Grandia 3 Review

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So after years of waiting, we finally got Grandia 3 in the UK via Playstation Store. It was a hassle to access the US Playstation store but regardless, I have finally finished it and quite frankly I’m quite glad I got to experience this game, even if it is a bit rough around the edges. What do I mean by this? Well it is pretty much the opposite of everything that made Grandia 2 so great in the first place.

Allow me to elaborate. When this game was first released, people were in uproar about it, some consider it the death of the Grandia series, others just consider it to be a mediocre title which was nothing more than a disappointment. Hey, that sounds like the perfect game for me to review. So I picked the game up and gave it a go. How bad could it possibly be?

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First of all, I would like to talk about the visuals of this game since they are a considerable improvement from Grandia 2. The world of Grandia 3 is certainly a looker, not the best looking game I’ve seen but it has certainly been given a makeover that stands out if you’ve played any of the previous Grandia games. It feels great to actually play a Grandia game with such great visuals. Sure Grandia 2 Anniversary Edition improved on the visuals somewhat and made them a lot easier on the eyes and actually made them quite likable but Grandia 3 really has a fresh new style that is unlike any of the previous Grandia games.

One thing I would like to note is that Grandia 3 feels like a much more open-ended game than Grandia 2 but don’t let this fool you, the game is every bit as linear as its predecessor though to be fair, you are able to backtrack this time around thanks to the game’s flight system which allows you to freely roam the world map in a similar way to Lost Odyssey in the sense that it is very restrictive and in a lot of ways kinda pointless considering the linear nature of this game.

Grandia 3 Flying around is kinda pointless

For a theme centered around freedom to roam the skies, you’d expect the game to deliver that feeling of freedom in its structure but sadly this is not the case, instead when you approach certain areas, you merely get a text box telling you about it, kinda like in Mass Effect. It’s such a shame since there is a huge world out there to fly around in yet you only get to explore a small portion of it. It’s such a shame really.

While we are on the topic of the game’s theme, let’s get straight to business and talk about the games laughable story. Where do I even begin? For starters after having played the legendary Grandia 2, it is easy to see how this game has come to receive such a negative reception. You would think that after playing a game like Grandia 2, the story would be exciting and fresh, sadly this is not the case this time around, the story of Grandia 3 is about as exciting as a baked potato.

Grandia 3 Trying really hard not to make a dick joke

Trying really hard not to make a dick joke

While Grandia 2 went off the beaten track with its protagonist, in Grandia 3, you are presented with Yuki who follows just about every single cliché in the book as a JRPG protagonist. His only standout feature is his love for planes… not that I consider that a good thing, rather It comes across as obnoxious more than anything else. Typically the game starts off with the protagonist, Yuki getting scolded by his mother Miranda for being too obsessive over his hobby.

But believe me, Yuki doesn’t get any sympathy from me. After crashing his plane like an idiot, he is left stranded in the middle of a forest a couple of miles from his hometown and encounters a young girl named Alfina… you know what this means don’t you? That’s right, get ready for some boy meets girl action in the form of yet another bland, uninspired romance that contributes absolutely nothing to the plot… hurray!

Grandia 3 Review 9

Little did I know that the entire build up of Yuki’s character was about to capsize from here on out. Now Yuki must escort Miss Bigears to a place called Arcriff, a place of worship dedicated to communicating with the guardians. Sound familiar? Anyways the story starts getting duller and duller from there.

Put simply if you’ve played any JRPG, you’ve seen Grandia 3’s storyline already. It pretty much deflates into a quest for macguffins once you reach the halfway mark and by that point, the story never really evolves past that until you face the big bad evil thing at the end.

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To make things even more insulting, the only two redeeming characters leave the party early on in the story. This cripples the story as they are replaced by two dull characters who barely have anything to offer in terms of personality and they are mostly cardboard cut outs. In fact, these characters are so bad that you could remove them from the game and it wouldn’t change a thing.

Now in a game like Grandia, this is particularly worrying since the Grandia series has always revolved around its interaction between characters and with a cast of characters as dry as oatmeal, its efforts to focus on character interaction are pretty much wasted.

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The nature of the Grandia series remains unchanged however. Grandia 3 follows the same formula as the previous games. Its focus on NPC interaction is still an all you can eat buffet of narrative and the dinner scenes return to add more flavor.

You can tell that Game Arts were trying to focus on building a strong narrative as they continue to use the same tools that made Grandia 2’s story so engaging, it’s just a shame that the characters and the plot of Grandia 3 are so sterile otherwise it could have made for yet another memorable and engaging storyline.

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Where the game truly shines however is in its battle system. Like the previous Grandia titles, Grandia 3 uses an active time based (ATB) battle system with a heavy emphasis on changing the flow of battles through cancelling enemy attacks and manipulating the IP gauge to intercept enemy turns.

Grandia 3 enhances the system by rebalancing the game’s difficulty to make for a more challenging experience. In addition, the game adds new aerial combos in an attempt to mix things up. Sadly while aerial combos have their uses early on in the game, their effectiveness diminishes later on as enemies are given insane amounts of health and this tends to make many of the boss fights a slog.

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Fortunately many of the boss fights are varied, some of which can be quite difficult to figure out at first. The game keeps things fresh by offering plenty of devastating abilities to be used by both the player and the enemy. It is important to stay on your toes in all battles as you are usually outnumbered by multiple enemies and if your characters are widely spread out on the IP gauge, you may find yourself in a compromising situation if you make the wrong move.

Thankfully the game offers a wide assortment of abilities in the form of moves/magic to bolster your arsenal. Every ability is useful, you just need to find the right one for the job. That’s JRPG combat 101 right there and while many JRPG’s forget the significance of this, Grandia 3’s combat focuses heavily on making the player’s choices feel important. Add to that the need to manage SP more carefully (due to the lack of SP restoration items available) and you have a surprisingly deep combat system which offers plenty of variety to keep things fresh for the entire duration of the game.

