Originally released on the Sega Saturn, Grandia later found a home on the Playstation in June 1999. Though not as commercially successful as the Final Fantasy series, there are many notable qualities to Grandia and it remains a remarkable achievement today.
The story begins in the town of Parm where a teenager named Justin lives for adventure and longs to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather who were both fully-fledged adventurers. From his father, Justin has inherited a mysterious artefact known as the Spirit Stone, which proves to be the key to unlocking the lost civilization of Angelou and unearthing the secrets of a fallen race known as the Icarians. During a trip to the Sult Ruins – an archaeological site owned by the Garlyle Forces – Justin’s Spirit Stone helps create an image of a woman named Liete who beseeches Justin to head east across the sea to begin the search for Angelou. Along the way Justin meets a renowned adventurer, Feena, who joins him on his journey while the Garlyle Forces, led by General Baal and his son Colonel Mullen, also enter the fray in their own independent search for Angelou. What follows is an epic adventure for Justin across a variety of lands peopled by a myriad of races and cultures.
Grandia is divided into a series of sub-quests with every town and village that you encounter requiring you to solve puzzles or overcome different challenges, quite often with an engaging boss battle at the end. More often than not you will be faced with the intrusive Garlyle Forces and have to see off their threat to continue your journey and protect the native peoples. Aside from the towns, Justin must explore ancient temples and ruins as he pieces together the mysteries of Angelou. On your journey, the party will be comprised of up to four members with Justin and Feena being the mainstays, with other characters such as Sue, Gadwin, Guido and Milda joining you temporarily and all proving worthy allies.
Visually, Grandia appears inferior to many RPGs, even from the PS1 days, but what it lacks in graphics it more than makes up for with the battle system. Deploying a turn-based system as in Final Fantasy, Grandia manages to surpass its highly esteemed rival with the battles being more engaging and realistic. Up to its tenth instalment, the Final Fantasy series had characters and enemies lined up opposite each other. While Grandia begins the same, your characters move around the battlefield and will rarely, if ever, finish in the same place they started. To enhance your characters you need to purchase/obtain better weapons and armour but magic is also crucial in their development. The acquisition of mana eggs is vital as these are traded at shops for magic – fire, wind, water or earth. Both weapons and magic begin at level 1 with frequent use in battle helping earn experience to level them up, making your characters stronger, unlocking some deadly moves and creating an assortment of magic spells for your repertoire. While one element of magic gives you access to some useful spells it is in combining elements that the best results are achieved. For example levelling up fire and wind helps create lightning spells, while water and wind gives you access to ice spells. It’s a fun system and well worth exploring as levelling up weapons and magic also impacts on your characters personal attributes such as HP and strength.
There is little to fault with Grandia. Some of the voice acting, mostly Sue, can be annoying but these lapses are infrequent. Navigating through some sections can be tricky despite a handy compass pointing you in the right direction. If you’re not a fan of random battles you may find fault here but Grandia deploys a better system that Final Fantasy didn’t use until later incarnations. As you wander the landscapes your enemies will be visibly roaming around so if you are not in the mood for battle just work your way around them. This isn’t always possible but if you find random battles a bane in RPGs, Grandia at least offers you some sanctuary.
Grandia deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the best of the RPGs. Though some of the visuals are not of the highest standard, this is easily overlooked by an engaging story and a superior battle system. If you have never played Grandia it is well worth going back to experience this gem.
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