mark cerqueira well-rounded nerd

Grandia Adventure Completed

After a couple of starts I wasn’t able to follow through on, I finally started and finished Grandia! Blessed be the power of the Nintendo Switch!

For a game released nearly 22 years ago on the Sega Saturn, Grandia didn’t feel too dated. Don’t get me wrong - I don’t think GungHo put a lot love into making this look HD on the visual side, but the story, characters, and game mechanics held up remarkably well over two decades later. Some thoughts - good and bad - on the game:

  • The cast of characters were all unique and ultimately all lovable. Except for those ten minutes I thought Gadwin was evil and was going to betray the party, everyone that joins your party comes off as genuine and not likely to betray you down the road. Not many JRPGs have certain characters join you for a long time and then leave the party but Grandia did cycle in and out characters as the story progresses. They did keep Justin and Feena as fixtures throughout which provided a good anchoring point for all the character churn.

  • The magic / weapon system is cool in theory but it became too much of a grind later on. With each character being able to learn all four core types of magic and being able to wield different types of weapons, the use-it-to-level-it system quickly went from exciting to way too much work. For what it’s worth, Grandia 2 made this system a lot better by simply giving you generic skill and magic coins you can invest into whatever you want.

  • Dragon King Slash! In what would become a staple in the arsenal of main characters in Grandia, it was cool to learn the origin of the Dragon Slash family of moves. Gadwin joins your party with the ultimate move, Dragon King Slash, and passes it on to Justin when he leaves the party. The aforementioned pain point on the magic / weapon system is very clear here: Justin never actually learned it in my play-through because I never got the magic needed to unlock it high enough. But that’s okay as Justin later learns his own variant of the stab your sword into the ground and make enemies die attack - Heaven and Earth Cut.

  • The story got a little confusing but the love story was crystal clear. The story of the Icarians, the Angelou civilization, the Spirit Stone, and Gaia got a bit muddled with ultimately unimportant stuff like Humanoids and Herr Mullen’s story arc. Throughout the game, surprises would be revealed that ultimately didn’t impact the story. But where the overall story fell a bit flat, the story between Justin and Feena was thoughtful, well-told, and believable.

  • The game felt very rinse and repeat. You start at a town, visit two to three adjacent dungeons, get on a boat or climb a really tall wall, and repeat. This is a JRPG originally released in 1997 so this isn’t shocking. What did help, at least on the perception front, was there was no going back to previous areas once you crossed a major hurdle like an ocean or said really tall wall. This compartmentalization kept you focused on the current arc and helped dull away the realization that you were visiting yet another dungeon after visiting yet another town.

  • The cutscenes were gorgeous. Voice acting was terrible. These aged incredibly well; I’m unsure if GungHo spruced these up but they look amazing! The voice acting on the other hand wasn’t great. Audio engineering was pretty bad so even if you had a decent voice actor, the audio quality / compression killed any potential for it being good.

  • There was an annoying background music bug that would cause the background music to abruptly stop and then resume a second later. GungHo is shipping a patch on November 15th to address feedback from customers so this may get fixed in the future. I didn’t run into anything buggy beyond this audio issue but I also didn’t play Grandia 2.

  • Inventory management is terrible. Each character in your party can hold 12 items. Get an item and have no more room? You’ll have to use it, discard it, or discard an existing item. This isn’t too bad but the UI is so bad that I - more than once - accidentally threw out the wrong thing.

Overall, if you’re into JRPGs or the Grandia series, I recommend giving the original a whirl. If you never played a Grandia game and want to start with the best entry, just hop right into Grandia 2 since it addresses paint points from the original and has a completely separate story. Whichever path you choose, happy adventuring!