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Character Management is different this time around. New moves are learned via leveling up rather than with special coins. Moves are enhanced at random. I personally dislike this as it can sometimes screw you over in battles since attacks will be pulled off instantly when a new secret method is learned (the process of leveling up moves) which can ruin a potentially well-timed cancel. I also dislike the randomness of move leveling. Grandia 2 gave the player total freedom with learning moves which led to several balancing issues, however this method is still preferable to the method used in Grandia 3, at least in my opinion.

Magic is pretty interesting this time around. While the spells in your arsenal are more-or-less the same, the method of learning magic has drastically changed from that of Grandia 2. On one hand it complicates the progression system, on the other hand it is a more balanced system that prevents players from acquiring high level spells too early. Magic eggs can be dropped by most enemies and are surprisingly very common, they can be used to enhance the effects of spells or they can be consumed to learn new spells. Abilities work the same way allowing you to equip skill books to increase the potency of specific skills or consume them to learn new skills. These can be equipped at any save point.

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In addition, there are higher level eggs available which can easily be acquired through mana egg fusion. This allows you to access powerful magic when you wouldn’t normally be able to. It is important to note however that characters have a set magic level depending on how high of a level they are. As such the system is balanced and you can never learn spells that are too powerful. To some, this could be seen as a bad thing, however mana eggs can still be equipped to increase the potency of spells to make up for this allowing you to grow stronger should you wish to.

Ultimately when comparing the gameplay of Grandia 2 and Grandia 3, Grandia 3 comes on top just by a small margin, this isn’t to say that Grandia 2’s gameplay was bad, many of the fundamentals that make Grandia 3’s gameplay so great were lifted straight out of Grandia 2, they have just been improved this time round which is expected of a successor. Sadly it is difficult to call Grandia 3 a true successor to Grandia 2 as it falls short in the department Grandia games are known for, story.

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Personally, I do not often prioritize story in videogames. Grandia 2 was an exception for me and I honestly didn’t expect Grandia 3 to be anything quite like Grandia 2 but the combat is ultimately what won over my interest in this game. While I disagree with some of the systems used in Grandia 3’s character management, the combat itself is actually quite engaging to say the least. As such I cannot say that my experience with Grandia 3 was as bad as many people make it out to be. To be honest I quite enjoyed it.

The music is what sealed the deal for me, despite this games shortcomings, it still has a solid soundtrack, not as good as Grandia 2’s but a solid soundtrack nonetheless. Add to that the eye-catching visuals and you have yourself an enjoyable game. That being said, I can understand the negative reception this game has received, as a Grandia game it is pretty weak and its linear story focused structure limits its potential. Add to that a couple of irritating songs and a few lackluster dungeons leaving you with just another run-of-the-mill JRPG which just falls short of being yet another classic PS2 RPG.

Grandia 3 Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the evilist of them all

Truly a work of art! Oh wait, that’s a mirror, never mind…

So all in all, Grandia 3 is not as bad as people make it out to be, while it is far from being a true successor to Grandia 2, it is still worth the experience. If you can find the game for cheap, give it a try. It’s not a bad game, just don’t expect too much out of it. Put simply if you’re starving for some JRPG action and you’ve played all the best, you aren’t doing yourself a disservice by playing this game, you should be able to find some enjoyment out of it. While this may come as a surprise to you all, I actually had a hard time tearing this game to shreds as much as I’d have liked to.

I really didn’t expect to like this game. Though the story may have been laughably bad and cringeworthy at times, I’ve definitely experienced worse (*cough*White Knight Chronicles*cough*). It gave me some good laughs at least… seriously what is with the blatant similarities between the story of Grandia 2/3 and Devil May Cry 4? Even the voices for Yuki and Alfina return to play the same roles in Devil May Cry 4 as Nero and Kyrie… plus why does the villain look so much like Ganondorf and why does he wear black patches on his face? Seriously dude, grow a beard or something. Plus what is with that wannabe Arngrim guy named Kornell? Why is he such a doofus? What is his purpose in the plot besides being comic relief? We may never find an answer to these questions. All I can do is give the game its final score.

Grandia 3 Could he possibly be evil

Seriously who the fuck is this guy!? What is his purpose in this game besides just being there?


Story/plot: Pretty Bad
Visuals: Good
Gameplay: Great
Music: Good
Lifespan: Decent Length
Would You Replay? No

 

Overall: Satisfactory

 


 

Value: £15.00

For a more in-depth look at the story, watch this video:

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How to make an engaging storyline in a videogame

Videogames have reached a point where they are no longer merely a source of simulated kinetic interaction in the form of virtual entertainment but many games are being known for their interactive stories, some games are built for this purpose exclusively but what is it that truly makes a good story? While I cannot speak for everyone, I can at least speak for myself and what videogame storylines can engage me. As such I will list several important components a story needs in order for it to become engaging for me.

1. World building

world building

Evil bad guy wants to destroy the world? Why should we care? Make your worlds captivating first before putting one of these tropes in your game… heck you should make your worlds captivating regardless. Every videogame with a storyline takes place in some kind of world and this world is shaped by the people in it.

As such, the player needs to be able to connect with the world through its characters and its people but not just any characters, they need to experience the cultures and social standards that govern the world, they must also meet with charismatic individuals who they strongly care for or bitter rivals who they wish to overcome before any world ending conflict. If you don’t craft an interesting world then you might as well be destroying a cardboard box. Make the impending doom something worth preventing!

2. Multiple Perspectives

multiple-perspectives

Now here’s something you rarely see in videogames. Remember that guy who crossed you at a certain point in the story? Perhaps you were brought into conflict with this person. Who or what is that person and what are his/her intentions, why do they side with the bad guys? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? What do they strongly believe in?  What challenges must they overcome?

Most villains in videogames just show up to laugh at you and bugger off for a coffee break when they have played out their part. When a game puts you into the perspective of that evil dude however, the player sees a part of that character that the other characters didn’t see, they get a personal connection with that character… even if that character is a deranged psychotic serial killer. You might grow to hate a character one minute and the next minute you are cheering them on. Why most videogames do not make use of this concept is beyond me. I am tired of games being focused on individual characters, I want to play and experience all of them!

