A while ago I had a look at Threads of Fate, a colourful RPG full of weirdly proportioned, goofy-looking characters who I just didn't take to. The next entry on the 1001 list is a colourful RPG that is said to be as good a starting point into this type of RPG as you'll find... and happens to contain slightly weirdly proportioned, less-goofy looking characters that I might like instead? Maybe?
Grandia II follows the hard-man-for-hire life of Ryudo on his quest to make some money. I like to think of him as some kind of Witcher, just doing the messy jobs so that the cogs in the kingdom keep turning, but that's just me imprinting hopes onto a game that is about to show me what it can offer on its own, thank you very much.
I know absolutely nothing about Grandia II, and that obviously includes the plot, so it's another blank slate and a chance for me to play something new.
I'm emulating the original Sega Dreamcast release of Grandia II, and I have to say that it looks really rather good. I haven't got the foggiest of ideas as to what the introduction video was trying to tell me, presumably something about good versus evil creating a literal split in the world, and before you know it, CGI switches into in-game assets and the scene is set.
Our character, Ryudo, dangles from a cliff waiting for some kind of a distraction so he can perform some kind of job.
Was that a successful theft? Are we the bad guys? Those lizardfolk didn't seem particularly warm and welcoming, but that doesn't really tell us much. Who are we?
A small chat with our client goes some way to clearing it up. We have paying clients, and we must have stolen something for them - or returned stolen goods, most likely. Either way, despite a job well done, we don't seem to be respected around these parts...
With another job on the horizon, we finally get into Grandia IIs gameplay, and it feels wonderfully fluid. There's nothing realistic about your movement or the level design here, at it feels great. It didn't feel alien or awkward, I didn't need to adjust or tweak, it just felt like I knew exactly how to play this game.
I mean, I don't - I'm just running around a path right now, hardly rocket science, but I'm liking it.
A spider dares to block my path, leading to the first combat of the adventure. You and your opponents scroll along a time track, and when your time comes, you get to choose what to do, then enact it, and then wait once more for your next opportunity.
It's a lot more involved than that, I'm sure, but here, against this one spider, I just need to choose my action and my target and repeat until I'm done.
Spiders have all kinds of coins on them, apparently, but other than Gold I couldn't tell you what each one was for. I guess the Magic coins might go towards spells, but what kind of not-Witcher needs spells?
We soon find ourselves in a town with very chatty townspeople. Like other RPGs of the time, not everything has voice acting, and there are even long stretches where the game is entirely silent, devoid of music, sound effects, anything. Maybe that's an emulation issue, though.
We're here to be somebodies bodyguard, so we ought to find our client and get some details.
Aaaand we're back to the action. When Grandia II wants you to listen, there's a lot to listen to. When characters are voiced, however, the lot to listen to is often Cam Clarke interrupting Cam Clarke as he talks to Cam Clarke. Knowing that there are some South Park levels of one voice artist, many characters going on does take you out of the world a little bit, but that might just be me being picky.
I'm allowed to be picky, though, and will point out that Ryudo certainly does have an attitude about him, and I'm not sure it fits his character. I don't exactly know what it character is, granted, but he's less hero and more... dick, sometimes?
I don't quite know how to phrase it. Maybe I just accept it because he also has a talking bird. I suppose it's better than being a cookie-cutter protagonist. Ryudo is up front about just doing this shit for the money. Speaking of, we're finally able to escort this woman to a tower. Nice and easy.
Further Fun Times
Some more fights showed off some more of the battle system. It's not quite turn based, and I don't know what all the Sways and Counters and other pop-ups are, but it is one button simple, so that all of us RPGs newbies can just get stuck in.
You can't see it in screenshots, but you and the enemy move around the arena, making it so much more dynamic than having two rows of combatants moving forward and backward during their turns. I don't know if you're able to control any of the movement, but it looks fresh and different, and I like it.
We make it in one piece to the tower and then get bogged down once again by text boxes. I understand that we can't always crank games up to 11, and that down time is a necessity, but it's clear to everyone who has ever played a game that this whole situation is going to go tits up. It's clear to everyone that I'll do exactly what I've been told not to do. It's clear to everyone that the quest was never going to be simple, so just let me get going!
Finally into the tower, you can see the encounters in action. If you see an enemy you can choose to fight it, but these spiders like to turn into homing missiles pretty damn quick, so I got into a lot of fights. No big deal, could grind out the rewards and so on, but I did want to see some plot.
At one point, I couldn't even see progress, but it turns out that you can use the shoulder buttons to rotate the camera around, allowing me to see a door and get moving onto bigger and better things.
Further Fun Times
Finally at the top, I can confirm that the shit has hit the fan, and went into a fight against two gargoyle-like goat demon foes where I learned a few more things about the combat system. After getting hit by them, obviously.
You don't just have to attack relentlessly, but have the ability to, among other things, evade and defend against attacks. Electing to defend, I saw Ryudo taking up a defensive stance and, sure enough, defend against an incoming attack.
I can only assume that by watching who or what is coming up on the timer, you can evaluate whether or not it is better to act now and strike hard, or wait a little and bide your time. I simply don't know, and am finding everything out in the moment - no tutorials on the games part, and no manual on mine.
You have advanced moves as well, which you can learn and level up over the course of the game. I probably should have started with a move that dealt so much damage, but I'll take it.
|No mouth, yet still doesn't shut up...|
Text boxes followed by more text boxes. I don't know why I'm so bothered by them today.
Having clearly saved the day, I'm probably in for a reward to go on top of my advance for taking on the job, but I suspect I'll instead get coerced into saving the planet from evil, while a not-so-goofy looking girl slowly gets used to me being a dick to everyone.
But that's just my hunch.
On looks alone, I would have thought that Grandia II was fine as a game but simply not for me - a little too Japanese in its character designs. Frilly bits everywhere, and what the hell is Ryudo wearing on his head? But I wasn't too fussed by it. I put it to one side.
Upon learning that the voice cast are some kind of industry A-Team, I'd have thought that the characters were well developed and felt real, but when you can tell its the same artist for multiple characters, it doesn't quite hold up so well. It's not that they've done a bad job, or that the lines don't read right because of translation issues or anything, it's just that it feels like the addition of voices wasn't done right, as though it wasn't done with care, that was it done after the fact because people need to speak in games now.
The gameplay, as I said, seemed to fit like a glove. I was instantly comfortable with the controls. Alright, I didn't know that you could rotate the camera, and I've no idea what the rest of the face buttons even do, but it seems the controls are on point and that I won't find myself fighting with them, should I want to go further into Grandia II.
And on that point, I've a decision to make. I found it so easy to get into, which is definitely a plus, but it had its slower moments. I think that because I haven't put the combat system through it paces to any degree at all, that I should carry on a little while more until I know one way or the other that this is something to experience some more.
After all, there's an entire party of goofy-looking guys and girls to learn magic and skills with. I've not even touched them - I only know they exist through menu options, not through the game itself.
Grandia II was probably something I didn't think I'd care much about, but I must say that I'm surprisingly interested in seeing some more of it. I don't know how much more, because Red Dead Redemption 2 is dropping in price these days and I need to get on that wagon before it rides off into the sunset, but there will be more, and that's good. That's the point of this 1001 list, I suppose.
When it gets them right...
Reviewers would all rate the game highly, but often with caveats of it perhaps being too generic, too easy or too predictable, making it a tough sell despite being a solid release.
Grandia II, developed by Game Arts, first released in 2000.
Version played: Sega Dreamcast, 2000, via emulation.