Monday, February 10, 2014

Review #93: Grandia II

 Who let this port through quality testing?

  The Dreamcast had a somewhat small library, but full of quirky and unique games, and more than a couple of cult classics. Grandia II was born on the Dreamcast, and was later ported to the PS2, 2 years later. Spoiler alert: The port is atrocious, it wasn't a launch game and there was no reason to rush the port, so why did they mess it up so badly?
 In the JRPG you take control of Ryudo, a Geohound, a mercenary basically, who by some twist of fate wounds up involved in the resurrection of Valmar, god of Darkness. The story is nothing new, but what it does, it does pretty well. The game touches some interesting subjects, like not all Evil being bad or all good being, well, good, but it doesn't delve to deep into it, sadly. While the dialogue isn't bad by any means, heck it can be pretty colorful at times, some of it, particularly during the romantic scenes, can get pretty corny, I found myself laughing during them more often than not.
 As with every other JRPG of it's ilk, you are to go from town to dungeon to town, ad nauseam. There is no overworld, instead you pick a location from a map and travel to it. Even by JRPG standards, Grandia 2 is a pretty linear game, there are tons of points of no return, luckily, there are no valuable missables... which also means that there are no real valuables to be found. Some of the field areas can be pretty expansive, and some hold weapons or equipment pieces, but they'll get outclassed pretty quickly, which means that exploration isn't properly rewarded. Why explore if the next town will sell better equipment? Even more disappointing, there are no sidequests or secret bosses. There is an optional area later in the game that holds the worst equipment in the game(seriously), so why even bother?
 Combat is engaged by touching an enemy. The combat is, at it's core, turn-based, but it does offer a couple of nuances that make it much more interesting. On the lower right corner of the screen there is the action bar, when the icon of a character, or enemy, comes into contact with the red area of the bar, his or her turn begins and you can select a course of action. After selecting what to do, the character icon will travel to the edge of the bar and then execute the command, defending is instantaneous, attacking takes a very short while and magic or items take a lot of time. Now then, there are special attacks that you can use, so that if you hit an enemy while he is on the red area of the bar, you'll cancel their action(They can also do this to you!). It's a fairly interesting mechanics that adds strategy to the game, however, special attacks and magic are really strong, so the game doesn't really pose much of a challenge, outside of a boss or too. And as fun as it is, sometimes the CPU can be really dumb, and make to of your characters walk against each other, this can make you effectively waste a turn, as the character gets "tired" and won't reach the enemy. There are instances where they'll defeat an enemy and then hit the air for who knows what reason. It's understandable when you have two characters hitting the same enemy and one kills it while the other is attacking, but sometimes they'll perform the combo attack on the air. Not cool. And you have no control over either of these.
 When you win battles, you earn experience and three types of currencies: Magic Points, Skill Points and money. Money is used to buy items at shops, obviously, but the other points are used to tailor them to your liking. There are two special equippable items, Mana Eggs and Skills. Mana Eggs are items that grant your characters spells, there are about 8 different mana eggs, with different spell combinations, that you must level up with your Magic Points. Skills come from Skill Books, each Skill Book holds plenty of different skills that you level up with Skill Points or Mana Points, and these provide passive buffs to the wearer. Skill points are also (better)spent on the Special Moves of each character. Rule of the thumb is to max your Cancel-inducing single-target special and multi-enemy hitters. Cancel inducers to limit the damage bosses can deal and multi-enemy hitters to farm easily, as most of these can 1 hit KO them. It may sound like a hassle, but it's actually fairly engaging, and it's neat to be able to customize your party!
 As for the presentation, here is where it all comes apart. The graphics are awfully dated, even for Dreamcast standards. Environments lack detail, and character models are fairly simply and low-poly, they don't even have mouths. For what it's worth, the art-direction is really good, so you don't really mind it... until the frame rate drops. Frame Rate is awful, all the time. How this game got past quality assurance is beyond me. Walking around towns or most of the dungeons is done while under 30 FPS and can get pretty annoying. Battles too present framerate issues, and some of the worst moments are when you enter new towns and the camera pans around. So. Frigging. Slowly. These scenes last way more than they should thanks to this, and it quickly becomes vexing. This too applies to every single in-engine cutscene. Speaking of cutscenes, they present plenty of clipping issues, sometimes characters will even be missing parts of their faces during them. How did they let this through? At least the music is pretty good, and the voice acting is surprisingly decent.
 Good news: Despite all it's technical issues, it's not unplayable. The bad news? You won't have much fun. Technical issues aside, the game is fairly good, it's not fantastic, but it's an alright JRPG.
 5.5 out of 10.

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