3. Add a bit of edge

add-a-bit-of-edge

Now I know that edginess is often seen as a bad thing but let’s be honest, a good way to engage the player into a videogame is empowerment and by putting them into an edgy world filled with powerful enemies with a character who is equally as powerful and confident enough to take on entire armies of these enemies, the player is pumped up for not only the story… but the gameplay.

Remember that the purpose of storytelling in videogames is to motivate the player. What better motivation is there than having you play as someone stupidly cool?

Now sure there is a limit to how much edge you can have before it becomes too silly and if you do throw in too much edge, at least lighten things up with some humor. Edginess can get pretty bland after a while and that is why people tend to hate it. If you take your game too seriously and edgy, your game becomes sterile. No one cares if you can wield a 20 ft long buster sword and cut down armies, they want you to have some kind of personality. Even Arngrim, as edgy as he is has at least some funny moments in Valkyrie Profile.

4. Keep it clear and concise

Keep things simple and concise

Or more accurately speaking, respect the players time and make damn well sure it is not wasted with uninteresting dialogue or boring exposition. The player wants to move through the game as quickly as possible and the story needs to grab their attention whenever possible. However, the moment that the player loses that attention, stop the chatter and move on!

I know it can be difficult for game developers to judge when and how they present the game’s writing but it may be a good idea to have someone read through and cut out some of the filler. This can be quite important when writing complex storylines. It is easy to drown the player in jargon and cruel doses of exposition but you need to know when to stop.

In addition, it is important to make your points clear by being brief. The main reason why people hated the plot twist in Star Ocean Till The End Of Time was because it wasn’t clear enough… or to be more precise, there was way too much exposition explaining it all that many players completely lost track of the plot and gave up at what was a crucial point in the story.

5. Experiment with different tropes and see what connects

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Every videogame uses tropes but not every game puts them to good use. Tropes can be both a games strongest weapon or its biggest weakness. To use tropes correctly you must find a connection. For example, evil empire oppresses its people and suddenly a world destroying maniac appears out of nowhere and wants to destroy everything (yes I’m referring to a specific videogame here and no I’m not telling you what it is and you can probably guess if you’ve played it).

Are his/her reasons for wanting to destroy the world connected to this evil empire. Or are the evil empire somehow aware of this destructive force and are secretly planning to prevent the worlds doom? If not then don’t make a ridiculous plot transition like that.

However a game which manages to connect tropes together well can make for a very engaging experience because you get to watch the world change and people change, you get to see how certain events can impact the player’s characters and their personalities. A story of epic proportions requires a plot that is not only ambitious but can connect seamlessly with each plot point to keep players engaged. Tales Of Vesperia is an example of a story which didn’t manage to do this very well.

6. Subtlety

subtlety

Though it isn’t required to be subtle, it certainly makes a story more interesting. Foreshadowing is something that may appear completely irrelevant at first but once the event does happen, you will remember that moment and you will realize that you have been fooled. This can and most likely will shock the player when the time comes and it keeps the story fresh, entertaining and most importantly, engaging. Some games however can make things a bit too obvious.

I find it amusing when the game shows the villains in a room talking amongst themselves as to how they are going to defeat the good guys, giving away all their sinister plans and then they swap back to the good guys who are completely oblivious despite the fact that the player is informed.Lets say there’s a box and you know not to open that box However the game forces you to open the box and inside that box is a trap that you saw coming, it makes the player feel as if they lack control over the story and can be quite frustrating and sometimes even boring.

So be sure to keep things a secret from the player when you need to. Remember that the purpose of the player is to be connected with the characters. Unless you are in direct control of the bad guys at some point in the game, don’t reveal their plans right away. Even so, you can still give that character control and make them subtle to make things even more interesting. Make the character a puzzle that the player has to unravel. This can be done with both abstract and exposition. This makes players feel more rewarded if they figured it out.

7. Keep characters fresh

keep character's fresh

I would have put character development here but let’s be honest here, character development is pretty unrealistic in some cases. Watching someone completely change over the course of a night can sometimes feel awkward, it is almost as if they have been swapped brains with someone else. Character development is often demanded in story driven games but it isn’t always the best approach nor does it work in some cases. Like they say, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, at least not without a good reason.

That being said though, characters take the spotlight in the story, they are the pillars that hold everything up. If the characters are uninteresting, the pillars holding up the story will begin to deteriorate until there is nothing left. It is important to at least have one character who gives mixed feelings to the player to make a story engaging. If all the characters give the same impression for an entire game, it really does get sterile.

However it is possible to change the player’s perception of a character without character development. Like I said in #6, a subtle character can prove to be one of the most engaging of characters because you learn more about them at a slower pace and you feel more rewarded for figuring them out and that alone can be a game in itself, a puzzle someone will need to solve.

8. Don’t forget to illustrate your stories

Don't forget to illustrate your stories

Videogames can be more engaging than books sometimes and this is often the main reason. When you are in a fictional world, you expect some aesthetic appeal in that world. While this may be more connected to visuals than storytelling, the visuals do have an impact on a game’s story and can set the mood for a particular event or abstraction in a story.

Sometimes, a strong ambiance can speak greater words than any story. The same has been said about art. Illustration speaks a lot of words and if you can illustrate your world well and make it look interesting, even if your story fails, at least you have a brilliant looking world set up for you in the sequel (so long as you maintain the level of visual quality).

Remember that stories don’t need to have any narrative whatsoever. An example of this would be Kirby 64 The Crystal Shards where the characters don’t speak and only gesture but the world is so picturesque that you are immediately engaged in the story. It is important however to remember to make the aesthetics fit in with the theme of the story so the player doesn’t get distracted by an inconsistent visual style. Sunshine and rainbows have no place in a story where people are being enslaved and beaten to death.

9. Don’t just make videogames

don't just make videogames

It may sound silly but sometimes a story is better told in words and in such a case a book would be more appropriate. Videogames are great and all but if you can make an engaging book to go alongside it can get people more invested in the game’s story and they grow more attached to it. This is usually the ultimate test. A book written within a game’s world can be daunting. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. It is a good chance that if you do manage to pull it off, you probably had some good material to work with.

