In 1999, a PlayStation port of a Sega Saturn RPG was released and, for the first time, found its way into homes outside of Japan.
The game itself seemed bland and striking similar to the many more recognizable examples of a genre that was arguably hitting its zenith. It had a clichéd story of good against bad, with predictably regular pontificating from a villain who had no real motivation for his dastardly deeds other than to be evil. The game should have felt like an average, middle of the road JRPG that would ultimately have a cult following and precious little else. Certainly not a sequel, at least.
Except that didn’t happen. Said game, Grandia, was the shining example of a sum more than it’s parts. It eschewed any attempt to be original in its storytelling and concentrated on rousing a sense of adventure and fascination. The battles were simple, yet somehow fresh. The music was and is stunning. Everything came together and provided an experience that would turn Grandia the game into Grandia the series.
Thus we came (almost immediately, mind) to Grandia II, originally released in 2000 for the Dreamcast and later ported to the PlayStation 2 and Windows (both in 2002). Critical acclaim and further sequels soon followed, with Grandia Xtreme in 2002, Grandia III in 2005 and a perhaps ill conceived attempt to ride the MMO cash train with Grandia Online. When the latter was finally culled in 2012, not much was heard of the series.
In 2015, Game Arts revived the game and the series exclusive to Steam/GOG with Grandia II Anniversary Edition, originally to be called Grandia II HD. The HD was dropped, despite the game offering HD resolution settings, because the name was conjuring ideas of an HD Remaster when very little was actually remastered at all.
Instead we have general upscaling and smoothing of character models, buildings, trees, etc. Most noticeable for the veteran will be the enhanced shadows. There is support for 1080p native, although without the option “Keep Aspect Ratio” selected then the resulting image will be stretched and distorted on a widescreen resolution. Sadly this leaves us with a 1440×1080 with borders to make up the difference.
The game, as far as I’ve seen, runs well at 1080p on midrange PCs and laptops. The problems in keeping a stable framerate will likely only come around with adjustments to the MSAA. At the maximum 8x MSAA and a 1080p fullscreen resolution, a noticeable stutter was evident in testing with a midrange laptop. Not enough to make the game unplayable, but still perhaps enough for some to switch down to 4x and have a stable experience with similar eye candy. The differences between the two, on a game with minimal graphical enhancements from 15 years ago, aren’t terribly great.
Overall, I rather liked the updated graphics, they were clean and clear enough to notice the differences but not wildly updated enough that it felt like a new experience. The stitching on Ryudo’s boots was my odd attraction in the various cutscenes, as what was before a pair of blurry blue moccasins has been transformed into the fashionista-friendly leather boots seen in the screenshots provided. Sadly the graphical upgrades have not been afforded to the characters’ mouths and even more sadly this does not mean that Pope Zera can somehow not talk.
Grandia II, the game description takes pains to inform us, follows the travails and adventures of a young mercenary (mercenaries in this world known as Geohounds) called Ryudo and his companion Skye.
Geohounds are a disliked bunch among the populace due to their reputation for being bloodthirsty, lawless and generally jerkish. Ryudo may not be the former two but certainly flies the flag for the latter. He is rude, sarcastic and wonderfully cynical throughout almost the entirety of the game – very few characters avoid being on the receiving end of his sledgehammer wit. This presents a clear break from the personalities of traditional heroes of role playing yore, and is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game.
Our story starts with Ryudo taking a break from his daily routine of “Go Fetch Quests” to accept a mission to protect Elena, a sister and songstress of the Church of Granas. With the mysterious appearance of a black winged woman named Millenia, while guarding Elena during a failed rite to reseal an ancient god of destruction, Ryudo is thrust into a journey of discovery as to the before unknown imminent threat facing the globe.
The story is anything but atypical and the player is swept along by the wave of the narrative from beginning to end. That said, the dialogue is fun, the discussions can often be insightful and there’s actually a considerable amount of character growth. This could be as a result of the small rotational party roster, but it’s still a plus point on balance.
Progression happens much like in its predecessor only on a much grander scale. The world map shows the locations accessible and one simply has to move the cursor to the next location to go there. Back tracking is almost non-existent and there is very little deviation from the main path. In a modern game like Final Fantasy XIII this kind of virtual claustrophobia is seen as difficult to accept, but Grandia II is just as linear if not more so.
Towns are full to bursting with NPCs to interact with, including many in houses which, to my surprise, exist not for the player to rummage through their belongings but to actually chat with. NPC dialogue changes depending on who is in the party and is well scripted and often quite humorous. NPCs can converse up to three times before their dialogue is exhausted, which is something I often wish other games of the genre would take on board even today.
There are no random battles to be found here (yay!) and instead we have monsters visible on the field, wandering aimlessly waiting for the player to get close enough. Combat is engaged once contact between the monster and Ryudo are made and occur on a separate screen.
The battle system uses Initiative Points, Magic Points, Hit Points and Special Points. A combo attack allows a character to land two (expandable to four via accessories) hits on the opponent. Critical does more damage than one combo hit, but less than two. However it has the chance to cancel the target’s attack if they are between Command and Action on the IP Bar or in the process of using their move. Some moves have the ability to cancel when timed correctly, lending additional strategy to fights.
Spells come from Mana Eggs but these require MC, acquired after battle, to unlock. Similarly moves can be learned and leveled up via SC, also gained as a reward for your victories.
Move and spell animations are impressive, particularly with the graphical upgrades afforded in the Anniversary edition. Exceptions include brief anime cutscenes that accompany some moves, which are unchanged and look jaggy and unpleasant today.
A fairly large complaint about Grandia II has always been its difficulty, or lack thereof. Fortunately the Anniversary Edition comes with a hard mode that provides a deceptive +20% to enemy HP. At the start of the game, this will probably not make any difference, while towards the end it can be brutal. GungHo has claimed that enemy Defence and Speed has also been increased, but I can’t say I noticed this in my playthrough.
What can be said about Grandia II’s soundtrack? Noriyuki Iwadare hits his stride with a wide variety of music tailor made for each setting. The game’s soundtrack sits in my opinion among the best and is among it’s biggest selling points.
Along with the sounds we have occasional voice acting, though the quality can be very hit and miss. A Japanese language option was included in the Anniversary Edition for those who prefer. I struggled with this personally and found the change to negatively impact on my nostalgia trip. First time players should take note, however.
Not much has changed for Grandia II in 15 years. Grandia II Anniversary Edition is unlikely to wow you but what it does is provide an easy entry for a first timer to Grandia and a nicely updated excuse for a replay for the veteran. The game is still fun, the dialogue is still charming, the music is still excellent and the battles still oh so addictive. I heartedly recommend Grandia II Anniversary Edition to the newbies and old hands, because they really don’t make them like this any more.