Nearly 22 years after it originally released in Japan, Grandia has finally made its way to PC. It features an upgraded UI, enhanced sprites and textures, multiple language options, and support for modern displays. The game was a success with critics back when it first came out, so it seemed like a good time to finally jump into the series.
Fun combat system. Instead of going for the more traditional turn-based combat seen in most JRPGs from its era, Grandia instead makes use of action-turn based combat. This means that, while not entirely turn-based, the combat does occur in real-time, albeit with a pause when deciding what a character should do. It works something like this: at the start of the battle, all party members and enemies are placed on a timeline. Each character then approaches the action point of the timeline dependent on their stats, at which point they can make a move and then get reset on the timeline.
It sounds pretty simple on paper, but there’s a lot more to it, a lot more than I can explain here. There’s critical moves that can cancel other moves, defensive moves that can evade others if timed correctly, and a lot of magic and skill-based moves that require different positioning and/or charge-up times. It’s pretty involved as far as JRPG combat goes and considering that this was done in 1997, it’s actually quite impressive. It really manages to strike a nice balance between being fast-paced and still having a good deal of strategy to it, which is a godsend for this genre.
Actually interesting storyline. So here’s the thing with Grandia‘s story: it definitely isn’t the best the genre has to offer and the setup isn’t really anything new, but it manages to highlight some of the reasons why I love this genre so much. A world-spanning adventure, tons of characters and party members to meet, unique and interesting areas to explore, and a story full of little twists and turns, even if some are predictable. It was quite the nostalgic trip, even from someone that hasn’t played a game in this series before.
However, even disregarding that, Grandia‘s story does do a few things that I don’t often see in the genre. I’ll avoid giving specifics to prevent spoilers, but I will say that some of these story elements are pretty unexpected given the time period in which the game originally released. And speaking of time period, Grandia also features a horrible English dub, one very similar to what you’d expect from a cheap 80s or 90s anime OVA. However, it actually adds to the game’s appeal for me. That, combined with the overall story, was like a nice little fragment of JRPG history, cut from a time when big budgets weren’t really necessary to make an interesting and long JRPG.
Great pacing. Something that I feel Grandia does much better than similar JRPGs is when it comes to pacing. Now, when I say pacing, I don’t just mean with regards to the story (although the pacing there is pretty good already), but rather with the gameplay. This is a longer JRPG that does not fall back on grinding and/or backtracking to fluff itself up. It is a straightforward adventure that manages to find a good balance between its story, exploration, and combat. You’re almost always entering new areas, uncovering new story developments, and taking down bosses, all with very little downtime.
You certainly can grind if you want an easier time defeating bosses and such, but I managed to make it through the game without ever feeling the need to do so. That isn’t to say that I steamrolled the bosses (rather, I got steamrolled myself a few times), but rather that the difficulty is balanced well enough for it not to be necessary. In a genre often dominated by games requiring hours and hours of grinding, Grandia is definitely a nice breath of fresh air.
Excellent art direction and world design. Part of what makes the exploration so fun in Grandia is that it has some really well-done art direction and world design. By that I mean a few things. For one, there’s a ton of variety offered up by different parts of the map. You’ll go from a port city, to a pirate ship, to a desert, and even to a sort of dreamworld. As I said in the previous pro, you’re constantly being introduced to these new areas, so they don’t really stick around long enough to grow stale.
However, that isn’t to say that they are all just shallow reskins of one another. There’s actually a pretty good amount of effort put into differentiating each. Aside from the usuals like textures and layouts, you also get unique enemies, NPCs with constantly updating dialogue dependent on where you are in the story, tons of new models, and even unique gameplay mechanics. A tomb, for example, has traps on the wall that push out suddenly and damage your party. And those models I mentioned? You can interact with a lot of them, usually resulting in a short animation. That may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but all of these little things add up. Really, it’s just nice to see such effort put into the smallest of details.
Subpar texture filtering. Unfortunately, for a remaster, Grandia doesn’t look all that “remastered”. It’s another one of those JRPG “remasters” that just slaps a texture filter onto its original pixel art, resulting in blurry art assets that become increasingly noticeable as you scale up the resolution. It also breaks a lot of the game’s character and background assets, causing breaks in what should be smooth textures. This is more noticeable in some areas than others, but is pretty bad all around. It’s not as bad as some other remasters, but the game could have really benefited from an option to disable the texture filtering.
Awkward camera. Grandia has a rather odd camera. It’s a top-down viewpoint at an angle, which is pretty normal for the genre, but has a few other quirks that make it bit difficult to deal with. For one, the camera does not handle elevation well. If you’re in an area with a bunch of paths or objects either above or below your party, it can oftentimes be hard to tell what level you’re on. That and it can sometimes be hard to even see your party in the first place, a problem that becomes really noticeable when you enter small tunnels.
Additionally, something feels “off” about the camera when rotating. It does not feel entirely smooth and was even a bit nauseating when I first started playing. I eventually got used to it, but even then, it could have definitely been a bit smoother. Really, the camera overall could have used some work, but I imagine that the remaster would not have been able to fix this without completely breaking the original game, so for now we just have to deal with it.
Some technical issues. Although the port itself runs fine and doesn’t have any FPS drops or crashes, it does have a few minor technical issues. The most annoying of these would be with regards to its audio. At numerous points throughout my playthrough, I would somehow manage to bug out the audio, making it play a continuous sound in the background even if I moved away from the original source of that sound. Sometimes it wasn’t even a regular sound effect, but just an unending ringing. Every time this happened, I would be forced to reload the game to get rid of it, which I ended up having to do at least 10 or so times during my 30-hour playthrough.
Aside from that, I was also annoyed by the game’s lack of skippable cutscenes and dialogue. You would think that, in a remaster of a game with a ton of cutscenes and dialogue scenes, that such scenes would be skippable, but this is simply not the case with Grandia. You’re required to watch every single cutscene and play out every bit of dialogue you run into, even if you’ve viewed it before. The cutscenes aren’t bad, it’s just that the option should at least be there.
Although the remaster does have some issues with textures and audio, the game underneath is an absolute blast to play. It combines a lot of what makes the genre great, including fun combat, an interesting storyline, excellent world design, good music, and plenty of characters to meet. It does suffer from an awkward camera and lack of cutscene and dialogue skipping, but it’s a fun experience regardless and one I would recommend to any JRPG fan.
You can buy GRANDIA HD Remaster on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.