Successful videogame stories are perfectly evaluated this way, if you can tell a story in a videogame you can also tell a story in a book. However, books have been going on for years now and there are much higher standards set by readers than there are with gamers. If you are going to write a book, make sure that your world is well-built and that you have a lot of potential to expand your story beyond the game’s story.

This can involve characters that may have had very little opportunity to shine, it can also involve characters you played as in the games. You could make a completely new story altogether with new characters if the world building is good enough. Warcraft managed to do this and it did it so well that sometimes I find the books to be more engaging than the games themselves.

10. It’s not about what you write, it’s how you write it

its-not-about-what-you-write-its-about-how-you-write-it

A story can be great in concept but can be very shallow in writing. Good writing can make a huge difference in storytelling. While average writing does get a pass most of the time, good writing is what helps games stand out. I know it may seem obvious but when your vocabulary is limited to the basics, the story can become stale very quickly. Good writing allows you to create memorable lines that can be either witty or hammy to make for an epic moment.

There is no straight answer to what makes for well-written dialogue, you just have to experiment. Using a thesaurus can be handy if you wish to bring the best out of your dialogue. Try to deliver your writing in a way that is not only clear and concise but is also quirky.

Remember to make sure that your writing matches the mood you wish to portray to your audience unless you are deliberately trying to alter the mood of the game. That being said writing something funny in a serious situation can be a good thing at times as it can add an unexpected twist to suppress the melodrama a little which can be handy should a situation cause a game to stray away from the narrative style the writer wishes to portray.

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In any case, those are ten ways to make a story engaging in a videogame. A lot of it may be simple and perhaps somewhat vague but nobody said it was easy. If you are playing a game, try to pay attention to these things and see if they are up to snuff. It may help you evaluate your experiences better and it may also help you inform others too, something I may also have to keep in mind.

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t really looked too closely at storytelling in videogames and that it mostly due to the fact that I haven’t experienced many stories in videogames which I can consider to be masterful. I’m not a critic of narrative, I am a critic of videogames in general and as such I try to be an all-rounder. Even then I will miss things that a writing critic would point out. I do my best though, after all it is my goal to create a review that is as accurate and detailed as possible.

Videogames don’t need to be perfect

Sometimes I wonder… does the name Cynical Gaming Blog hold much meaning anymore? Perhaps I should rename the site to “Rational Gaming Blog” because as a gamer, I seem to be one of the most rational gamers there is at the moment. Why is this you ask? Because I can appreciate games for what they are instead of simply berating every single little thing about them.

Ryudo 1

What has happened to gamers these days? Have we really stooped as low as the movie industry? I made three consecutive articles a while back (two of which are reviews) and all three of them revolve around gaming related media which has recieved negative backlash from either fans or critics over something stupid like “why does this girl wear such huge underwear?” or “this movie sucks because it’s based on a series which I haven’t a clue about because I don’t play videogames so I don’t understand the story” or “Why do the character models look so ugly? This game sucks because the character models are ugly!”

Now I think one of my biggest flaws as a blogger is that I haven’t stayed true to my name as a “cynical gamer” and hopefully this blog will help you interpret its meaning. I’m cynical towards the industry, yes because publishers are ruining it (that’s a rant for another day, go watch this video if you want the gist of it because this guy sums it up in a nutshell) but I’m becoming even more cynical of the gaming community. Why? Because we let it happen, it is us gamers that let all the industry bullshit happen because we buy the games that cause the issues in the first place.

You just bought Overwatch? You’re the heart of the problem. I wonder how long it will take before they implement microtransactions… oh, wait they already did? Brilliant, one small step for man, one large step for the industry’s downfall. Lets see how long our beloved games last shall we? Gaming may be on the up now but considering how much backlash Star Ocean 5 has received by so-called fans, can we honestly expect that it will last?

Is Star Ocean 5 really that bad? Or is it simply misunderstood?

Is Star Ocean 5 really that bad? Or is it simply misunderstood?

Perhaps you were disappointed by Star Ocean 5 and while that is cool and all, it doesn’t make it a bad game just because you set your expectations too high, it has too many merits to be a bad game and I have described those merits in my review. That’s why I write reviews, because reviews are all about finding both the merits and the flaws of a game and weighing them up. The problem is that most gamers, sometimes even critics focus way too much on either the positives or the negatives that they contradict their statements completely. I try not to be one of those people. Whilst I won’t deny that I have written reviews that are absolutely terrible (my Star Ocean 2 review which written was back on Destructoid was appaling) I can definite say that I have improved over the years and I have enough experience to understand what makes a good review.

However many may be led to believe that my points are invalid due to the fact that I’m not a paid professional. Journalism goes beyond what I do, they get where they are because they have qualities which I don’t and I am aware of those qualities. That doesn’t mean that their points are any better than mine, I’ve seen some absolutely terrible reviews from critics that don’t know what they’re talking about, go look at Warcraft movie reviews if you want proof of that.
terenas sleeping

As a result, I only read/watch reviews from independent sources such as myself because believe it or not, they do a far better job than professional critics do. This is mainly due to the amount of workload they are given whilst we independent critics have all the time in the world to make a detailed and complete review, it is something which I aspire to do, to cover everything a game has to offer and whilst I don’t always get it the first time (AKA Valkyrie Profile 2) I try my hardest to cover as much as I can about the game and even then it’s not enough. I could re-write half of my reviews and apply so much more information but I’d rather look to the future rather than look to the past. Maybe if I received requests I would go back but until then, I will move forward (unless I really feel the urge to re-write a review).

You see, most paid professionals are given deadlines and a lot of games to review. As such they can only briefly cover each one because they have to be resourceful with their time. How can you trust someone who does half a job? Don’t you want to hear the whole thing? I’m not telling you that you have to read my content and only my content because that’s absurd, so many people do a better job of reviewing videogames than I do, here’s some examples of reviewers that I watch, those guys do a far better job than I do when it comes to making reviews and you should watch them.

