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   Review : Grandia II »  


 Grandia II
 Date  : Apr 16th, 2002
 Genre  : RPG
 Developer   : Game Arts
 Author  : Jin-Ning Tioh

Japanese role-playing games have proven time and time again to be a staple of console gaming, containing some extremely popular role-playing games including the highly popular Final Fantasy series. But ever since the introduction of Square's Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII to the PC, this sub-genre of the RPG genre has been virtually nonexistent on the PC, with the exception of Anachronox. In short, there has been no chance for dedicated PC gamers to enjoy Japan's unique take on the role-playing genre. Fortunately, Ubi Soft has finally seen fit to port the popular Grandia II from the Dreamcast to the PC. And although some minor rough spots are dotted throughout the game, the translation has been actually done quite well, making Grandia II a solid addition to any RPG addict's shelf.

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You are Ryudo, a competent "Geohound" constantly looking to sell his sword to highest bidder. Accompanying him is his somewhat sarcastic hawk friend, Skye. After finishing up on his last job, Ryudo finds a note from the church of Granas requesting his services in escorting Elena, a songstress of Granas, to a tower deep in the forest for a ceremony of sealing. However, when the ceremony goes horribly wrong, Elena is instead stricken with an unusual curse. And before he knows it, Ryudo and his party will soon find themselves on an epic journey to save the world from the onslaught of darkness. While the plot might seem familiar, there's a lot of cleverness in the plot details and dialogue - You'll appreciate Ryudo's cynical approach towards the typical problems usually found in fantasy realms. This certainly helps put Grandia II high on the unfortunately short list of games that manages to actually maintain an actual sense of humor and personality such as Anachronox, Giants : Citizen Kabuto and Grim Fandango.

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Players explore the fully 3D world at a floating 3D camera angle, which is constantly fixed at a rather close-in, isometric vantage point. As you run around, you'll find yourself constantly rotating the camera around your party, as the scenery will often get in the way. Unfortunately, the ability to zoom out and tilt the camera are virtually non-existent, making it somewhat difficult to see very far ahead and avoid roaming monsters. To compensate, there's an onscreen compass that always points you forward or towards your next objective. Interesting puzzles also abound in some areas, which prove to be pleasant diversions even though combat is briskly paced and very enjoyable.

The combat system is probably one of the best aspects to be found in the game. Doing away with random encounters completely, players will instead be able to see enemy parties skulking around each area, who in turn will come running for you as your party approaches. A good tip would be to sneak up on your foes from behind, in which case your party will get to strike the first blow. Be wary though, for enemies can do the same to you. If that happens, expect a beating. Keep in mind though, combat is also entirely avoidable. Simply sneak past enemies if you do not wish for battle. Apart from the adventuring however, the combat system itself is a dynamic and interesting combination of role-playing and fighting game elements. Characters constantly move about the battlefield, getting into the best position to attack enemies. Action occurs in real-time and pauses only when a character is ready to act. Actions include a variety of options such as attack combos, critical hits, evade, defend as well as using items, magic and special moves. More details :

Attack Combo - Best used to finish off weaker enemies quickly, as it basically represents a normal attack.
Critical Hit - May not do as much damage as an attack combo, but it has the ability to cancel enemy moves and is faster.
Evade - Moves a character to another point in the battlefield to avoid hits and certain enemy moves.
Defend - Reduces the amount of damage taken from enemy hits drastically.
Items - Use offensive items such as bombs and healing items such as herbs.
Magic - Cast offensive spells, defensive barriers and healing spells. Costs magic points to use.
Special Moves - Uses each character's special moves to deal a spectacular amount of damage. Each character has more than one move. Costs spirit points to use.

The system used in Grandia II is one of initiative - Once an action is selected, your character will not act right away. You should also take the distance between your character and an enemy into consideration, as precious time is needed to close the distance. The same rules apply to your enemies, so if you see one of them setting up a special move, take the opportunity to counterattack for extra damage or just plain cancel their move. However, this isn't a particularly difficult game, thanks to the versatile approach towards character advancement. For example, Ryudo can be both your best fighter and your best healer bundled into one big powerhouse. And while characters gain experience points and go up in level after each battle, special as well as magical coins are collected in the party reserve. Special coins can unlock and upgrade new moves and abilities while magical coins unlock and upgrade deadly spells and certain abilities. As a result, you can choose to turn one character into a lean, mean fighting machine or spread them around as you prefer. It's your choice.

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The world is rendered in crisp and colorful detail, with battle sequences being smoothly animated as well as visually impressive. There's a good amount of variety in scenery, ranging from mountains to dungeons. Nicely drawn and designed still portraits are also used to give your characters personality, with a variety of expressions being used. Players will have no problems being immersed by the colorful graphics and captivating story. An interesting point is the use of full-motion video effects during battles. Certain spells and moves will have special FMVs which are actually quite entertaining to watch. Besides this, the graphics have also been ramped up for the PC. The result is a better-looking game compared to the original Dreamcast version or the recently released PlayStation 2 version. To accompany the game's generally light-hearted graphics is an equally lighthearted musical score. However, there are also some suitably darker or more melodramatic themes during sad and tragic moments. The voice acting has also been done well, with voices fitting their respective roles well to help bring the characters to life.

Grandia II is a solid Japanese role-playing game which manages to reward players with a surprisingly fun combat system and a light-hearted yet colorful cast of characters. And while things move along quickly, it will take even RPG veterans a good 25 hours or so before you reach the final battle. In the end, it proves to be a solid addition to the genre with its genuinely funny and charming sense of humor.

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