The PSone era was packed with great RPGs*. The Final Fantasy games, which have never matched their PSone peak, Vagrant Story, Crono Cross, Xenogears and more. Wonderful stories bursting with imagination. It’s a joy, then, to see so many of them landing on modern consoles. A joy and a considerable time sink. The latest to make the jump are Grandia and Grandia II. It’s time to see if our rose-tinted glasses have fooled us once again.
While the original Grandia is often called an overlooked gem, it’s starting to show its age nowadays. Inverting the tactic of most PSone games, the mixture of 3D backgrounds and 2D character artwork has made its leap to the HD era problematic. The 3D backgrounds look fine, but the sprite artwork has been scaled by smoothing it out, losing crispness. The fact that so much of it is 2D also means there’s a lot of sprite rotating and scaling going on – the constant zooming around the battlefield gave me a feeling akin to nausea. Others have found it fine, though. Perhaps watch a few videos of it in action to see how it makes you feel.
More positively, there’s still a lot to love here. The story moves along at a fair whip, and the script is both amusing and lively. Turn the voice acting to Japanese, though, as the original English dub isn’t up to much.
Arguably, most will be drawn back to Grandia for the excellent battle system. It features turn-based battles with a timer-based system to keep things lively. All participants share a timer at the bottom of the screen. When it moves to the ‘action’ section, you can select your ability. The action, though, doesn’t complete until your timer moves all the way through the section. This means that, if you time it right, you can attack enemies while they are in the action part of the timer, causing them to either delay their action or stop it completely. It adds a fun sense of rhythm to encounters, making you more on your toes than during a typical RPG.
It’s a good job the battle system manages to grip and engage, as there are no modern-day luxuries such as the ability to fast-forward. No save states either, which would have been hugely welcome given the Switch’s portable nature. This is the game as it was back in the late nineties. I think I had more patience back then.
Grandia II – released on Dreamcast and PS2 – is a different beast. It keeps the battle system, but now everything is in 3D and production values are increased across the board. The dub is way better, although still not great, and visually it’s nice and sharp. It’s just a shame that some textures on the characters have been updated to be ‘super sharp’ but quite a lot of foliage and background stuff hasn’t. It makes the characters really pop from the background in a way that’s quite distracting.
The story is also darker, and in my opinion, better, involving religious sects, popes, and world ending events. Where the first game is bright and breezy, Grandia II barrels forward into melodrama. I love a bit of JRPG high drama, your mileage may vary. Also, your best friend in the game is a talking eagle. RPGs, eh?
Overall, I was charmed by both Grandia and Grandia II, even though they’re both incredibly long, and the ports of both will annoy those aching for pixel perfect recreation. If you’re a big fan of RPGs you’ll probably be charmed too, and in terms of pound-per-hour they’re great value for money.
But if you’re unsure on the genre, they’re not beginner-friendly jumping-off points. Consider Grandia like the film Silent Running. It’s a bit janky, and some of it is laughably bad in 2019, but it’s a classic. It’s full of heart, warmth, joy and love. I’m just not sure it’d be the first film I’d show to someone wondering what this whole ‘sci-fi’ thing was about.
*Note: for all those about to shout at me that Grandia was originally a Saturn game, I know, but it only released on the PlayStation in the EU.