Grandia 2: Anniversary Edition

Grandia 2: Anniversary Edition for PC is an updated re-release of the 2000 Dreamcast game. Does it still hold up after 15 years?

The cast of characters is always important for RPGs, and the ones here are a fairly diverse yet typical crew. Ryudo is the main character and a bit of a jerk. He is a Geohound, that's basically what they refer as freelance mercenaries/adventurers. Ryudo is no typical goody-goody protagonist from RPG's prior. He comes across very blunt, even rude sometimes. He simply wants to get a job then get it done. He starts off on a simple quest to escort Elena to a tower where a ritual is taking place. Elena is a Songstress of Granas, and unlike Ryudo , is a typical goody-goody like one would expect to find.

During the ritual something goes wrong and Elena ends up with "the wings of Valmar" inside her. Valmar is basically Grandia 2's version of Satan, with Granas being God. The story line overall is ripe religious with talk of good and evil and such. I can't elaborate too much more for sake of spoilers. While the game IS 15 years old technically I am sure there are plenty of people that are getting interested for the first time. The quest ends up taking the gang to the main Granas Cathedral, with them inadvertently helping folks and towns along the way, from there the quest goes on another direction which again, I can't really explain too much for sake of spoilers. Again, I personally like the story but I could see where some people might not enjoy it as much for the religious tone or the standard RPG cliches of the time. The game is also fairly linear. You travel the world by making a selection on a map then simply play through that part to unlock the next segment.

The voice acting isn't the best, but its far from being the worse. Over all its not bad and its only used in major scenes for the most part. This release has the option to use the Japanese voice overs if you'd rather. The story itself; however, is well written and full of interesting twists, and even a surprise or two. The music is also excellent even though it loops badly on some instances, jarringly stopping and restarting. The sound effects are mediocre. Like the voice acting: not the best but not the worst. Mostly just standard thumps and such of the era. The special effects were nice for their time.  While some magic spells and moves are in game, others use this neat effect of what appears to be super imposing video over the game. The graphics are decent for the time, and I feel they have aged okay especially since this version supports higher resolution. Unfortunately there is no wide screen option

The combat system is one area the game really shines. It takes turn based combat and blends it with real time action adding a layer of strategy into the mix. When ever it is your turn to input a command, the game pauses. Combo attacks deal more damage while the Critical command can interrupt an enemy about to strike, effectively canceling their turn and setting them back a bit on the IP bar. You have to be careful, as moves and magic will be cast instantly once they reach the end, while normal attacks require the character to move and its attack animation complete. This means if you were about to strike with a critical attack and cancel the enemies massive damage attack, and right as Ryudo's sword swing was a millisecond away from connecting, he could lose his turn. Thats no exaggeration. That is something that actually happened to me. Right in the middle of his "HI-YAH!" and sword being thrusted down, the enemy's attack went off first.

Highlighting an enemy during your selection phase reveals their targets and actions. This really lets you plan ahead a little and do battle while sustaining little damage. Of course, if you play poorly the enemies can also interrupt your attacks. The system, overall, isn't hard to grasp. Some spells and moves effect all enemies or allies, while others have an area of effect shown with a red circle. Any enemies or allies within this circle will be effected.

This makes you have to be careful because the foes may move out of range by the time the spell is used (one spell in particular is can help prevent enemy movement). Boss battles are really fun, as they are sometimes accompanied by smaller monsters or have different attack spots. It makes for a very old-school feeling, even when the game was first released. If there is a flaw in the combat system, the AI's pathfinding sometimes causes snares. For example, one character tried to attack and another had just recovered from their own strike. They both ran straight in one direction, parallel to each other. They failed at getting around one another so the acting character just wasted his turn.

Moves are powered by Special Points and spells with Magic Points. It's a little different from most games whose spells and abilities draw from the same pool of points. Skill coins are rewarded after battles and let you power up and learn new magic and skills/special moves. Special moves are dependent on the character, but magic and skills are customize-able. You unlock skills, such as increasing magic or vitality, by spending points on books once you have them. Each skill can only be used by one character at a time while each character can have more than one skill. You can use these skills to enhance a characters strengths or use it to shore up weak aspects of a character. The way magic works is pretty different too. Rather than each character having its own spell list, the spells are tied to items.

These items, called Mana eggs, unlock in a similar way to books. Spending magic coins will unlock or power up a spell, and you equip the egg to the person whom you want to be able to cast those spells. I really enjoyed the customization aspect of that even if it was somewhat minor.

While navigating the dungeons and towns the game found the perfect balance of hand holding and letting you fend for yourself I felt. In the corner of the screen there is a compass that shows you where the exit is, but it simply points straight at the exit. It doesn't show you what is the right way to go and you can often find extra treasure by exploring off the obvious paths. A circle shrinks as you get closer to the objective. Save points are frequent enough and almost always right before an important battle or scene. They also let you recover your full health, which I also liked.

All in all I'd say if you are a fan of JRPGs you should give this one a try. The journey was fun and the characters were likable enough with some character development along the way. The combat makes gives a twist to the standard turn based combat and slight customization of skills and magic are fun to play around with.