Grandia HD Collection Review – The Adventurer’s Starter Kit

    Title: Grandia HD Collection
    Developer: Game Arts
    Release Date: August 16, 2019
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: GungoHo Online
    Genre: JRPG

There’s plenty of stand out JRPG titles from the past that I feel attached to, but I have a general love for the titles developed by Game Arts. If you are unsure of who they are, I suggest putting in a little research to their history as a company and maybe picking up one of their games. Luckily for you, that won’t be too difficult as Gungho Online has published the Grandia HD Collection on Nintendo Switch and it just might be a must-buy for all JRPG fans.

Grandia HD Collection includes Grandia, originally released on PlayStation in the year 1999, and Grandia II, originally released on Dreamcast in the year 2000. While neither of them has anything to do with each other, I believe they both offer some important moments of game design and storytelling that make this collection worth looking at. So let’s start with Grandia.

Grandia tells the story of Justin, not the best name for a hero, but a hero none the less. Anyway, Justin is the son of an Adventurer who had set off and never returned. Living with his mother, Justin has his eyes set on following his father’s footsteps. In the meantime, he causes trouble with his best friend Sue around town but always holds onto his dreams of living the city and discovering more of the unknown world around him. As fate would have it, Justin gets his wish after receiving a message from a hologram that will serve as the starting point of a grand adventure.

Throughout the game, Justin meets new characters but never seems to escape his characteristic of always finding himself in trouble. The game keeps things rather playful, given that the party members are mostly children, but that just makes the more emotional moments hit a bit harder. You see, over time Justin must learn that the Adventurer label also comes with sacrifice and that’s a bitter pill to swallow. The game has one of the greatest endings of any RPG that makes the 40 hours getting there worth it. You begin to despise the antagonist and what they are doing and you rely on this seemingly random cast of characters to save the world.

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Story aside, players will explore a map of different dungeons and towns as they continue through their adventure. This is a more simplistic way of traveling compared to an open world, but it works well for the game since you can easily travel back and forth between areas. Interestingly, the dungeons in the game also contain puzzles that aren’t confusing on their own, but the dungeons can often become more maze-like thanks to the awkward camera angle. To help this, the developer included points in the dungeon to give an overview look at the surroundings, but more times than not, you’ll get lost.

Towns, on the other hand, can get rather large and lively. Classic JRPGs seemed to love to make these large towns with random houses just to have them. Still, each NPC offers some interesting dialog and will usually point you in the right direction or even give you a special side mission if you speak with them enough times. Which leads me to the game’s direction, which takes a little getting used to. This comes into play when not knowing what to do, but then finding out that you just had to talk to this one person four times to progress the scene. You become used to this throughout the game, but it comes off as unnecessary most of the time.

The battle system in Grandia is turn-based and takes place on an arena-like field. Characters will wait their turn to attack and then players can strategically choose their next moves. For the most part, I enjoyed the battle system and all the skill animations. However, there is a staggering system that comes off as pretty annoying when it affected my party. For instance, if all your characters are near a wall and the enemy, typically a boss, unleashes an attack that hits the entire party, each character will be staggered and lose a turn. This is when the boss spams that same attack until you die. There are ways of planning for this like positioning your characters around the field, but it’s bound to happen in every playthrough.

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Now, let’s talk about Grandia II, in many ways its very similar to Grandia save for better graphics and systems, but its story is what will make you stick through it all. Grandia II has players assume the role of a Geohound mercenary known as Ryudo. Typically, he’s found traveling with his talking bird companion, Skye, as they take on missions for a little cash. This all changes after he accepts a mission from the Church of Granas to escort a girl named Elena to cleanse darkness. As you can probably guess, this doesn’t go so well and Elena ends up embodying a demon, which plays a large role in the game overall. To save her, Ryudo must then form a party with her and head to St. Heim Papal to conduct an exorcism. Along the way, new characters are introduced including the fan-favorite Millenia who might be a little closer to the party than they think. Regardless, the beginning of the adventure offers enough to get it started and it only gets grander from there.

The story of Grandia II isn’t as playful as Grandia, but it has its moments of light-hearted jokes. Ryudo just isn’t very likable at first and then his backstory is slowly revealed and you understand why he acts the way he does. Each character who joins the party has a good reason to be there and you get attached to them throughout. Again, players feel the emotional weight that great storytelling can have as the moments leading up to the climax are executed perfectly. The game presents an amazing clash of good and evil that I couldn’t get enough of.

Grandia II offers a similar map layout to Grandia, but this time with a better camera angle. Everything has been improved her including the faults found in the battle system of its predecessor. More importantly, Mana Eggs, the item that gives characters the ability to unleash magic, makes a bit more sense in this entry. It’s clear that the developer created this game as a response to the criticisms of Grandia and they created an even better adventure out it. I enjoyed the dynamics between Ryudo and Elena as they butted heads during dialog and the deep lore that the game offers for those the explore each area.

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Now, Grandia HD Collection offers some improvements in terms of higher resolution and enhancements. I will say that the game has never looked more beautiful. Even on the PlayStation, Grandia pushed the boundaries of what I expected out of a JRPG at the time including the voiced English audio. However, I felt that some of the animations in Grandia II still looked dated and not clear when compared to the character sprites and environments. This is a shame because characters have a special attack that is followed by some cool animations, but you can see the age here.

Furthermore, it was interesting playing the game using Japanese audio, because its something that I never had the pleasure of doing growing up. The audio present in both titles sounds amazing and I appreciated that they kept the original soundtrack. One thing I do wish is that it had a fast-forward option for those who have played through the game already, but that would just be a bonus.

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Grandia HD Collection offers two titles that will find the adventurer in all who play it. Each game takes it slow with its storytelling so you feel the sense of time throughout the adventure. The characters grow on you and you can’t help but want to see them through until the end of their journey. Each game, although similar, is just as grand and offers some of the best protagonists and antagonist of any JRPG today.

I had an amazing time returning to these games after so many years and I can’t wait to talk to those who are experiencing it for the first time. My advice, take it slow, explore, speak with every NPC, multiple times, soak up everything these two games have to offer and it will surely pay off.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Azario Lopez

Hanging out max, relaxing all cool.