Just five months ago, I played through and reviewed the PC version of Grandia HD Remaster, an excellent JRPG and a testament to why I love the genre so much. Well, at the same time that came out, Grandia II Anniversary Edition (which had been out on PC for four years) was updated to the new Grandia II HD Remaster, to correspond with the switch release of the Grandia HD Collection. It’s a bit confusing with all of these versions, but this one is supposed to be the definitive, so I just had to check it out.
Excellent combat system. Just as with the original, Grandia II makes use of an excellent action turn-based combat system. Your moves, spells, skills, and items are still done on a per-turn basis, but all of these are placed onto an action bar to determine what order they are resolved in. This action bar is paused when you are deciding what your character should do, but otherwise it is moving in real-time with enemies and other party members advancing along it dependent on their stats. Once a move is selected, that character or enemy enters a final buffer before the move actually resolves, during which time they are susceptible to attack (some of which can actually cancel their move outright).
This gives the combat an excellent layer of depth outside of just considering damage and defense stats. A party member’s position and distance from enemies, for example, plays a role in what moves can hit them, how long it takes them to travel to attack an enemy, and how likely they are to be interrupted when using a skill. That’s just one example though, there is a lot more depth to the combat than what it looks like on the surface. It may be relatively easy to pick up, but there’s so much that goes into it that it that it will definitely take some time to master. Whatever the case, it’s miles ahead of similar JRPGs and feels just as good to play here in Grandia II as it did in the original.
Improved leveling system. The combat may be a complete copy from the original game, but what Grandia II did improve on is how leveling is handled. I don’t mean just the general level of your different party members, but rather their skills and spells. In the original game, you had to repeatedly use a skill or spell in order to increase its level. Once you’ve leveled certain skills and spells high enough, you would unlock new moves. However, the problem there is that this would force me to use moves I did not want to use on a given character. One of the main character’s strongest skills, for example, could only be unlocked by leveling up his different support spells, despite him being the main damage of my party.
Well, Grandia II does away with this system entirely, instead adopting a point-based upgrade system. Along with experience points, you will also earn special coins and magic coins after every battle. Special coins are used to upgrade and unlock character skills and magic coins are used to upgrade and unlock spells. There’s no more grinding out specific moves and no reason to have your damage dealer casting a bunch of support skills. Instead, you can freely save up these coins and upgrade your skills whenever you want.
However, that’s not all they did — they also reworked how mana eggs work. Mana eggs can now be equipped and unequipped at any time and the spells on them can be upgraded independently of your party members. They did something similar with the new skill book mechanic, which allows you to spend coins to upgrade various passive buffs that can then be equipped to any party member and unequipped later at any time. It is a much better system than what was offered in the original Grandia and makes the game a lot less grindy as a result.
Great gameplay pacing. And on the topic of grinding, Grandia II shows yet again that you can have a decent length JRPG without needing to fall back on it. This is not a JRPG full of the usual fluff that others thrive on. New areas are introduced, explored, and then you move on. There’s almost no backtracking and the game does not recycle its dungeon designs, even if they are on the simpler side.
On top of that, the difficulty level is managed just well enough that you can get by without having to do any grinding while still having the occasional challenging boss fight. Of course, you can go with the new “hard mode” added by the remaster if you want even more of a challenge, but I found the default to be satisfying enough. It’s definitely one of the reasons why the pacing felt so nice if anything. There are still a few bumps, but Grandia II manages to maintain a pretty consistent pace throughout, making for a rather engaging JRPG.
Nice world design. One of my favorite things about older JRPGs like this are their game worlds and the aesthetic that comes with them. This includes everything from the different towns and cities you visit, the NPCs within them, the dungeons and how different they are from one another, and the overall sense of adventure core to the genre achieved by all of this. This is not only something that the original Grandia excels at, but Grandia II as well.
Whether you’re on some island in the middle of an ocean, hacking through a jungle full of moving plants, or traversing the inside of a giant enemy, there’s definitely no shortage of unique areas to explore. Along the way you’ll run into unique NPCs that have their own little stories to tell, new enemies specific to the area, and a bunch of gold and items to be looted. It’s an excellently designed (and somewhat nostalgic) world and is one of the game’s strongest features.
Boring storyline. Grandia II may have improved upon some aspects from the original, but unfortunately it did the opposite with its story. We went from Grandia‘s story of world-spanning adventure with tons of little twists and turns to a pretty generic “good vs. evil” JRPG story with a main character that is far less likable. It’s a downgrade on pretty much every front. The characters, for example, are hit-or-miss and lack the depth that is necessary for the story’s major plot points to have the impact that they are aiming for. Oftentimes it felt like the game was introducing new characters just to serve a single, short-term story development only to forget them afterwards.
Those story developments range from predictable to random and sometimes even unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. I wouldn’t say that the story is full of filler, but there were definitely some sections that felt like it. Sure, the story from the first game wasn’t the most original and did have its own problems, but it was at least better than what is being offered here in its sequel.
Numerous technical faults. Another problem that Grandia II shares with its predecessor is its numerous technical issues. A lot of these are port-related, but there are some that exist outside of it. For example, the camera is just as much a pain as it was in the first game, despite the upgrade to 3D graphics. It’s constantly zooming in and out and is very finicky to deal with when indoors, making it easy to get disorientated and lose your sense of direction.
On the port side of things, the issues are more apparent, especially with regards to sound. The sound in this game is all over the place. You’ll have some sound effects that are relatively normal, but then some that are much, much louder than they need to be. Then there’s the music looping issues, the audio cutting in and out (especially during battles), and the lack of decent audio leveling overall. Aside from that, I did run into a total game crash towards the beginning of the game. I didn’t lose more than a couple minutes, but felt it should be noted regardless, especially since a lot of people seem to be reporting crashing issues on Steam.
Lackluster quality of life features. When looking at a remaster of an older JRPG, there are a lot of things to consider. You have the updated graphics, maybe some updated music, some new gameplay content, and usually a bunch of quality of life features on top of that. Well, with Grandia II HD, you pretty only get the updated graphics — there’s little in the way of additional content or quality of life changes.
I can forgive not adding new gameplay content and such, but the complete lack of major quality of life features here really puts a damper on the experience. My main complaint would be the inability to skip any of the game’s animations and cutscenes. There are a ton of moves that, once activated, will play a several second long cutscene before actually doing damage, along with a bunch of moves that just have really long animations. The same issue can be seen with dialogue scenes, which becomes really annoying when they’re right before boss battles and you have to go through them everytime you retry said battle.
There are other minor issues (like the automatic unequipping of items when a certain character transforms and the lack of any sort of speedup feature), but the ability to skip animations and cutscenes is something I would expect from any game, especially a remaster that is supposed to improve the original experience.
Although not quite as good as the original, Grandia II HD Remaster is still a solid JRPG. It’s got the same excellent combat as the original, an improved leveling system, some great gameplay pacing, and a wonderfully-done game world on top of that. However, it did take a bit of a hit with regards to its story, an overall downgrade from the first game. That and it is lacking in some essential quality of life features, which is a bit disappointing to see in a remaster, but not enough to kill the experience.
Underneath those issues, it is both a nostalgic and fun JRPG and definitely one I would recommend to fans of the genre, especially those that like the classic JRPGs made during the PS1 and early PS2 era.
You can buy GRANDIA II 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.