That little rant aside, let’s get into the meat of the topic, perfection in videogames. What does perfection mean exactly? I’ll show you exactly what perfection means:

f-zero gx 3

Ok, ok I don’t mean to be so big-headed to state that F-Zero GX is a perfect game as a fact but personally in my opinion, I think it is. Why do you think we haven’t seen a sequel yet? Because what else could they do with it?  Shigeru Miyamoto asked this very question and to be honest I can’t deny that he is right F-Zero GX perfected the gameplay formula, it perfected the world, the feeling.

Even the terrible voice acting and over the top choreography invokes the perfect style of campy charm that was intentionally designed to act as a parody of comic book tropes, an underline agenda that the game never openly admits to but as the player, you can just tell by playing the game that the developers wanted to create a comic book inspired world and rather than trying to come up with something serious, they decided to make it funny, this is made even more evident by the character bio video’s which show each character in a funny situation. The game was intended to be camp and as such the flamboyant and misplaced voice acting was added specifically to add humor to the game.

F-Zero GX 1

Add to that the incredible music, visuals, 60 FPS and the countless features which exist purely to add more to the experience and you have what I consider to be a perfect game. Even Valkyrie Profile 2 couldn’t surpass it in this department but my cognitive bias puts it 1 place above F-Zero GX because I love RPG’s.

However to expect every game to be as incredible as F-Zero GX is simply outrageous. That game was a masterpiece in every single way, though it may be possible to top it, doing so would be an insane task, a challenge and a huge risk. People seem to forget that videogames are made by people. The goal of a videogame director is not to come up with as many ideas as possible because that would be foolish, their job is to be resourceful. Why do you think Star Ocean 5 was so short? It’s not because the developers are lazy, not by a long shot.

The reason why is simple. They want to filter out all of the filler in order to improve the pacing of the game. Shuichi Kobayashi (I swear I spell his name wrong every time) openly mentioned this in an interview. How can you say that’s not a good decision? He is surely giving us what we want by removing the needless filler that many games have these days and even if you enjoy filler, can you honestly say that this decision ultimately made the entire game terrible? Surely not because I refuse to believe that anybody could be that foolish.

Character development on the go. Just like one of those cereal bar commercials.

Character development on the go. Just like one of those cereal bar commercials.

One thing that I would like to mention before wrapping this up is that the things that matter to me in game design are the little things. Whether or not you pay attention to these things or not is irrelevant, it is important to pay attention to the small intricacies if you want your opinion to hold any value. If you aren’t capable of accounting for every single little detail a game has to offer then your opinion is worthless. I’m not saying that having a biased opinion is wrong, I’m saying that you shouldn’t use your opinions to give false advice.

By analyzing the minor intricacies you are able to decide more thoroughly who the game is for and who should avoid it. If you fail to do so, you obviously don’t show enough respect for the game, so why should other people respect your opinion? I don’t care if you’re a reviewer, if you have an opinion, don’t spread biased propaganda if you aren’t able to respect the game enough to give it a thorough analysis.

This however doesn’t mean you have to look at every single feature a game has to offer. Like I said, the small things matter but the big things aren’t as important when discussing a review because they are a lot easier for the consumer to see and as such they can easily judge whether or not the game is for them by just looking at it or watching a lets play on Youtube. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t cover these points however. Big things do matter, just not as much, if a game has a unique feature that separates itself from the crowd then it is definitely worth a mention. However most games use features that are set in stone.

Painkiller HD Survival

Like for example, most FPS have horde survival modes now. You don’t have to break down every single game mode to get your point across unless that game mode has issues… and if it does you have to find the problem… and thus you must delve into the small intricacies once again. Instead you evaluate the bulk of the game and judge it based off of that because if the cogs don’t work properly, you aren’t going to have a working machine, no matter what it does.

If people only looked at the big, we would only see the same thing time and time again. If you go back to my “What a rip off” article, I mention the qualities of ripping off other games. It is these small intricacies that differentiate those games from their original concepts.

As such, the tools of making a great game are applying the right tools for the player to enjoy a functional, yet enjoyable gameplay experience, you don’t have to make the gameplay spectacular to pull that off. The reason why I gave Star Ocean 5 a “great” rating was for that very reason. I had fun playing through the game despite the lack of move options and the inability to stagger enemies simply because the game was designed well enough to add an element of challenge, something which in all honesty may well be the most executed out of all of the games in the series in my opinion. Is it perfect? Perhaps not.

Break Mode

If we look at Valkyrie Profile 2 for example, that game uses break mode to allow unlimited attacks for a short period of time, perhaps Star Ocean needs to do the same thing with staggering, they tried it with Star Ocean 4 but I find that they will need to do the opposite in order to succeed. Add a gauge that when filled allows enemies to stagger or do what Valkyrie Profile 2 did and make it so that when you break off an enemy’s body part, you can make them stagger for a short period of time allowing you to combo them.

However that alone wouldn’t make the game perfect. I wrote another article before talking about how we could theoretically create the perfect action game and since Star Ocean 5 is an action RPG, this is relevant. One of the games I brought up is one of Star Ocean 5’s competitor’s, Tales Of Xillia which by holding a certain button, it changes the moveset of the character on the fly allowing for a more varied moveset. This is what the Star Ocean series needs in my opinion, however I cannot deny that Star Ocean 5 was a step in the right direction and you shouldn’t either, removing the stagger-lock was the first step to creating a better game… but it’s not a complete step. People need to realize that these things take time, tri-Ace are probably trying to find some new way to improve this as we speak. Instead of complaining about it we should see the merits of its intentions and move on.

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I’m not just saying this because I’m a Star Ocean/tri-Ace fanboy (which I am). Tri-Ace have made mistakes just like any other developer. In my opinion, that mistake was teaming up with SEGA and making Resonance Of Fate but as a fan of tri-Ace, I’m not going to discredit them just for one game because I know that they are capable of more than that, plus I know that they’re all human beings and human beings make mistakes. This is an undeniable fact, game developers aren’t gods, they are people just like me and you, so appreciate the effort they put into the game by showing a level of respect worthy of that effort but to truly respect the game, you have to look at the small intricacies that make the game so good/bad in the first place because believe it or not while most of us gamers don’t pay attention to these things, developers do, there is a reason for every single little thing they add to a game and you may or may not understand those reasons, nor will you even notice all the things they add to the game.

