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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I Love Grandia

Something like fifteen years ago, I played Grandia. I played the hell out of it, but I never actually reached the end, and that was almost the only thing I could remember about my original playthrough when I picked up the game a few months back and thought, "Sure, why not?"

My second time into the game was twice as good as the first. I started the adventure completely infatuated, which goes against all logic. There is so much to hate about this game.

Sprites? Meet polygons. You two play nice, now.
PS1 era graphics were a low point in video game aesthetics.
Why the hell is there riveted metal all over the ground?

Grandia begins with a giant fetch quest. You aren't given a single clue as to where you should look, the entire chore takes at least half an hour, and the best part? Your compass.

Do you see it over there in the corner of the screen? It doesn't work, at least not in towns. The yellow pointer just spins around endlessly.

You're also introduced to the main character, Justin. Yes, Justin, as in me, who is also Justin. I should love this game just for the fact that any time there's voice acting someone is actually yelling stuff like, "Justin, only you can slay the dragon!" or, "Justin, you're the greatest hero the world has ever known!"
You might think that sounds silly and conceited, but trust me, having a game actually use your own name is really engaging. I felt as if GameArts had made Grandia just for me.

But on the flipside, look at this guy! Blue shorts? A poofy, blue hat? He's the most ridiculous looking character in the game (And I'm including Darling in this calculation).

And I'm afraid the personality matches the outfit. Despite being the protagonist, Justin comes off as the comic relief, a really bad comic relief, constantly doing goofy shit and getting chastised by the supporting characters.

"Oh, that Justin! What a joker!"

Once again, hats off to GameArts, because there are only a handful of games out there (and even less in the RPG genre) that ignore the power-trip formula and give you the reigns of a character that is intentionally not portrayed as a badass. In that way, Justin is kind of interesting.

And if Justin is kind of interesting, then Sue is fucking awesome.

Eight-year-old Sue. She's an excellent companion for Justin, mostly because she adds a lot of depth to the adventure that Justin never could have produced on his own. Unlike the one-dimensional "I want to be an adventurer!" star of the game, Sue is complicated. This is a kid who's trying very hard to be someone else. Someone more than just an eight-year-old who can't pull her own weight.

You never see Justin putting any effort into anything. He's chemically imbalanced. He just does shit and never thinks about it.
But Sue isn't messed up in the head like Justin. She has to struggle just to keep up with her brain-dead buddy, and she tries very, very hard not to let anyone see the strain she's under.

Sue also has a great voice actor (something that's all too rare in this game), who totally sold it for me. The shit that comes out of her mouth when she casts spells are some of the best one-liners ever delivered in an RPG.

If you only look at the game from a technical perspective, Grandia is the Greek tragedy of game development, but if you approach the game as an adventure and indulge yourself in the story, there's a lot to love.

See any bloated conflict between the forces of light and dark? Any antagonist wearing a long, black cloak? No, you don't. Justin wants to be an adventurer and see the world, and that's it. The scene where he sneaks out of the house to board a ship and cross the ocean is one of the best in the game. Someone was writing from the heart when they put that together.

And when Justin finally lands in the new world and visits the Adventurers Society he was so jazzed about joining, it turns out to be a sham tourist trap, which is such a cool twist. Instead of meeting a bunch of seasoned vets who could tell Justin over and over how he'll someday grow up to be a real blah blah like you would in most games, it turns out that Justin is the real thing and all these other dudes are a bunch of posers.

The characters in Grandia do something that's pretty odd for an RPG, or any game, for that matter: They'll take a break from their dungeon-crawling, sit down and have something to eat. And while they're eating, they'll talk.

What's interesting about this is none of the dialogue ever moves the plot forward. That's not its purpose, so the conversations are freed up to be more frivolous, or tangential, or dig into someone's background. Basically, everyone gets to be themselves. It's wonderful, and it's an excellent excuse to smooth out the pace of the game.

The End of the World was another high point. Everyone you met kept talking about the End of the World, how it ended the age of adventuring, but nobody ever explained what the hell it was.
And then you get there and it's a fucking wall. The biggest wall ever. What's cooler than that? How the hell do you get over that thing, and what's waiting on the other side? Even after fifteen years, I remembered the End of the World, and I remembered how it captured my imagination.

Do you see what happened here? You start off the game, for the first thirty minutes, digging through trash; and then it's dinner with Mom; and then you get on a ship; and then you cross an ocean; and then you cross a continent; and eventually you're standing on the top of the End of the World, and the contrast between these events is what sells it. If the game started with Justin standing on top of the End of the World, it wouldn't mean anything. But if you begin an adventure small-time and work your way up, it becomes epic.

And I think that's what made it so much worse when I realized that the game had curdled into a monster determined to murder my inner child, because after the wall, everything goes wrong.

(Continued in "I Hate Grandia")


  1. You're really selling Justin short here. Sure he isn't a typical video game badass, but it's implied that he focuses quite a bit on his swordsmanship, even before the game starts. He idolizes Gadwin because of how powerful he is, hes like a little kid who wants to grow up to be big and strong. His rash attitude is literally the only reason the story ever goes anywhere. The fact that he is willing to ignore logic and just do shit for the sake of it is his thing. His whole "Adventurers are like the wind" phrase follows his personality of him doing anything and going anywhere because he wants to. It's the reason he went in the Sult ruins despite threats of execution, it's the reason he ignored Feena and was willing to go on the Ghost ship without her, thus forming their friendship.. and so-on.
    Imo he is one of the most well formed main characters in any rpg.. I don't see him as comic relief at all, most of the dumb stuff he says follows along with his absent minded personality, it does't feel contrived or forced, and he is like 14 and clearly has ADD.

    1. And sorry, haha, I know these are old posts, but rarely is there ever a reason or person to talk to about Grandia.

    2. I found myself physically nodding in total agreement while reading your post.