Oh, Grandia… why do I love you so? Much of your voice acting is atrocious and a fair portion of your story is outright sappy—serious deal-breakers for me—and yet you’re one of the few games I can make an exception for.
I’ve certainly hated games for less; even the best games can be turned into agonizing experiences if the voice acting is insufferable. Many games have forced me through 30+ hours of screechy, hyper-emotional dialogue that was written as though to break a world record for the most wine glasses shattered while recording. This is a fate that Grandia manages to avoid in large part, save for occasionally being a bit heavy-handed with the use of voice acting to force emotion. That’s not to say that all the voice acting in Grandia is horrible, of course, but 90% of the voiced dialogue is delivered as though the vocal talent wasn’t told the context of what they were reading. This results in somewhat random emphasis added in strange places, and lines that sound as though they were recorded separately and then pasted together later. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if that was exactly what happened, because the recorded dialogue lacks subtlety of any kind. Still, only certain parts of the dialogue are voiced, and the text-only portions are enough of a reprieve from the strange voice acting that it’s a forgivable sin.
The beginning of this game defaulted my expectations to zero. You’re a wannabe-adventurer named Justin, and you and your friend Sue act as though you’re seven years-old. Naturally, I thought that this would be the tone of the entire game and fully expected many hours of babysitting a bunch of juvenile characters who stumble around and accidentally manage to save the world. Those kinds of stories always irritate me since a hero that clumsy is just as likely to fall on their sword as to trip on a magic “world saving” switch. What an amazing end to a game that would be, though: In the final moments of the game, the hero is running toward some device to save the world and… boom, trips on his shoelaces and impales himself, clumsy oaf that he is. Evil wins. Life is eradicated. Sucks for you.
Anyway, most of those expectations were shaken when Feena, a seasoned adventurer, joins up. She’s far less annoying than Justin and Sue, and eventually causes Justin to be more mature and tolerable as a character. Their dynamic is one of the more interesting facets of the game, the writing that furthers that dynamic being subtle and natural for the most part. Those two aside, the most interesting characters in Grandia are the non-playable characters. From the dedicated but kind-hearted Leen to a trio of female sergeants obsessed with their superior officer, you can’t help but wonder what will happen to these characters next. While none of them are particularly interesting by themselves, how they all relate and interact with one another is what you’ll be drawn to.
The role-playing aspects of the game are incredibly satisfying; you can level up weapon skills and magic skills by using weapons and magic, gain levels the old-fashioned way, and decide who gets to wield which kinds of magic. This gives you plenty of options for how to build up your characters and ultimately affects how you approach combat, itself quite satisfying.
To begin with, there aren’t random battles. It’s a good thing, because random battles are the bane of my existence and whoever dreamt them up should be shot out of a cannon into the sun. Here, you can run away from enemies, though it’s not always the easiest thing to accomplish. Once combat starts you’ll notice a bar on the bottom of the screen sporting icons of your characters and enemy characters. When it gets to a certain point, you’re able to choose your character’s action. Even once you’ve selected your action, however, the bar still has to make its way to the end before you carry out the action, so there’s a unique timing element that comes into play. Should an enemy be between selecting an attack and attacking, it’s possible to stop it with an attack. This lends the whole combat system a unique, refreshing strategic depth.
Graphics are a blend between 2D sprites and a 3D camera that can be rotated however you want. This is often necessary for navigating mazes and locating doors, though it can get a bit dizzying until you’re used to it. The overall art design is underwhelming near the beginning, but once you begin to travel around the world, everything gets better. The portions of the game that involve running around avoiding monsters are largely uninteresting, with the more interesting locations and camera angles being reserved for dialogue scenes between characters. As for the music, it ranges between headache-inducingly simple themes and others that are appropriate for the situation and actually quite pleasant. It’s strange, but I never felt compelled to turn off the volume. Clearly the music, along with the voice acting, manages to somehow grow on you. In fact, even for all its flaws I don’t know that I’d change a thing about this game.
Here’s what you should do: