The late 1990s and early 2000s were a golden age for JRPGs. The genre reached untold heights with Final Fantasy VII and allowed a lot of new franchises and sub-genres within RPGs to gain traction. Strategy RPGs were one such sub-genre, while one of the most revered new franchises was Grandia. Originally a Saturn release in Japan, it was ported over to the PlayStation for a more mainstream release. Like a lot of Saturn to PSOne ports, it suffered in the transition — and players were still left wanting a definitive entry of the series if they lived in an English-speaking country.
Grandia II hit the Dreamcast in late 2000, which was one of the greatest time periods ever to be a gamer. The PlayStation 2 was strong, and the Dreamcast had a holiday lineup full of classics – including Shenmue and Jet Grind Radio. Grandia II received high marks upon release and even included a soundtrack CD in an era where that was quite unusual. However, the commercial death of the Dreamcast shortly thereafter meant that the game was seemingly living on borrowed time. In early 2002, the game was brought to the PlayStation 2 and received far less praise than the original. It was plagued with graphical issues and just felt sloppily assembled. With the Dreamcast original going for $80 and above on aftermarket sites, fans had no legal way to enjoy the best version of the game for a reasonable price.
Enter the announcement Grandia II Anniversary Edition in May of 2015. Initially christened Grandia II HD, it was given a more classy and accurate title. The game promised to be the best version of the core game, but what about the extra content? Grandia II had a nice OST CD included on the Dreamcast. With that missing from the digital version (at least as of now), would that really hurt AE being a great deal? The game’s release hasn’t killed the demand for the DC original, as that is still going for $40 complete. It’s a bit odd that a digital soundtrack wouldn’t be included in the new release, but perhaps it’s coming down the line. The core game was a blast to play 15 years ago and has held up reasonably well today.
The storyline is a bit heavy-handed with its good vs. evil story, but does give the player a lot of time to grow acclimated to the cast. Right away, you know that Ryudo is a business-first bounty hunter-type who just wants money. He isn’t about forming bonds with people, but is thrown into doing just that when a church wants his services. He develops a bit of a crush on Elena, a talented songbird and doesn’t want to admit it to anyone. She’s naive, but also distrusting of Ryudo, and to be fair to her, he’s a prick from minute one. The story goes into religion far more than most games and it feels a bit more refreshing than one might expect a 2000 release to since so few games have delved into that topic since.
The anniversary edition hasn’t had the most seamless launch. Xbox One controller issues were frequent. During our own play sessions, the camera would just spin around at will during exploration segments of the game. Fortunately, turning off the analog camera fixed that issue and moving the camera around with the bumpers works just fine for this game — it wasn’t designed around right stick camera support anyway so there isn’t a loss in functionality. Other than that issue, it controls perfectly with the Xbox One or 360 pads and each feels far better than the original Dreamcast controller. Using the d-pad for refined movements around town and the left stick for running feels natural and menu navigation is a snap with the microswitch d-pad on the Xbox One pad.
Battle controls are excellent too and the battle system itself has aged wonderfully. It’s a great mix of turn-based and action and really feels like what Final Fantasy VII’s active time battle system would have felt like if it was ever modernized. Combat has a quick pace and never slows down. Battles that should logically be short are and don’t drag on, while epic boss battles are rewarding — even if you lose, you wind up feeling like you’ve accomplished something and victory is even sweeter because you don’t have all the time in the world to think about your next move.
Visually, Grandia II Anniversary looks about on par with playing a Dreamcast game through the VGA adapter. That really does enable Dreamcast games to look better because you see all of the crispness in the art, and while some things look iffy, other parts have aged very well. The character models look great even if the faces are odd, while the ground textures look fantastic given their initial age. Skies also look beautiful, as do the environments. There’s a lot of detail in everything and it’s still a pleasing game to look at many years later.
While the graphics and gameplay have aged nicely, the music has held up the best of any part of the game. The soundtrack is one of the finest and most diverse in the genre, and you’ll hear everything from sweeping songs to relaxing ones — even jazz is used to change things up. The voice work is solid, even though it might not be so beloved on the game’s Steam community section. The cast plays their parts well and everything is played straight — no one treats the job like it’s beneath them, so it’s still a good dub. It’s even better when you consider just what the standards were for game acting at this point in time, with Shenmue being an all-time lowlight in that regard.
If you ever missed out on Grandia II, the Anniversary Edition is the best overall way to play it. It might lack the soundtrack sampler CD, but it looks better than most will ever get it to look on the Dreamcast. It’s also quite a bit cheaper than getting the game on the Dreamcast and easier to play it via Steam. Either the Xbox 360 or Xbox One pads are a better option than the DC controller and the game has held up far better than expected given its age.