Cult classic Japanese role-playing games get the HD treatment but do these titles still hold up to the test of time?
Released in 1997, the cult classic Japanese role-playing game, Grandia was already a hit when it Western shores in the early 2000s, it was even compared to the grandeur that was Final Fantasy VII. Grandia II localisation wasn’t nearly as long as Grandia I’s; we only had to wait half a year before it launched in the West on the Dreamcast in early 2001. The Playstation 2 version, on the other hand, took an extra year before its release in 2002.
In terms of story and gameplay, they’re akin to light and dark, a complete contrast. Both, of course, have similarities, but one is not needed to understand the other. Each is a stand-alone adventure, utterly different setting, characters, and overall feel.
The story of Grandia I is a light-hearted adventurous escapade full of laughs and thrills. The main character is a young adventurer called Justin, as he sets off on his journey exploring the world trying to find a long lost ancient civilisation. The perfect example of Grandia’s story is by putting the world of Dungeons and Dragons in the hands of children. The whimsical nature, the pure adamant belief of one can do anything, an adventure truly filled with passion, energy and heart. By the script alone it’s easy to tell this by one of the main characters saying ‘Ow! I hurt my fanny.’ Ah, translation at its best!
Grandia II sets a darker tone. Ryudo, a protagonist with a past burden heavily encasing his heart, (who reminds me of Squall Leonhart from Final Fantasy VIII,) he doesn’t care about anything apart from his job. He, however, gets entangled in a war between good and evil, and much to his dismay gets a job he wishes he could walk away from.
The battle system for both is still unique; as it’s turned-based mixed with real-time elements. Worry not, for those experienced with the Grandia games nothing has changed; it remains loyal to the original. The distinctive core that defines it is being able to null all actions, friend or foe. By using a specific attack called a “critical” (or certain special moves) can be used to cancel enemy attacks in their entirety, and I mean any. However, it’s not that easy, as timing is crucial to use it effectively. Players have to consider several things before attempting to do so; distance to the enemy, and the length of the attack animation. Battles essentially give players foresight; it shows what enemies are going to do, so players can take actions to prevent the worst of the oncoming assault. However, deciding which attacks to cancel is the crux of this system. But remember, the AI has the very same power.
Magic is always a fundamental feature of many role-playing games, but Grandia does it in a slightly different way – that is both good and bad. Grandia’s magic is very reminiscent of Dungeons and Dragons, by having multiple spell levels, which is an excellent system. However, instead of having a finite number of casts, Grandia uses ‘mana points’ – the weaker the level, the more mana points allocated, and vice versa. The game doesn’t allow the abusing of powerful magic as if mana runs out before a boss; it’s going to be a tough fight. There is a downside, to learn more spells they have to be used repeatedly to level up, it’s a cumbersome grind, and is no doubt the worst part of Grandia. Due to this repetitiveness, each battle becomes elongated, yet the satisfaction of learning a new spell eventually lessens the frustration a little.
Grandia II changes this formula to that of a more traditional role-playing game. Magic all comes from the same pool of mana points, so when it’s gone, it’s gone. Another welcoming change is that move repetition is no longer needed; instead, winning battles awards two additional types of currency. Using these currencies is how spells and moves are upgraded – which is preferable to the grind of Grandia I. Sadly, this does not shorten the length of the battles. Because of the increased quality of the animation and effects, this has amplified the duration of actions. Combine this with four party members and fights can get tedious. On the other hand, some special moves make up for it as they transition into incredible hand-drawn animation.
Both these games use an excellent battle system; it’s fun and rewarding. It is a system that takes much adjusting too but is easy to master. Timing is not usually a feature when it comes to battles in Japanese role-playing titles even in recent years. Hoping to get that essential heal off before the enemies turn is as close as it gets. But imagine if an enemy was about to heal their health back up to full, and the game allows the opportunity to stop it. Succeed; it can change the outcome of the fight, but fail; it might be game over. Nevertheless, I have not seen another game use this engaging battle system, which is an incredible shame.
The influence of the Dragon Quest series is apparent in Grandia, especially with how the inventory system works. Everyone has limited inventory space, with no additional bag storage. If the bag is full, no other items can be picked up; an item has to be discarded to create space. Once again, Grandia II disregards its brother and settles for an unlimited storage bag, making it more player-friendly. Yet it does not allow the organisation of items, so finding whatever that new item was, is a nightmare.
The ports of these titles are okay but not sublime. Grandia uses sprite-based characters in a 3D world; all the 3D models have renditioned up to HD quite nicely. But the filter they have used over the sprites causes a problem; it softens up the sprite work, which in turn increases the quality but makes them look flat. It’s also quite noticeable when the filter occasionally doesn’t work. Sound is another issue, as there is a bug that causes the field music to reset after every battle. But performance-wise, I did not encounter any problems.
Grandia II has more significant problems. As the game in terms of graphical quality far outmatches that of Grandia I, but the port does not do it justice. The shadow quality is abysmal when playing docked, and is filled with slowdown and performance issues. However, playing in handheld mode, the shadow quality improves, but the performance worsens in certain areas. Furthermore, I did have a few crashes, and from what I can tell from other people experiencing the same, the crashes arise from using the Switch’s sleep mode function, which is a monumental flaw.
The HD collection offers the use of Japanese voice acting, as the two games have shockingly terrible (but amazing) English voice acting. And hard mode is a welcoming addition to Grandia II, but sadly no hard mode for Grandia I.
Both games are widely different. Grandia is more open and explorable; it grants the feeling of warmth, a youthful kid fulfilling his dream. When Grandia II is more linear based, yet the darker story is more defined and layered with emotional depth. Overall, the stories are fantastic, and the battle system is unique and engaging, but both games slightly miss the mark with the quality of the port. I cannot state this enough that the Switch is the perfect home for these titles, but there should be no slowdown or performance issues at all. However, if the problems of the ports can be ignored, both are genuinely stellar titles in many ways.
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