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SummaryA great, refreshing game full of adventures
The GoodMy sister bought this game when I was still very young, I played it, liked it but didn't play more, I don't know why. Only 15 years laters I said I'll eventually do a serious playthrough of this game and WOW... I was immediately hooked.
Grandia is a Japanese RPG for the PlayStation 1, released late in the the console's life. Grandia is set in an universe which immediately remembers the late 19th century. Your hero dreams about crossing the sea and emigrating to the "New World" where there is supposedly more freedom and adventures. Which by the ways he is completely obsessed with "adventures" and would do anything to get some. This is goes not without remembering the real world. But be reassured, there is still plenty of place for fantasy in Grandia's world. I do not know how to explain the story without spoiling the experience, so I'll mostly refrain from that; I'd just reveal you're going to visit 3 very different continents (this is stated on the box - so I don't think it counts as a "spoiler"). The first two continents takes the first disc and the last continent the second disc. The storyline does actually not play a very major role in the game, it is very linear and you are basically just doing the next thing you need to do. There's some occasional backtracking, but despite this, the game manages to be extremely FUN !
The character cast is original, varied and interesting. The hero itself not so much, he starts as a young adolescent boy (probably in his 12-14s), so at first this games almost falls in the "you're a bunch of kids saving the world" category. However eventually towards the end of the game you can see him growing and become more adult. I am unsure how many time the game spans on, but I can easily see it last a couple of years, enough to have the hero mature somewhat. Your other members change through the game, but there's no more than 4 at a time. When they leave your party through story events, you do NOT loose their abilities (as you would in most RPG games), instead you get sphere orbs which can be re-used to upgrade people who stays (or joins) in your party. Some of those who are only here temporary comes which a level much higher than yours, and this makes sense with the story, as they are here to give you a hand - I liked how this was realistic even though it also meant some battles were really too easy.
Those not liking random encounters in Japanese RPGs will rejoice : There's none in Grandia. Indeed the enemies are visible on the field and touching them triggers a battle. If you are caught from behind you have a disadvantage, however if you caught an enemy from behind your team have an advantage and can attack immediately. When you win a battle without being hit and in a single round, a special victory music is playing. Getting it to play as often as possible is in itself a nice challenge and makes the game a lot more interesting that it would be without this gimmick.
The battle system itself is basically a rip-off of the SNES game Star Ocean. Read my Star Ocean review for the details. Basically you enter command through menus like in a regular J-RPG, but character will move and attack on the field like in an Action-RPG, making it possible for an enemy or even a party member to block the path to an enemy when attacking. How the spells and technique targeting multiple enemies groups them also depends on how they are placed on the field. However the improvement is that you can control all characters instead of having them being AI controlled, so this game is much more fun to play than Star Ocean.
Something I really liked is that the game really "feels" alive. You can talk to NPCs several times and they'll say something different each time ! If you return to the city later, they could say yet something different. It shows a major effort to give the game's universe live and it pays off as it makes the game more enjoyable. This also increase the likelihood that, despite the linearity of the game, playing it a second time through would still be fun.
The BadThere is few bad things to say about this game, but since I have to I'll find a few. The first thing that comes to mind is that the game is not extremely challenging. Most fights will not cause your party any problem. Whenever you're in trouble, you can return to the latest save point and refill your health and mana for free; if you do not turn off the console, the enemies that were already beaten will be gone so you can do this whenever you feel like doing it, which basically means free health and mana refill (only cost time). When saving, power cycling and loading a saved game, though, all enemies reappears, so this technique only works for long play sessions. Actually this "abuse" saved my butt quite a few times, and I'm pretty sure without it, the game would be a lot harder. Even with it, I still saw the Game Over screen a couple of times.
The only other "bad" thing is that the Music, while good, is somewhat lacking by J-RPG standards. Most of it is more like ambiance music rather than "real", melodic music. Some of it is still good enough, though. A thing I liked is how they put instruments hardly ever used in video game music so far, such as the didgeridoo, to good use.
People looking for less linear or more open-spaced adventures will not rejoice, the game is as linear as a JRPG gets, you just do the missions in order. Once you leave a continent, you can definitely never return (including both halves of the second continent - you can't return to the first half). This is not as much as a problem as it sounds because there's still *some* backtracking within continents, and some times the place you're visiting change shape majorly due to storyline events.
During the first part of the game, it feels quite childish, and this could annoy some people. Although this doesn't retain from the fun. But this progressively disappears towards the end of the game as the heroes are maturing. Yet even in the later parts of the game, humour is still present, and the game still enjoyable, despite being based on an increasingly serious storyline.
Another bad point for me was that the French localization was bad. It wasn't as horrible as most early-PS1 games and Sony improved in-between, and most of the translated text made sense, but it was still rushed. Parts of acting are in English, and some minor parts were in French, this inconsistency proves that this was extremely rushed. The acting in french is absolutely horrendous and you can hear some weird echo with the English voice at the same time, which is just awful. People playing this games in English language only will not be concerned by this issue.