As I have mentioned in the past, I was raised on the Genesis, and stubbornly wanted to stick with Sega when I was ready to buy another system. It should come as no shock that I was a prolific and diehard defender of the Dreamcast when it came out. On the other hand, as an RPG lover, I was always really scrambling to find good RPG’s on the Dreamcast. There are certainly a couple, but for such a powerful system, it was mostly delivering good arcade style games over roleplaying games of any sort. Enter Grandia II: a game that finally romps its way onto the JRPG scene for a console that wasn’t Playstation, and seemed promising.
I’ll admit, I hadn’t heard of the Grandia series before this game launched on the Dreamcast, and though I was exposed to it later, I’ll forgo discussing the first while going over the sequel (I’ll skip the third as well, which I haven’t played.) I found it odd that the second game in a series was the first I’d seen of it, but I’d seen it happen with localisations before on the Genesis with games like Valis III, so I didn’t question it too much.
The game tells the tale of Ryudo, a geohound who gets mixed up in an epic struggle between the gods of light and darkness. A geohound is a class of mercenary adventurers that seem to not be the best regarded – they’re frequently referred to as dirty vagrants, even by those who hire them. Ryudo is a crude archetype of an edgy 90’s hero; he’s a rude, crude, radical dude who doesn’t respect anyone except for his constant companion, Skye the bird. Skye is some sort of talking eagle, and while he’s snarky and has remarks for everything, he tends to be less Xtreme than his human companion. Don’t get me wrong, they often have the same solutions to problems (steal it, break it, kill them, and so on), but Skye is definitely more mature.
Ryudo and Skye take an escort and bodyguard job for the Church of Granas, the god of light. They were originally supposed to bring Elena, The Songstress of Granas, to a dark spooky tower in the woods near the church where a bunch of acolytes are waiting to receive her. Once there, the dynamic duo spend the night waiting for them all to come out, until they hear her screaming… and that’s when the Xtreme metal music begins, they rush into the tower, and run up to the rescue, where they discover she’s sporting black shadowy wings that disappear into her while the rest of the acolytes are dead. Escorting her back to the church, she rests while the priest talks to Ryudo, getting details of what he saw and heard, before hiring him on to be her escort and bodyguard once more to the grand cathedral to see the holy pope. Just as they finish this up, he’s attacked by a buxom flirtatious woman named Millennia, who swoops in on wings of darkness to wreck the church.
Revealing that Elena is possessed by the Wings of Vargas, the god of darkness, it’s discussed how much danger that her soul is in. The dynamic between Ryudo and Elena is definitely that of a romantic comedy – he’s rude and Xtreme, while she’s a sweet innocent church girl, but there’s a special connection between them. Along the way, you find that Elena will accidentally transform into Millennia – she’s the actual Wings of Vargas, although despite this, she’s a helpful and powerful ally. You meet your remaining party members in different towns that you go to:, a dagger wielding kid named Roan, a burly tank of a beastman named Mareg, and an automaton in need of purpose, Tio.
The storyline, if you can’t tell by my tone, was a bit edgy for my tastes. If I ever need an example of a story that just oozes all of the 90’s marketing and personality, it’s just a great one. The music can switch between generic background music to Xtreme generic metal, which only added to the feel that the story was trying it’s hardest to be cool for the cynical Gen X’ers.
Despite it’s faults with the story, which isn’t the worst I’ve played, Grandia II did a couple of things right. The gameplay is fantastic. Equipment, spells and skills are well done and balanced. Magic and many skills are equipped and learned through points earned in battles, and except for unique special attacks for each character, can be interchangeably given as needed. Magic skills are learned through Mana Eggs, and skills through Skill Books – which can all be equipped ot your different characters. Want to build up Elena to be a fast attacker? Sure. Do you really want to make Mareg a powerful black mage? No problem. While peoples original stats do lean in certain directions, things are customizable. Add this to an interesting, strangely action packed turn-based system, and you have the makings of a very solid gameplay system.
Battles were “turn-based in real time,” in a style to many Final Fantasy games of the generation. Characters actually run around in real time during the battle – speed is key, along with agility. Your turn is determined by a bar at the bottom that shows who will be going when, and allows for interruption and cancellation attacks to be done, adding depth to the system. Attacks are mainly done in combos, though battle skills and magic can be used alongside combos and cancellation strikes. Different attacks take different amounts of time to prepare, and different characters need to run up to a certain point to attack the enemies. If you defeat an enemy, you’ll turn and try to finish up your attacks on the next closest enemy… if your speed is high enough.
On top of the gameplay, the graphics are really good. While I replayed this and grabbed screens from the Grandia II Anniversary Edition on Steam, I don’t remember the graphics being that different. A bit cleaner and more rounded, but the Dreamcast had a powerful enough engine to handle a nicer looking game, and it delivers. Things feel smooth and visceral; while running can be a bit clunky in the way JRPG’s could be, it does a good job of avoiding that in most situations.
Despite my criticisms of the game’s story, Grandia II does pick up later in the game if you can get past the initial edgy Xtreme marketing style story it starts off with. Gameplay itself is fantastic, and paired with nice graphics, balanced stats, interesting controls, and a full cast of voice actors, many of whom are good. If you haven’t played it before and are looking for a JRPG to play, I would definitely give this game a shot. Outside of the Dreamcast, they had ported it to both the Playstation 2 and Windows. If you can’t get your hands on one of the originals, the HD version on Steam plays well.