Pure JRPG Comfort Food

HIGH Two bonafide JRPG classics presented the best they’ve ever been…

LOW …But still not presented in a manner fitting for games such as these.

WTF I’m so sick of HD “collections” that are incomplete.

People can debate its merits (and they have) but there’s no debating that Final Fantasy VII changed just about everything when it hit — it was a seismic shift for the entire industry with its focus on presentation and scope, and it propelled the relatively-obscure-at-the-timein-the-West JRPG genre to a level it never had seen before or since.

Competitors immediately started looking for the Next Big Thing, and with Sega desperately trying to save the Saturn (undone by Sega of America’s incompetence and strategies so awful they should be studied at business schools worldwide) a little game called Grandia by GameArts got saddled with the “Final Fantasy killer” label in Japan before its launch. It wasn’t that, but despite not living up to the moniker it was still an outstanding title that became a beloved classic to genre fans before spawning a great franchise.

Current rightsholder Square-Enix has teamed up with GungHo to remaster the first two Grandia games and I’m glad, but I’m gonna get this out of the way right now — I can’t stand it when companies label something a “collection” when it’s clearly not. Grandia III isn’t present, and although it’s not as good as the first two, it’s still pretty good! I wasn’t expecting the PS2 dungeon crawler Grandia Xtreme, the Japanese-only MMO, or the weird GameBoy spin-off either, but calling this Switch package a collection while omitting the third numbered entry is a tad disingenuous. Anyway, let’s focus at least on what we have here, and what is here is awesome.

Both the original Grandia and its sequel are excellent JRPGs that have held up well despite their age and occasionally archaic game design thanks to the strength of the excellent battle system both games relied upon. Grandia uses a Active-Time-Battle system seen most prominently in the Final Fantasy games of the ’90s, but Game Arts took it a step further.

Once the timer bar for an individual character is about 75% full, they can start an action. The characters move in real time on the battlefield (although the player doesn’t control their movement directly) so depending on how far the player is from their targeted opponent, it might take them a bit of time to get close enough to attack.

Depending on the action chosen (magic spells and big attacks take longer to get through the remaining 25% of the timer bar) characters become more vulnerable to attacks. This goes for enemies as well, so both friend or foe can potentially time their strikes to prioritize specific enemies in hopes of disrupting their attack. It’s a system that’s easy to understand while still providing a lot of depth, and battles move at a quick pace. It’s one of the best turn-based JRPG combat systems ever conceived, and 20 years later it’s still hugely enjoyable.

On the story front both titles tell upper-echelon tales, although Grandia I‘s setup is almost comical with its use of stereotypical JRPG tropes. In it, players control Justin, a scrappy kid from a small town who dreams of adventure. He goes exploring, discovers something, some stuff goes down, and then he’s on a quest to collect compatriots and save the world. Yes, it’s one of those, but it’s one of the best one of thoses and features a great cast, an upbeat atmosphere, and dialogue that is both snappy and surprisingly well-translated (for the time).

Grandia II takes a slightly darker tone but still offers flashes of levity. It features a bounty hun…sorry, a Geohound named Ryudo who’s hired to protect a priestess named Elena. Some stuff happens, we find out the bad guys are trying to resurrect Satan, Elena is obviously the key to stopping it from happening, and we’re off to — surprise! — save the world. Of course the plot is more complicated than that, but I still prefer Grandia I‘s lighter, more humorous tone — it screams ’90s ANIME!! from the mountaintop and tickles my nostalgia bone.

Looking at the history behind this package, Grandia (as a franchise) never had it easy. The first entry was originally released on the Saturn, but that version never released in the West. In 1999 it got an inferior PS1 port which didn’t have a huge print run, so it’s become quite expensive since then. Grandia II was originally a Sega Dreamcast game from 2000 and got a US release, but it came late in the console’s lifespan and also became quite expensive. Most Western players got to play Grandia II‘s PS2 port in 2001, but weird audio bugs and horrendous slowdown meant this version was, for a lack of a better term, total ass.

With all this in mind, I can say that both of the current remasters are the best way to play these titles. Both have been modified to run properly on a 16:9 screen. The port of Grandia I is quite good — it’s close to the Saturn version and the audio has been uprezzed, so we get the amazing soundtrack and truly astounding voicework with shocking clarity considering it’s age. The only weird bit is that there’s been some smoothing done on the original character sprites, and there’s no option to turn it off. Also, it seems only the main characters got this treatment, as some townspeople still look rather pixelly. Still, it’s a well-done port.

Grandia II doesn’t fare as well. Granted, it’s leaps and bounds above the PS2 version so those who remember it will see it as a huge improvement, but there are still swaths of slowdown and the voicework still sounds like it was recorded in a tin can. Also, while the game has been fitted to modern screens, the dialogue boxes and character art attached to them look stretched out and low-res. It’s a shame that what is essentially a Dreamcast game doesn’t run silky-smooth on modern hardware — it’s definitely an improvement, but it could’ve been better.

Both Grandia and Grandia II are absolutely dynamite JRPGs that deserve to be remembered for their great stories and outstanding combat. They’re quite traditional so they won’t change the minds of those who don’t care for the genre, but any fans looking to play some exceptional examples from the heyday of JRPGs should absolutely pick this compilation up. While the ports aren’t perfect and Grandia III isn’t here, it’s still the best combination of affordability and quality these two titles have ever received.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: These games were originally developed by Game Arts, remastered by GungHo, and co-published by GungHo and Square Enix. The reviewed compilation is currently available on Switch and the two games are available individually on Steam. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on a Switch.  An estimated 23 hours of play were devoted to playing through a bit of each game. The remastered versions were not completed, but the author has beaten both games in the past on other consoles.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T featuring Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, and Partial Nudity. I’d personally recommend these two games to kids over ten years old without hesitation, but parents with sensitivity to either 1>occasional perverse Japanese humor (in Grandia I) or 2>religious themes and imagery (in Grandia II) should proceed with slight caution.

Colorblind Modes: The game features no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Both games are traditional JRPGs with the entire story and tutorials presented in large, clear text, but there’s no options to resize or change the color of said text. There are no necessary audio cues, and players with hearing issues should have zero issues playing through it.

Remappable Controls: This game’s controls are not remappable, nor is there a control layout screen for either game. Players control the main character using the left analog stick and confirm their actions with the A button.

Jarrod Johnston
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