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A Role-Playing Game for the Playstation

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Absolutely Grand

  • Jan 5, 2010
The Sega Saturn was, for all we can really say, a flop.  In 1997 an RPG came out in Japan on the System called Grandia.  It became incredibly popular on Japan.  It never made it here to states and despite its popularity in Japan... it was eclipsed by Final Fantasy VII.  The game then had a port which came to the Playstation in 1999... and that was actually released in America.  Unfortunately Grandia was once again eclipsed by a Final Fantasy.  This time Final Fantasy VIII.  Nevertheless, the game remained largely popular in Japan and gained a devoted cult following in North America.  While there are other games in the series, Grandia still manages to remain a real treat.  It's original, fun and gave birth to one of the JRPGs most popular battle systems of all time.

Justin lives in the City of Parm where he one day dreams of becoming an adventurer.  Until then all he can do is play with his friends (in particular Sue) and dream that he may one day go on one.  From the outset that sounds uninspired, but when the Garlyle Forces show up and go exploring through the ruins near the town and start digging through things, things change.  Justin just about gets his chance to go on that great adventure.  Especially because, as it turns out, the Garlyle Forces could certainly use that Spirit Stone he carries around, which was a memento from his father.  Justin manages to get away and then gets himself on a great adventure.  The game is split into two discs, and while the first disc doesn't really dive into the story, it does spend a great deal of time introducing you to characters and showing you who will be along for the adventure.  The story doesn't really start picking up until Disc 2, but when it does it's amazing how well it all comes together and how strikingly complex the story really is.  Simply put, in 1999 we'd never seen quite like Grandia before.  The story is especially good because of its cast of characters.  While it plays on several tired JRPG themes, the game doesn't spend a lot of time rubbing your face in them.  

On the other hand, it's incredibly hard to deny that Grandia was, and to a certain extent still is, a very fun and original game.  In particular the battle system is among the games best stylings.  It's a mixture of turn based and active town.  Your characters have an icon that moves along an IP gauge.  When it reaches a specific spot you can select what it is they do.  After that they have to wait until their icon on the gauge moves to action before they actually move.  In some cases it's very strategic.  While physical attacks are instant, most magic abilities and special skills take a little longer.  During this time your character is open to attacks. 

The best part about the battle system is that everything is always moving except for the moment where you select what to do to attack.  Your enemies also move along the IP gauge as well and are limited to the same restrictions.  On the other hand, it's not unusual to watch as your enemies and your allies are all moving along trying to strike blows at one another.  It's not cluttered or even messy, but it makes most battles fast paced.  This is one JRPG where you'll actually want to roam around and battle in.  Since battles are contact based you'll be more in control.  But it's important to battle because Grandia makes sure that you know experience is needed to progress.  

The battle system is also helped along by a huge amount of magic and special abilities.  Every character has their own set of special abilities with specific weapons.  Justin, for example, can equip Axes, Swords and Maces and can learn techniques.  Some can only be done with the sword while others can be done with all three or other weapons specifically.  Each weapon has levels and when those weapons reach certain levels you'll gain more abilities.  Some abilities require multiple weapons to reach a specific level.  It works to keep you from keeping the same type of weapon equip, and they do have their advantages and disadvantages.  Magic works in the same way, although getting magic is a bit different.  There are four elements at play.  Water (healing) Fire, Earth and Wind.  In order to teach each character elements you'll have to find a Mana Egg which can be exchanged for just that.  Once you do this you'll be able to learn new magic in much the same way.  The more you use Fire Magic... the more Fire Magic you'll learn.  Leveling up all the elements together eventually lets you combine them to make Thunder, Explosion, Forest and Ice magics.  There's A LOT of customization in Grandia and all these things play a major role in raising characters.  Their HP, MP, Strength--everything, is affected by what you use with them.  Because each time a weapon or a spell levels up, it also increases base stats--permanently.  It gives you A LOT of ways to play, and learning all the magic in the game and uncovering everything can take hours.

The magic system, however, brings about one of Grandia's greatest flaws.  The story dictates who you have in your party--not you.  Four characters go into combat, but you'll also only travel around with four characters at a time.  What this also means, however, is that characters will come and go as the story dictates.  And they'll take everything with them.  While they'll leave all their experience behind for you to distribute among new and old characters, it's a shame that they won't leave behind any Mana Eggs you put on them.  They leave everything BUT the Mana Eggs.  This wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the fact that Mana Eggs are actually limited.  Seeing as how you'd do best to teach the four characters who will be with you at the end everything you can teach them (luckily the game only makes you work to satisfy two of them as Jusin never leaves and the final character to join has all the elements) it can be painful to spend so much time on a character only to find that they leave th party permanently... and then become annoyed that you can't find any more Mana Eggs.  They're liberally scattered and you can't buy them--nor do enemies drop them.  This means that whenever you do find one... who you use it on is a big decision... as well as what element to teach them.  There ARE enough Mana Eggs throughout the game, but not enough that you can teach characters who won't stick around for the entire story everything.  You'd do best not to waste time on those guys (read an FAQ).

Another problem with Grandia comes from exploring.  Grandia is definitely a dungeon crawler type RPG, and it's unique to find one with an awesome story.  But the dungeons are huge.  You have a compass in the corner which points you in the right direction (the thought of giving you a mini map just hadn't occured yet) and you'll have to follow it, but it is still surprisingly easy to get lost within some of the games bigger dungeons.  This is strange considering that Grandia is almost an entirely linear game.  There are, unfortunately, not that many sidequests.  Oh, they're there, but you'll be disappointed to know there aren't nearly as many here as what you might see in other JRPGs such as Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest or Wild Arms.  There' s just not much you can do off the beaten path. 

It's still a fun game that'll keep you busy for hours, though.  The game is sure to keep you busy for 40-60 hours in the first play through.  If you're the type that has to master everything by teaching every character every skill and magic... Grandia can easily keep you busy for 80 hours total.  Of course, because of its lengthy quest and it's lack of side quests... Grandia is only really worth playing through once.  The story is incredible and the battle system is still one of the best in the industry, but when all is said and done there just isn't much to make you want to play through it again. 

Visually, Grandia is quite a looker.  Everything is in 3D.  This is no big deal now but in 1999 just about everything was pre-rendered in most games.  Even games such as Final Fantasy VIII and Legend of Legaia were using pre-rendered backgrounds.  This made Grandia a big piece of eye candy in 1999.  While the fully 3D stuff didn't look nearly as awesome as some of those pre-rendered backgrounds, it was still the idea that Grandia was making the most use of the Playstation technology in 1999 than any other came to have come out (the only one I can think of that probably did make as much use was the original Metal Gear Solid in 1998).  Of course, this can make some of Grandia seem ugly.  Especially because a lot of pixels and stuff just really stand out.  But it's the original Playstation, and for its time it was extraordinary.

Not as much can be said for all the audio.  Much of the games music score is incredible enough--with plenty of memorable tunes... it was the voice acting that was sloppy.  It was just all around horrible.  This was pretty common on the Playstation.  The number of games with good voice acting on the original Playstation can be counted on one hand (even if you're missing a finger!).  Grandia wasn't one of them.  Indeed it was nice to see a game with this much voice acting--especially in an RPG at this point in history.  But at the time it didn't dawn on anyone to make sure it was GOOD voice acting.  Much of it is just lifeless and there are also odd pauses in there as well.  The script isn't helped much either.  The story is incredible, but there are some lines that just aren't that good.  When voiced... it could be the delivery but I'm sure some of it is just bad writing.  And unfortunately with bad writing in some spots Grandia is no Resident Evil.  You won't find much here that's so bad you just have laugh and eventually come to enjoy it.  Just the same, there's nothing here that's so bad you'll find it ruins the essence of the game... or the story.  Grandia may not have everything well written, but it is still, by far, one of the most memorable storylines in JRPG history.  

It's hard to gauge Grandia.  Some of its flaws aren't really that big.  It's strengths more than outweigh its weaknesses... even, to some extent, overshadow them.  The voice acting and writing aren't great, but the story still turns out to be incredible.  Especially in some of its more emotional moments.  Yet for the most part what really makes Grandia stand above many other RPGs out there is its amazing battle system.  To this day there's still nothing quite like it... and this game was originally released in 1997!  It may not have made as big of a splash as Final Fantasy VII or even Wild Arms, but it is a remarkable game that's worth playing at least once.

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January 07, 2010
You're making me feel nostalgic, Sean. Nice job. I sure am glad you're moving your video game reviews. I have to say this is one thing that you definitely would have me beat hands down.
January 05, 2010
Grandia's still a good and playable game, thanks to the skill system. It's an RPG that actually makes random combats worthwhile, since fighting is what gets you new skills. It's got likable characters and a pleasantly stupid plot, too. It's also really, really big, and actually gives the feeling of traveling a great distance than many RPGs fail to accomplish.
More Grandia reviews
review by . December 24, 2001
posted in The Gaming Hub
Strange how some people regard Grandia as the best Saturn RPG and one of the best on the PlayStation. While Grandia possesses some interesting qualities, it is completely dismantled by a series of devastating flaws that cripple the game. This review will be formulaic, but it will get the point across.     The graphical engine was very good. 2D characters and 3D environments that can be rotated at will. I like nuances, and Grandia possesses many. I like knocking over teapots and …
About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #6
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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About this video game


If you can put up with the cutesy graphics, Grandia is one of the longest, most compelling, and most character-driven role-playing games you'll ever spin in your PlayStation. By the time we finished this massive quest, we really cared about the game's characters. (By comparison, our interest in Final Fantasy VII was focusing more on getting from one transition movie scene to the next). The main story line is standard role-playing fare. The powerful General Baal has plans to unleash something of a Pandora's box on the world, and you can guess whose job it is to stop him. Grandia provides a world packed with colorful characters who are fun to talk to, and the unconventional combat system lets players pick and choose their fights. The characters in your party grow, as do their magical skills and weapons, meaning there's always some new accomplishment just around the corner that keeps players adventuring long into the night.
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Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Game Arts
Genre: RPG
Release Date: September 30, 1999

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