the game could be. Combat works like Lunar in bird's eye view: Your position matters on the map, and your characters must actually approach your opponent to attack them (they might be too far away in some cases). Instead of simply choosing 'fight', you are given two options: Combo, which does two attacks, or Critical, which will do one strong attack that deals slightly lesser total damage than Comboing, but can slow down or even prevent enemy actions. There are also weapon skills and magic for each character. These are learned by leveling up weapons and elements, which are leveled up by using the corresponding weapon or element. It sounds like a tried and true system, but leveling up three different weapons with one character to get one skill becomes slightly annoying, and reaching high levels in magic feels about as hopeless as walking up the side of a building, unless you're ready to sit and level up for a long while. On top of that, combat isn't very rewarding; such an interesting combat engine is wasted on incredibly slow, easy battles. Now, add that up with the fact that you are often thrown more than one dungeon at a time before anything interesting in the game happens, and you will feel like you are moving backwards through the game.
Aesthetically, the game is rather nice. All the 2D graphics are very nice, with much attention paid to detail in towns, and in character sprites and animations. The music is hit-or-miss; a lot of the dungeon themes are ten second drum loops (I'm not kidding), but almost all of the Main Themes and Battle Themes are awe-inspiring enough to put one at the edge of their seat, or make their hairs stand upright. The voice acting as amateur, but passable.
Don't misread me; I don't absolutely HATE the game. In fact, I think what sparesly scattered storyline exists in the game is excellent (I can't remember another game that actually made me cry!). When the music is good, it's GREAT (The battle themes might be some of my favorite VGMusic songs, period), and the graphics are pretty damn impressive for 1997. But, an incredibly boring and tedious combat system that gives one absolutely no sense of accomplishment, and drags the game on for probably ten hours longer than it should have been, really makes me never want to play the game again. Thankfully, all these problems were remedied in Grandia 2, and the combat system was even further improved on by the much-despised dungeon crawler, Grandia Xtreme. Not terrible, but could have been a masterpiece. It's a game I hold very dear in my heart, now that it's only a memory.