As someone who knows very little about the intricacies of game development, I cannot say I can completely understand everything, however I consider myself a theorist. It makes things more fun that way. I don’t need to know the exact reason, I just need to know what works and what doesn’t. That is what I do. Though I do want to explore the theory behind why certain game design decisions were made and why certain intricacies and features were included. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while but I haven’t found a good enough format in which to do so. Hopefully one of these days, I will be able to get face to face with these developers and learn the truth but the chances of that happening are very low.

So remember, games are supposed to be as good as they can be for what they are. You can’t expect everybody to be as accomplished as Arnold Schwarzenegger and the same applies to videogames. Learn to appreciate things more rather than nitpicking about every little thing and calling it out as bad.

Grandia 2 Anniversary Edition Review

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Of all the many games to be re-released, Grandia 2 Anniversary is the only time I’ve ever forked over money for a game I have already played. My reasons for this were simple. Grandia 2 Anniversary is available solely on PC. Now considering the fact that PC is my main platform for games these days (subject to change) I chose to purchase the game for convenience reasons, in other words no more plugging in my PS2 to play it. I could now play through this game in all its glory once again and I’ll tell you one thing for sure, the second visit to this game alone was worth every penny… even though I could have done so for free. Grandia 2 is worth another playthrough without a doubt.

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At least they didn’t call it “The Battle Of Good And Evil Anniversary Edition”

Now before we discuss the remaster itself, lets talk about the game. Grandia 2 is the sequel to Grandia 1 and is set in a completely new setting with new characters. Basically the game is completely different from Grandia in a lot of ways. I haven’t played the original Grandia but based on the knowledge I have of the game, it seems to function very differently.

So all in all, Grandia 2 feels like a standalone title and doesn’t require any experience of the first game to enjoy it. If you are looking to jump into the series or are just looking for an amazing JRPG, you could do far worse than Grandia 2. If you’re a newcomer to JRPGs I highly encourage you to start with Grandia 2 as it is quite possibly the most definitive JRPG experience you will ever experience. Only trouble is… you’ll feel a bit spoiled by the end and may struggle to appreciate other JRPGs which fail to meet the same standards in which this game set.

The story of Grandia 2 is straightforward for the most part. It is best described as “A run-of-the-mill JRPG experience with an unexpected twist of satire coated in dozens and dozens of euphemisms to keep things clean”. As such, the characters of this game aren’t the usual bunch… save for maybe two.

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Enter Ryudo, the snarkmeister.

The protagonist, Ryudo is what you’d expect from such a satirical-driven game. Ryudo is a lovable, yet sarcastic bastard (that’s an understatement) who takes pleasure in being an asshole. His dark past has led him to become rather cold and pessimistic but his cynical disposition gifts him with a unique, dry sense of humor… often at the expense of others. His unorthodox vocabulary may lead some confused… but others amused, nevertheless the delivery of his lines is priceless. Worth the price of admission in itself. Ryudo is without a doubt the best written protagonist in a JRPG and if you disagree, you probably hug too many trees.

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Personality aside, Ryudo is a geohound (euphemism for a mercenary). Accompanied by his talking pet bird Skye (dubbed by the legendary Paul Eiding), he takes on numerous jobs for cash, usually involving monster slaying among other things. He is renowned for his trade which often invokes resentment among the populace but rather than being bothered by their hateful remarks, he shrugs it off… usually accompanied with a snide gag to put them in their place.

Despite his rough upbringing, Ryudo, unlike most JRPG protagonists doesn’t tend to distance himself from others, rather he tolerates others so long as they don’t get in his way. He is highly sociable though his crude mannerisms tend to turn others away. As a result, Ryudo spends most of his life as a social outcast, save for his partner Skye, he is a lone wolf.

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Bird is the word!

Ryudo later meets Elena, a pious songstress who’s on a mission to perform an exorcism. Elena is literally the definition of a goody two shoes… So much so that she comes across as both obnoxious and frustratingly naive towards Ryudo. Ryudo is tasked with escorting her to an exorcism and takes every single opportunity he can to poke fun at her for her lack of caliber.

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This offers a unique dynamic rarely seen in JRPGs these days and its this dynamic that surprisingly many JRPGs lack. Banter… though not always the pleasant kind. It’s this which makes Grandia 2 so memorable and the characters strong. As more characters join the group, more banter unfolds.

Speaking of unique dynamics, unlike standard JRPGs where the NPC’s talk to you and you walk away, Grandia 2 makes the NPC’s relevant by adding character interaction whilst talking to them as opposed to them talking to what might as well be a brick wall. This gives more life to the world and more personality to the characters and setting. It’s a truly unique experience that cannot be missed.

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In addition, the game has dinner scenes offering even more character interaction, these just simply cannot be missed… unless you’re not interested in JRPG storytelling in which case, you can skip over half the game’s dialogue. They are essentially the skits from the Tales series done right and are usually far more relevant in comparison.

To feed your curiosity, I made a video to showcase one of these dinner scenes:

(Playstation 2 footage)

Overall the story manages to stand out from other JRPGs despite its common approach to storytelling. If you’ve played other JRPGs you’ve likely seen it all before… but just not in the same way. Though Grandia 2 is mostly lighthearted, it can be surprisingly dark at times, sometimes too dark. Despite all this the characters hold everything together so well that you almost forget about the archaic plotline (though if we consider its release date it was pretty unique for its time).

“A run-of-the-mill JRPG experience with an unexpected twist of satire coated in dozens and dozens of euphemisms to keep things clean”

I really like the whole campy feeling this game has. It really makes it feel surreal, in a good way. The characters, particularly Ryudo approach dangerous situations without blinking an eye, usually saying something awesome or witty like a classic 80’s action movie. Sure it isn’t realistic and all… but its a JRPG and I tire of the constant melodrama among JRPG casts, especially if it follows a conventional plotline (White Knight Chronicles anyone?). Despite this, the story is written in a way that it manages to make a huge impact in the latter half of the game and though there’s a tiny bit of melodrama in there, its cut short by the “getting shit done vibe” before it gets out of hand… I’m looking at you Edge Maverick.

