Sunday, March 20, 2016

An Unfinished Look At Grandia - Admirably Confusing

Grandia II is one of my favorite J-Rpgs, but considering that, I've spent surprisingly little time with the other instalments of the series. I know absolutely nothing about Grandia III and Grandia Xtreme besides that they exist and until recently that was also true about the first game. Then my bf gave me Grandia for my birthday last year and I was excited to see where Grandia II had come from.

It seems the rule of J-Rpgs to not be direct sequels to eachother, but rather take place in the same world concept - Final Fantasy is a good example of this, Star Ocean another. The characters will be different, the world will be different, but there will be core concepts that are similar. In Final Fantasy it's mogs, someone named Cid and chocobos. For the first two Grandia (because I haven't played the other two and can't say) it seems to be primarily the style of combat, because other than that they don't have very much in common.

I haven't finished the game yet, eventhough it's been over half a year since I got it. I definitely don't dislike it, it's actually quite fun but quirky (more about that shortly) but it's currently the only console game I play and so it means setting up a bit before getting started. It's probably the lamest excuse you'll hear all week coming from someone trying to avoid doing something they actually enjoy, but there you have it. Another big factor is that it's true to the J-Rpg style and has save points, something that I am trying to avoid since I'm in a position where I need to quit what I am doing at any given moment. It basically means I need to know that I can devote an hour (the longest I've played without reaching a save point was two hours though) and that just doesn't happen often enough.

I've at least come to the second disc, so you'd think I'd be a good way into the story. What makes Grandia a bit special from your average J-Rpg however is that it has a pretty original way of playing out the story. You play as Justin, a tween something kid who wants to be an adventurer like his father so sets out to fulfil his dream of being one. Early on in the game it turns out Justin has a special artifact left by his dad, which puts him on the track for said adventure and more than a disc in that is still where the story is at. You find out there is an old civilization that's long gone, Justin tries to find it for no other reason than "why not", he finds some friends on the way that don't seem to have much better things to do with their time either and the story doesn't progress much from that point even after 30 hours of gameplay.

I am a bit torn as to whether I love it or don't love it so much. On the one hand I find it extremely refreshing to play a J-Rpg that doesn't cast you as the savior of the universe within the first half hour of playing, where the evil is the evilest there ever was and wants nothing but death and destruction for no reason. In Grandia you play someone who just wants some fun and who finds himself in interesting situations and with interesting people because of it. There isn't really a main antagonist and definitely not an EVIL DARKNESS that you need to collect [insert generic crystals here] to thwart.

At least not yet - of course huge disclaimer for the fact that I haven't actually finished the game yet and so fully expect this storyline to come crashing down on me sooner or later, it is a J-Rpg after all. It is very surprising however how long the game designers decide to hold out on actual suspense. Like I said I am roughly 30 hours into the game and there is still very little to go on. They do some setting up early on that leaves you with promises but it quickly turns into the feeling that this is just a game about exploring.

They also level completely unevenly -
But like I said, it is far from bad. The combat style I love from Grandia 2 was first used in Grandia. Firstly it means there are no random battles but enemies can be seen and generally avoided on the adventure screen. Once you do enter a battle, your characters and the enemy characters activate depending where they are on a meter. Once the meter reaches the end your character can choose to do all the regular stuff like use a magic or item, attack or run for instance. The big difference to other RPGs of the time like beforementioned Final Fantasy is that your characters aren't stationary but run around (very similar to the "Tales of" games) which adds another level of tactic to the fighting. So far the game has been pretty easy but the fun combat makes sure that you never tire of entering a battle. The game also does a Phantasy Star 4 in that it provides you with a very strong character mid-game, further alleviating exploration. Overall the style of battle seems to encourage an explorative behavior and there are a lot of items lying around waiting to be found.

The characters are also very likable. They're not particularly memorable in the way Sephiroth or heck even Millenia from Grandia 2 are. In fact for this post I had to google what their names were because they're so generic you forget them immediately (mainly Justin, Sue and Feena). But they're easygoing and fun, they never grate on you and eventhough the dialogue is simplistic it never makes me ashamed of the writers like in FFX.

The areas are fairly varied yet graphically drab, I don't expect or demand much else from the Playstation however and it's not really something that bothers me or takes away from the gameplay. They've made a lot of the surroundings interactable adding light puzzle elements to the game (and we're talking very light). A lot of other J-Rpgs developers could take note from the travel system - the world map is basically just areas that you've visited and once you've been to a place you can travel back to it from anywhere on same contintent. Running on the world map is such a huge time sink in some Rpgs that they've pretty much completely done away with in this game. There is also an arrow in the game to point you towards your next objective, which is a brilliant idea! Unfortunately it doesn't always update which had me running lost for quite a while before I realized how it worked.

So I am definitely having fun with the game, but I can't help but thinking in the back of my head "what is this game even about?". It feels so without direction I end up both admiring it and get confused by it. It's like the game creators thought to themselves "why can't we do an rpg where you just run around and do fun things, rather than try to avoid cataclysm?". And yeah I guess, why not? We'll see what I think once I am done with it.

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