I’ve been a fan of JRPG’s for as long as I can remember. While I’ve crossed quite a few of them off of my gaming bucket list already, there are still a few titles that have slipped through the cracks.
Grandia is a franchise I’ve often heard mentioned from gamers recounting childhood classic RPGs and unfortunately for me, one I never had the opportunity to look into as these games were seemingly being lost to time. Thankfully, the Grandia HD Collection has come to preserve and optimize both Grandia and Grandia II. The combined efforts of developer Game Arts and publisher GungHo Online have not only made it only allowed me to try out two of what are arguably the strongest entries in the series but to try them in their best forms yet.
As I mentioned earlier, Grandia HD Collection is comprised of the franchise’s first two entries, Grandia and Grandia II. First released in the west for the original PlayStation in 1999, Grandia is an RPG which follows Justin, a boy who sets out on becoming a renowned adventurer by uncovering the mystery of a long-lost civilization. While its overall plot is simple, Grandia’s endearing characters do more than a decent job at hold up the game’s story. Right from the beginning, Justin and his and his companion, Sue, help to create a certain innocent tone for Grandia, making their adventures seem grander (no pun intended) because of it. In contrast, Grandia II takes a slightly more serious approach at story telling. Released in 2001 on the Sega Dreamcast, Grandia II stars a mercenary named Ryudo, a young man seeking a legendary weapon once wielded by a God. While the plot of Grandia II is more complex than the first game, it ultimately sacrifices a good chunk of the original’s charm and feels a bit bland in comparison. Though their titles might suggest otherwise, Grandia and Grandia II are unrelated in terms of plot so players can feel free to start with whichever titles sounds more appealing to them.
Visually, Grandia HD Collection does what it can to help players forget they’re playing games that are about twenty years old. Filters have been applied to both titles in order to smooth out some of the rougher looking edges. For the first game, this works out really well most of the time. Grandia’s 2D sprites appear much cleaner and unlike many games that suffer from similar treatment, the game’s 3D environments keep things from blending into each other. Grandia HD Collection’s filter is really only ever a problem when the camera zooms in on its characters during cut scenes. This doesn’t happen often however and only lasts for a couple of seconds at most. Overall, this update helps Grandia's already great sprite work appear more vibrant on the game's simpler 3D backgrounds. Grandia II on the other hand, doesn't reap the same benefits as its predecessor. As an early Dreamcast title, it wouldn't have come as a surprise to find out that Grandia II's polygonal character models haven't aged well, but Grandia HD Collection does an impressive amount of work on cleaning them. The real issue when it comes to Grandia II's graphics are nearly everything else. Another welcome feature found in Grandia HD Collection is its dual audio options for both games, allowing players to easily choose between their original Japanese dubs or 90’s level cheesy English dubs.
The Grandia series often receives praise for the inventiveness of its combat system. While its certainly less unique by today’s standard, it’s easy to see how Grandia’s take on turn-based combat managed to change things up while still being a blast to play in Grandia HD Collection. Despite being turn-based, actions in Grandia take place in real-time. When in battle, a bar at the bottom of the screen features icons of each enemy and party member. When a player character’s icon reaches a certain point on the bar, the battle freezes and a command can be chosen. Then, after the icon reaches the very end of the bar, the chosen command will be executed in real-time. These mechanics bring about a good amount of strategy to battles while also making them far more visually entertaining. Characters can perform slight quicker combo attacks or stronger-yet-slower critical strikes and actions can be interrupted before they’re executed, briefly resetting that character’s turn order. Magic and special attacks can also be used at the cost of magic points. These abilities grow stronger through repeated use, giving players incentive to shake things up every now and then. Unlike many JRPGs of this era, random encounters are absent, meaning players can see enemies wandering on screen and choose whether they’d like to fight. Enemies approached from behind can give players an advantage at the start of battles, making positioning important. Both Grand and Grandia II feature these systems, making jumping between the two games an easy and familiar task.
Even having never played these specific games before, Grandia HD Collection ended up giving me a sense of nostalgia. Grandia may be one of the best examples of what a quality JRPG was during its era and still holds up to this day as a title which fans of the genre should experience. Grandia II might not stand the test of time as well as its predecessor does, but it is still worth checking out for its continued use of a nearly perfect battle system, especially for any fans of the first game.