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Grandia II

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Grandia II

by RedSwirl » Wed Sep 09, 2015 5:36 pm

Why am I doing this now? It's Dreamcast day.

Every Dreamcast day (September 9th) I usually dust off my Dreamcast for a bit. In recent years as more and more of the Dreamcast's worthwhile games got ported to more modern platforms I've drifted to some of the last games that remained effectively Dreamcast-only: Jet Set Radio and Grandia II (for which the Dreamcast version remained the best version in the case of the latter). Now both have good PC ports, so I decided this was the right time to install the recent PC release of Grandia II (on Steam and GOG in case you don't know) and at least start a new file.

What's up with Grandia?

Grandia II in particular is one of my top JRPGs. It's one of maybe three or so I've completed multiple times. It doesn't do anything particularly huge to set it apart from other JRPGs. It's one of those things that hits all the genre pillars really well or at least well enough if you ask me, two in particular.

The game's actual plot is about as typical JRPG as you can get: Fantasy land with a cast of conflicting plucky characters and a corrupt Roman Catholicism analogue up to shady stuff etcetera etcetera. I think it's one of the games originally used to formulate that "Console RPG Tropes" list from way back. What sells it however is the execution of the writing for the characters, dialogue, and English localization. People might talk shit about the voice acting in 2015 and I guess that's fine, but it sounded a clear cut above almost any other game that came out in 2000, and even today I still think the actual writing holds up. A crutial difference from other standard JRPGs is how the main character is more of a world-weary-but-golden-heart jerkass with sibling rivalry problems instead of a wide-eyed 14-year-old. Grandia games even have this cool mechanic where at some points of the story the party will gather around a dinner table and you pick which ones talk as they dynamically bounce lines and context off each other. in Grandia II this has always been one of my most anticipated occurrences.

People will probably tell you the most stand-out thing in the Grandia series is the combat which is one of the best and most unique turn-based systems around. It's kind of like conducting an orchestra made up of time, and your enemies. Things move in real time as every character in a battle has a corresponding icon all moving along the same progress bar in the HUD. When a character's icon reaches the "command" point the gameplay freezes as they enter a command (you enter a command if it's one of your party) after which the icon quickly moves to the "action" point at the end of the bar whereupon they do their next action. The kicker is, if a character is hit with a strong attack between the "command" and "action" points -- after they've received a command but before they actually carry it out, that action is canceled and the character's icon is sent back about halfway across the progress bar. When you finally get the hang of it the system quickly becomes something that feels fast but also deep despite basically still being turn-based.

Grandia game bosses can feel uniquely epic too. Instead of one "character" they're usually represented in the battle as several "characters" based on their different limbs and whatnot. Depending on the difficulty Grandia bosses can turn into 60-plus-minute wars of attrition.

Oh, and you thought Final Fantasy summons were elaborate? How about a game that devotes entire anime FMVs to high-level spells?

Outside of that Grandia II can be markedly more linear than most JRPGs with almost no side quests to speak of, so most people finish it in a "mere" 30 hours.

Uh... there you go I guess. I basically wrote this up by ear hoping I could get at least one Squad person to buy the game and start a file.
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Re: Grandia II

by Calin Kim » Wed Sep 09, 2015 7:28 pm

I also played it on the Dreamcast back in the day, but I need to grab the PC port. The other Dreamcast ports I have (Jet Set Radio, Crazy Taxi, Sega Bass Fishing [really]) turned out really well, so I'm expecting good things from this.

Now if we could get some Skies of Arcadia action.
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Re: Grandia II

by RedSwirl » Wed Sep 09, 2015 10:18 pm

I know man. That's like the Holy Grail right there.
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Re: Grandia II

by RedSwirl » Thu Sep 10, 2015 3:50 am

Playing a couple hours of this game again has certainly reminded me of some things. The last time I started a file was Dreamcast Day a couple years ago. Tonight I got as far as Agear (the second town), but even that distance was enough to see that both the combat and story hold up pretty nicely, especially the former.

What I forgot about the combat system is how the time scale mechanic affects all the different actions aside from just attacking and canceling. Essentially, Grandia II uses a real-time-with-pause system, not wholly unlike an isometric CRPG. The main difference is you don't control character movement. That, and everyone has a set cooldown after every action, and your enemies' cooldowns are what you try to manipulate. The things I forgot about are how this affects functions like blocking and evasion. Like most JRPGs Grandia II has a block command, but now you can actually see the most opportune time to block, like if an enemy is mid-way through an attack animation when a party member's command turn comes up. Depending on the animation and distance, you can also just evade. It's kind of like Street Fighter except the game pauses every few seconds so you can ponder your next move. The system starts to get complicated as soon as you're dealing with more than one party member.

