Genre: Role Playing Game
Length: ~15 Hours
Extras: VMU, Vibration
Publisher: Ubi Soft
Developer: Game Arts
ESRB Rating: NA
I went into this one expecting something. Not sure what, exactly, but something. One of Autumn's coworkers at an old job had actually let her borrow the game, so I could try it (which is strange, since I'd never met the guy), but I didn't get the chance to play it while we were borrowing it. I figured if he liked it enough to lend to a complete stranger, it must be passable. Well, to a degree, he was right. This is a unique game, though more of a collaboration of successful elements from classic RPGs than an altogether new game unto itself. There are elements of multiple Square and Enix role players in here, as well as aspects of several other games I'm sure I've overlooked. Still, despite borrowing so much from its predecessors, Grandia II remains somewhat fresh.
Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the storyline. This is about as mediocre of a plot as I've ever seen. Your focal character, Ryudo, is a warrior for hire, trying as hard as humanly possible to come off like a real badass but failing miserably. The number of times he says "damn" becomes comical by the time you're a couple hours into the game. It's like a bunch of writers sat around an UbiSoft conference table, decided they would make Ryudo more interesting by granting him a more expletive vocabulary, and were then told that every curse they'd written into the story would have to be replaced by "damn". It's ridiculous, how often he says it.
So Ryudo is hired by the reigning (NON CHRISTIAN) church of the planet, to escort one of their young ladies across the continent. Along the way, you discover the ultimate evil (NOT SATAN)'s attempts to return and destroy the world, and make haste in your efforts to thwart them. You've got the love triangle going on at points, you've got the dissension amongst the ranks... pretty much every RPG cliche is handled, dirtied and disposed of in this one. There are a few moments where I think a little bit of religious commentary is trying to peek through, but they're smothered very quickly by the horrendous writing and horrible dialogue. Four hours in, and I'd already quit speaking to non-central characters. A lot of time and effort went into giving the regular townsfolk a lot to say, but I quit caring after the first village. None if it's important, or even vaguely interesting.
The dialogue is almost painful at some points. Writers try their damndest to borrow from Shakespheare at one point, completely butchering the quote in the process. I kid you not, a character actually utters the infamous phrase "he's got intestinal fortitude." That's right, they jump from Shakespheare to Gorilla fucking Monsoon. Once you make that leap, there's no going back. Believability just flew out the window.
There's voice acting in key moments of the game, which varies from good to downright awful. Ryudo's voice sounds hauntingly similar to Kaneda's in the original English dub of Akira, complete with the occasional squeak and squawk of puberty. Come to think of it, all the game's voice acting sounds like it came straight out of an anime. But for the most part, the voices match the characters and I found myself enjoying the actor's struggle to make poorly written lines work in a dramatic context. Unfortunately, whoever was in charge of the final mixing didn't share my enjoyment, as he put the background noise and music up WAY too loud. There are points where I can't understand the spoken dialogue thanks to the overpowering musical score or sounds of the villages. Thank god for subtitles...
Speaking of anime, the game's spells and graphics offer something unique in this realm. There are portions of Grandia II where live-rendered game graphics interact with pre-rendered, animated material.. and, god help me, it actually seems to work. This is something that could've been really, REALLY over the top if done too often, but the team surprisingly used the effects sparingly, maximizing their effect. It's an interesting interaction, and I can't say it's without its quirks, but I've got to give them credit for trying.
Once you've written off the storyline completely, the game takes a huge step up in the enjoyability department. Truth be told, I really enjoy the battle system we see here. There are shades of Star Ocean: the Second Story, mixed with touches of Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger and Dragon Warrior. There's no such thing as a random encounter in this world, monsters appear on the maps just the same as your playable character does. If you're running low on life, you can try to avoid confrontations, or if you're looking for experience you can hunt down every last monster in the area. If you steer into the backside of a monster, you'll be granted "initiative", or first strike. If a monster catches one of the three characters trailing behind your main character (the entire party is seen on screen, a'la Final Fantasy VIII, rather than absorbing into the lead chracter), they've "surprised" you, and gain first strike themselves. It's easy to understand, and works very well.
The battle system works, despite being somewhat shallow. Rather than the Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior method (all your guys line up on one side, all their guys line up on the other), they go instead for a strange mix of Chrono Trigger and Star Ocean's styles, everyone interacts with everyone else. It's still turn-based at heart, but there are new factors you have to compensate for.. it's possible to catch a monster in-transit from his position to the spot he's chosen to attack, disrupting his turn. You must charge up before launching a spell. And, even if your sword is in mid-swing, inches from an adversary's head, if they get the spell off, they get the spell off. Time effectively freezes when a spell or special attack is used, which can be either very useful or very annoying. All in all, it's a fun system that almost makes up for the sharp lack of a story.
Graphically, this is CERTAINLY a Dreamcast game. Everything moves almost too smoothly, characteristic of the system in my eyes, but things look a step and a half better than anything you'd have seen on Playstation at the time. It's as if Square had released Final Fantasy VII on the PS2. Textures look much better, polygons are transparent and much, much smoother, but what it all boils down to is somewhat blocky figures with no nose or mouth. Moments in the game are downright beautiful; the reflections on the floor in the cathedral, the mist coating the floors of a later dungeon, but truth be told they could've pushed things a little further.
The game's cutscenes are average, perhaps a nudge above. It's certainly nowhere in the same league as the stuff we're seeing from Square these days, but then again.. what is? On the whole, they do the job of showing off important areas of the game, and manage to tell the story they need to without any kind of issue. They ARE rather scarce, until later portions of the game, which is a good thing in my opinion. Why go to a big, extravagant CGI when you can say the same thing within the same structure and scale as the rest of the adventure?
If music is a factor, you'll want to skip this entirely. The score is downright awful, almost a mockery of itself. Songs mismatch horribly with their surroundings, attracting attention to themselves rather than blending into the background and setting a tone for the scene. The guitar and horn-driven rock sounds like it leapt directly from Monday Night Football into the fight scenes of Grandia II. When you're drawn into a battle, I half-expect giant, computer-rendered footballs to fly across the screen. We've actually started coming up with our own, sports-related, bad lyrics to accompany. It's that bad.
What it all boils down to, I suppose, is a really, really fun battle system, nice graphics that can't possibly compete with the stuff we're seeing on the shelves today, a balls-nasty musical score and an overly forgettable story. Fun for a one time use, but don't take it too seriously.
On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.5