It’s this reason that I consider Grandia 2’s story to be purely satire, it doesn’t take itself seriously half the time and when it does, the game still feels like a barrel of laughs due to how generic everything is but you can’t help but love every minute of it. It makes a mockery of generic RPG stories with it’s campy yet well written dialogue which doesn’t hesitate to add some cheesy lines in there to further intensify the satire, it works so well that it makes for a great JRPG story in itself.

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The core gameplay of Grandia 2 could be considered mildly archaic to todays standards but it still manages to stand out from other JRPGs of its time with its unique style of combat. Grandia 2 combines the ATB system from Final Fantasy and mixes it with the turned based style of older JRPGs and instead of using the ATB system to apply tension, it uses it to apply strategy.

Gameplay video:

(Playstation 2 footage)

Grandia 2 is a very easy game to master once you know the mechanics and when best to use them. As such I couldn’t recommend this game any more to newcomers, its one of the best JRPGs to start with. The combat is rather satisfying and never outstays it’s welcome.

Battles follow a simple mechanic called the “cancel” mechanic which allows you to push enemies back along the “IP gauge” (the game’s ATB gauge) to essentially cancel out it’s turn. The IP gauge may appear confusing at first and if you don’t pay attention, you may get hammered pretty quickly but once tamed, you will find yourself controlling every battle.

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One of the complaints I made about the original Grandia 2 is that it was too easy. The gameplay on normal difficulty doesn’t punish seasoned JRPG veterans and it led to the game feeling like a cakewalk. Grandia 2 anniversary edition attempts to rectify this with the game’s new hard difficulty. What are my views on hard difficulty you ask? I personally believe it is falsely advertised as “normal” but it does manage to add some extra challenge to the game and I did have a few moments where the bosses nearly kicked by ass but I still never saw a single game over screen. Nevertheless I still found the game to be of a reasonable challenge on hard difficulty and I recommend all JRPG vets to play it on hard right from the get go.

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“Expect an early winter… with lots of snow”!!!

On Hard difficulty the enemies move along the IP gauge much faster, so you have to think more. I enjoyed this challenge a lot more and the game definitely rectified itself in this department. Overall though I’d say the gameplay is still a fun romp, it’s very simplistic but unique. I couldn’t recommend this game any more to newcomers in this department, veterans should play on hard mode like me to get the most out of it.

“The IP gauge may appear confusing at first and if you don’t pay attention, you may get hammered pretty quickly but once tamed, you will find yourself controlling every battle”.

Now in my previous review I talked a lot about the character management but after a bit of research, I found out that a lot of the information I gave was false, sorry about that. In any case, hard difficulty has opened me up to new strategies and has made the character management much more essential than normal which is refreshing.

Sure there are still a lot of imbalances (lotus flower anyone?) but I found that a lot of the moves that I claimed to be useless actually came in useful whilst playing hard mode. Sure there are still a lot of useless moves and spells (I never found much use for freeze at all in this game) but I find that hard mode has opened up new possibilities. As such I can safely say that character management serves a greater purpose than it did in the original game.

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Now for those unfamiliar with the character management of Grandia 2, I’ll explain. Grandia 2 offers total freedom over your character progression. This may turn off some people but it is definitely inviting to those who love freedom. Of course with freedom, there are exploits so I strongly recommend (and this goes for any game which focuses on freedom in character management) that you avoid all guides, forums or any form of conversations over gameplay so that you are not spoiled the fun of character management.

You are given 2 different currencies to develop your character’s skills, much like Star Ocean, you can spend these to put points in skills, moves and spells. These two currencies are special coins and magic coins. Special coins develop moves and general skills, magic coins develop spells and skills relating to spells. These coins are dropped by enemies along with experience so you’re able to break the monotony between battles by developing your character on the fly… not that battles are monotonous to begin with (dat battle theme never gets old).

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Spells are developed separately from characters. Instead of binding spells to each character, there is a pseudo materia style item called a mana egg. These mana eggs can be equipped to any character and whoever equips them gets access to its corresponding spells. Mana eggs are developed exclusively with magic coins and are completely separate from characters. There are several eggs each with their own set of spells. Each egg has 3 pages of magic and to learn them all, you must first master lesser spells and by doing so you will unlock new ones. This makes things a little trickier as you don’t know the spells available in each egg so you have to be careful what spells you want to develop.

Now here we get to the bad stuff. Grandia 2 is an excellent game without a doubt and please note that the vast majority of these issues are found in the anniversary edition and I will notify those issues which are found in said edition. The Playstation 2 version is constantly ridiculed by people for being a bad port. I disagree, the Playstation 2 version worked perfectly fine for me. However I own the PAL version which is said to lack the problems of the NTSC version. Ultimately though, if you live in Europe or the UK, the PS2 version is the definitive version as it doesn’t have any major issues like the NTSC PS2 version has and it’s really cheap. Alternatively you could pick up the anniversary edition if you’re looking for more of a challenge but overall the experience is better on the PS2.

If you live in the US, I would encourage getting the anniversary edition… unless the problems I state would prove really troublesome for you, if so then…*sigh* I’ll have to recommend the Dreamcast version (I hate SEGA and it pains me to recommend anything involving that company).

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H..hey, don’t fall asleep on me just yet, there’s still more to cover in this review.

Now before we look at the anniversary edition exclusively, lets look at the issues Grandia 2 has. For starters Grandia 2 has the tendency to lock you out of areas during certain points in the story and force you along a linear path. Though there is some backtracking to be done, the game loves to block out areas of the map you’ve been to previously, preventing you from returning. This can be quite aggravating if you’re deeply invested in the game’s narrative as there are optional dinner scenes and missable NPC dialogue that you can be locked out of and some of this is worth witnessing. Thankfully there are very few missable items in this game… though there are quite a few. Put simply, if you thought Legend Of Dragoon was linear, you’re in for a nasty surprise. Grandia 2’s linearity feels very similar to Legend Of Heroes: Trails In The Sky… heck the game itself is very similar to Legend Of Heroes Trails In The Sky but superior in pretty much every single way in my opinion.