I'm also however starting to remember how much I don't like the rift that perpetually exists in JRPGs between real time exploration and turn-based combat that happens in a different plane of existence. In other JRPGs you at least have the nice feeling of exploring a vast world map, but Grandia II is literally a bunch of towns strung together by linear pathways, some of which contain rudimentary puzzles. I'm starting to wonder if I'd have preferred it if you just got a bunch of pre-designed battles in-between towns like Final Fantasy Tactics or something.

Anyway, I'm also starting to get re-acquainted with the character dynamics here. The male lead and female lead are your basic jerkass-who's-secretly-a-compassionate-guy clashing with demure-healer-priestess-lady. The male's relationship with the other female lead (guess which archetype she is) is a bit more interesting. Their first meeting is when she flat-out kicks his ass, but he shows no ability to drop his male chauvinism. And then it happens again, and when she immediately joins the party thereafter he still talks as if he has any level of control over her.
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Re: Grandia II

by Angry Jedi » Thu Sep 10, 2015 11:32 am

Grandia II was sweeeeet. I remember it was one of the earliest RPGs I played after FFVII and VIII, and I adored it. Can't remember a whole lot about it aside from the fact the combat system was awesome, but I'm glad it's getting a second wind.

And yes; Skies of Arcadia HD please.
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Re: Grandia II

by Alex Connolly » Thu Sep 10, 2015 12:53 pm

It's funny, because I adored the original in all its amalgam of crunchy sprites and crunchy polygons on PSX, then a good few years later, came to Grandia II on the PS2 release. Not sure what was up, but I was utterly disinterested. Strange times. Bizarre, considering esteemed colleagues are lavishing praise here.

Must have fallen off the wagon by this point, because the following JRPG I successful sunk teeth into was...Gawd, Crisis Core, many moons thereafter.
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Re: Grandia II

by Angry Jedi » Thu Sep 10, 2015 1:07 pm

Grandia II certainly had a different feel to the original, and I think you're right; it was a lot to do with the sprite-on-polygon look. By comparison, Grandia II's character models are very primitive, with most of the personality coming from the close-up portraits rather than the rather expressionless polygon peeps. The overall tone was very different too.

Also the PS2 port was hot garbage in comparison to the Dreamcast original. On PAL TVs at the time, the screen flicker from interlacing was so bad that it gave me a headache more than once; the Dreamcast original -- which I believe ran at 60Hz, as most Dreamcast games did, or at least had the option to? -- didn't have this problem. I'm glad the HD age has made this issue largely a thing of the past!
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Re: Grandia II

by Alex Connolly » Thu Sep 10, 2015 1:54 pm

I admit to probably not giving it much of a chance. There I was, some young punk in the middle of China in 2003, with a disposable income and finding out that there were chipped PS2s for sale everywhere, bolstered by mountains of bootlegged software. The vendors were the kind of classic shady characters you'd imagine. Bum-bags, knock-off Bolles, their back-alley establishments laced with King of Fighters posters and the woody scent of cheap Honghe cigarettes. What a time. What a place.

I was overwhelmed by all sorts, and if a game failed to snare me within an hour, it was slotted back into one of the many CD wallets and possibly never touched again. Grandia II was one such affair. Utterly unfair on a genre that demands a lot more time, but perhaps it was more that the original Grandia was such a delight...
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Re: Grandia II

by RedSwirl » Thu Sep 10, 2015 10:11 pm

I still need to play Grandia 1. Got it at some obscure game store a long while back for around $35. This was before it showed up on PSN for $10. That's the thing about Grandia, all three games look and feel quite different from one another. Grandia 3 is kind of another leap, but its story and characters weren't received as well. A lot more challenging in my experience though.

I actually remember being blown away by the first screenshots of Grandia II in a magazine circa 1999 or something, coming off of PS1 and N64 graphics. Today they just have this weird sort of board game look to them. People have already started trying graphics mods with the new PC version. One in particular added ambient occlusion to the game which makes the characters look even more like realistic figurines: http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread. ... t176586200

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