Replay Value: 8.9
Every time I think of Grandia, I can't help but think of it as "the little RPG that could." The Grandia name dates all the way back to the Japanese Sega Saturn. At the time, Final Fantasy VII was dominating the charts and beneath all the frenzy was an RPG called Grandia. Critically, the game was praised by all, and it had quite the cult following. Over a year later, the game would be ported over to the Playstation. The port job was done decently, but the game did have a few rough spots here and there. Last December, Dreamcast owners were treated to the sequel to Grandia, the sales were good for the most part, and the critical acclaim was as well. But much like its predecessor, Grandia II was tagged with rumors of a Playstation 2 version coming along. The rumors were scoffed at by Ubi Soft and Game Arts, but not until the Summer did Ubi Soft make it official that Grandia II was in fact in development for the PS2. It's been a couple of months since that announcement, and GII has arrived. Needless to say, its arrival is quite welcome.
To say the least, I think I'm being perfectly fair with the graphics score. Grandia II isn't atrocious looking, but it does look horribly dated and pixilated. It's to be expected from a title that is over a year old and ported from a significantly weaker console. The graphics are blocky and some of the backgrounds look no better than an N64 game. The characters aren't composed of an overwhelming amount of polygons, unlike a game such as Final Fantasy X and there are no pre-rendered backgrounds to be found. Some of the backgrounds, in particular in-door environments are bright and look nice; simplistic, but nice. Perhaps I've been spoiled? The game isn't completely out-dated though, as Game Arts has added additional CG footage that wasn't available in the DC version, almost deeming this game a 'director's cut' subtitle. Even though this game is noticeably lackluster in its visuals, Grandia II excels in gameplay; where it counts most.
While I doubt I'll come across a fighting system as diverse and silky smooth as Final Fantasy X for quite sometime, I have to comment that Grandia II's battles come very close. GII's battle requires tactical knowledge, but it isn't overly complicated that you can't pick up and play. There is an active time bar displayed for your party and the enemies. As soon as a cursor, be it the the enemy's or yours, reaches a certain point on the bar, a menu will be given to attack as a combo or one critical hit, use magic or defend, escape or maneuver around the battle field in hopes of eluding an attack from the enemy. If timed precisely, you can counter an enemy's attack with a critical hit. So if your enemy's cursor reached the attack point first, and then you follow, you still have time to counter because the enemy would still have to run over to you and attack you. Depending on the separation of the cursors, an execution for a counterattack can be pulled off. It may seem somewhat complicated, but the act shouldn't take too much to master. Your party will be able to move around the battle field, in addition to use magic and defend from physical attacks. The magic spells are traditional, so that field shouldn't be much of a concern for Final Fantasy zealots such as myself.
Battle system aside, Grandia II features a pretty good story, staring a Geohound (somewhat of a bodyguard who is paid to protect different people) named Ryudo. Accompanying him is Skye, Ryudo's talking Hawk and most trusted companion. Eventually, the duo will come across Elena, a songstress, who's main journey in life is to end "Darkness" that surrounds the various portions of Grandia. Along side of Ryudo, Elena and Skye is a cast of characters that will gradually join the initial trio. In total there are 8 additional characters that will join you on your quest to rid Darkness. Darkness, is exactly what it is, an unspeakable force that threatens the lives of the citizens of Grandia, think Final Fantasy X -- Sin. Ryudo, Elena and Skye will first encounter Darkness in a very old and ruined temple, where Elena and her Sisters of Granas held a prayer to keep Darkness away from their surroundings. The prayer wasn't strong enough, and this is basically where the adventure begins. Darkness completely takes over the temple and uses it as its fortress.
Can one really complain about Grandia II? I'd say "no". The incredible combat engine is every bit as diverse as FFX's, and offers a whole lot of depth. The game grants a lot of room for customization, so limitation and claustrophobia are not features of the game. The character development is exceptionally executed, and no two characters feel like they're sharing the same brain. Put all of that together, among other things, and you've got an excellent epic of an RPG that lasts for a hearty 35-40 hours. Surely, many of you who are in the market for a promising RPG should look no further than this. Chances are Final Fantasy X has been conquered by your Dual Shock griping hands, so Grandia II is your next best step. If you're planning ahead, pick up Jade Cocoon 2, and for kicks you'll score a free copy of The Legend of Alon Dar, for purchasing two UbiSoft RPGs, neat huh?
While Grandia II doesn't feature an aural presentation of the caliber of Final Fantasy X, as there is no Dolby Digital 5.1 compatibility, the game still gets a healthy 8.0 from yours truly for featuring an admirable voice acting and a decent soundtrack. Despite being off-track with the on-screen actions (from time to time) altogether, the voice acting holds up well for a game that's over a year old. But voice acting doesn't occur every time, only at key-segments, so those who enjoy a mix of both, and felt that FFX only took away from the imagination, should be relieved. The soundtrack isn't unbelievable or incredible, not based on today's standards anyways. While there isn't all that much to write home about, the soundtrack is no crap fest either, otherwise I would've said so. Everything in the sound is in tip-top condition, but nothing overwhelming.
I won't go too far into the controls. They've remained faithful to the DC version, so the game has no true analog support and you only have two motions of movement with Ryudo; walking and running. The controls are user-friendly, very typical RPG stuff, nothing at all to even gripe about. So to conclude, those looking for some more role-playing ecstasy owe it to themselves to give Grandia II a look-see. It's not an overly-complex RPG that will you have you scratching your head, but it isn't shallow and easy, as the game does have challenge. While it's aesthetic field may not be astounding, the gameplay is in fact so. With one of the best combat engines in the genre and an engaging cast of characters, Grandia II is a must-have.