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Only 2 areas available on the map? Linearity at it’s finest…

Put simply, if you’ve played and enjoyed Legend Of Heroes: Trails In The Sky and haven’t played Grandia 2… what are you doing with your life? Get this game right now! Anyways let’s get back on topic. Grandia 2’s biggest flaw is its lack of optional content. Inability to backtrack aside, I would have loved to have seen some side quests here and there. Sure there are a few minigames (i’ll get to those later) and a few diversions but not enough to truly divert myself from the main story. I would have loved to have gone back to Agear Town and rebuild it back to its former glory like Luin in Tales Of Symphonia but sadly it was not to be I guess.

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My final complaint with Grandia 2 in general is the annoying compass which replaces the conventional minimap making traversing certain field sections a nightmare. Seriously Game Arts, why subject us to this torment? Can’t you just put in a conventional minimap like everyone else?

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Anyways I’ve covered all of the issues with Grandia 2 in general, lets look at some of the issues with the anniversary edition. Before I do lets talk about the visuals. Grandia 2 anniversary edition improves the visuals slightly. The lighting is improved, the terrain looks a lot more polished and there are some other small details that have been improved too. That aside we’re finally going to discuss the issues with this port.

First of all I have noticed numerous crash issues throughout the game (PC gaming as it’s finest ;)). I can’t count how many times I’ve been forced to replay certain sections due to crashing. It’s frustrating. Thankfully there is a great abundance of save points in this game which helped out a lot (even if their ability to fully heal your party is exploitable as hell). Still these issues are inexcusable. There have been a few patches here and there so many of the crashes have been fixed though there may be a few un-patched ones still lingering.

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Aside from the random crashes, the other major issue of Grandia 2 anniversary edition is the music synchronization. This has been acknowledged by the developers who claim it is due to framerate issues. Battles in Grandia 2: anniversary edition have the option of running at 60 fps but the rest of the game runs at 30 or lower. Put simply, the framerate is all over the place, certain scenes run at 25 FPS, others at 30, it all depends on how long each scene is played out. As a result, the audio synch is messy so you may not hear certain tracks when you’re supposed to and vice versa.

That’s not to say improvements haven’t been made, there have been several fixes made to the game, including music loop issues. Those are patched now as well as a few major crash bugs.

Aside from all that there are a lot of awkward scenes where parts of the terrain are cut out or certain objects are see through or completely disappear altogether. Funnily enough these issues tend to show up in the game’s more cornier sections which adds some amusement to what would otherwise be an insipid melodrama.

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“We have to ruin this scene… how can we possibly ruin this scene”? ~ GungHo

Finally I’d like to touch on a few more things. The music of Grandia 2 is very dynamic, lighthearted and catchy. The battle music in particular is a real treat to the eardrums. I cannot get enough of the game’s battle music. The music also enhances the emotional investment of the game’s cutscenes in its own unique 80’s cop movie style which Noriyuki Iwadare just loves to display and it gives the game more personality. All in all, the music does it’s job really well and is really memorable, it might not be Valkyrie Profile 2 caliber but it certainly manages to stand out from the rest in this department.

On a final note I’d like to touch on Grandia 2’s minigames. Grandia 2’s minigames are unlike any other game (they’re awful). Grandia 2’s minigames will give you an unforgettable experience (one that will haunt you for the rest of your life). Grandia 2’s minigames are innovative and offer a lot of depth (if you consider incessant button mashing to be depth).

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The first minigame you will encounter pits you in a 1 on 1 contest of strength that will test your skill (ha, more like test your patience). You are given two buttons, one button applies power, the other button applies endurance (just tap the power button 3 times then tap the endurance button, rinse and repeat) it can be quite difficult to manage your power and your endurance (if you have no brain). The rewards for completing this arduous task are worth all the effort (if you like collecting junk that is).

Next up is the nut grabbing minigame, if you thought the arm wrestling minigame was difficult, the nut grabbing minigame proves to be an even greater challenge (challenge? more like ordeal). You are tasked with grabbing nuts from moving pillars before the pink insects drop down and stun you (sounds like a bad Snickers commercial).

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Great minds think alike eh Ryudo?

With all that aside I can say with great confidence that Grandia 2 was worth the second look and that playing the anniversary edition was enjoyable despite it’s shortcomings. I managed to find a lot of new things that I previously missed in my first playthrough. All in all, Grandia 2 is a game that should be cherished and I’m glad it is finally immortalized as a digital classic on Steam so that future generations may too appreciate this legendary RPG.

As for whether you should fork over your hard-earned money for it… If you really loved Grandia 2 and haven’t played it to death, I’d say yes, if you’ve played it to death already, I’d give it a miss. If you’re new to the series (or the game) or haven’t played a JRPG at all, the anniversary edition would be worth checking out. All in all, the port has it’s problems (like many of its previous ports) but it also improves on a few things which were lacking in the previous versions. Regardless of which version you get, Grandia 2 is a must play for all JRPG fans and a great game to get invested into the genre. If you’re curious and haven’t tried a JRPG before, I’d say give it a try, you’ll either love it or hate it and if you hate it, at least you’ll know where you stand.

“Grandia 2 is a game that should be cherished and I’m glad it is finally immortalized as a digital classic on Steam so that future generations may too appreciate this legendary RPG”.

Personally I think Grandia 2 is the perfect example as to how a traditional JRPG is executed to cater to all audiences. I would even go so far to recommend it over Valkyrie Profile 2 (my favorite game of all time).

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That may be so… but I feel that this review has gone on long enough…

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Story/Plot: Exceptional
Presentation: Great
Music: Exceptional
Gameplay: Great
Lifespan: Decent Length
Would you replay? Yes
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Overall: Exceptional

silver-star-of-awesome sized

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Value: £40.00+