I had heard a lot about this game before I played it. I knew it was well reviewed and I planned on playing it. Nearly every Dreamcast owner who likes RPGs has been faced with the question of "Which do I play first? Skies of Arcadia or Grandia II ?" Well, for me, the urge to Skies of Arcadia won out, so Grandia II was stuck on the backburner until just recently. By then I had heard the Skies of Arcadia vs. Grandia II debate several times over, and while I'm a staunch Skies of Arcadia fan, my brother had played both that and Grandia II and preferred Grandia II . Going into the game for the first time with this knowledge did not make it easy.
The game opened well enough. Escort the priestess to her ceremony, where of course everything goes horribly wrong and an evil (or at least what the priestess considers an evil) is unleashed upon the world. The music was pretty good at setting the atmosphere, as to be expected from composer Noriyuki Iwadare, although there was one track in particular that made me think he needed to distance himself from his last work on Lunar just a little bit. I shouldn't feel like I'm taking a time warp into another, completely unrelated game while running around the countryside. But that's a minor quibble. One thing I have to mention is that I found the choice of Portguese as the singing language of the world to be an excellent choice. It's one of those cases in which I think if I actually understood what they were singing, the magic would be gone, and Portguese itself is quite beautiful when sung.
The characters in Grandia II were for the most part likeable, though nearly all of them took a while to grow on me. Basically, half the cast (Roan, Mareg, and Tio) gave me a bad first impression, and I was neutral towards Millenia and Elena. Ryudo and Skye I liked almost immediately despite the obvious attitude problems of our main hero. Eventually I liked all the cast members, but it took a long while. In a way it's a good thing that it happened at all, I don't often change my mind, but still I think the character's introductions could have been handled better (with the exception of Tio's) to make them more appealing.
Most people seem to consider the battle system the highlight of this game. It's innovative to be sure, and I like its pseudo-real time combat much better than that found in the various Final Fantasy games for Playstation. Seeing the characters almost constantly in motion makes it seem as though the battle is actually playing out in front of your eyes. Much better than just having a line of enemies facing your line of heroes. Game Arts tried to capitalize in that by adding stats for how far and fast your character can run during combat, allowing you to cancel enemy actions by attacking them at critical moments, varying the amount of time it takes to cast certain spells or do different special moves, etc. But for all that complexity, by the end of the game what you do is more or less the same. You soup up your characters' group attack spells and just relentlessly pound enemies into oblivion in less than a round. Everyday combat becomes just a matter of who pulls off their spell the fastest. And since every save spot heals the party to full HP, MP, and SP (Special Points for Special Moves), it's very difficult to run out of MP.
Even the boss fights are relatively easy. It's rare to have find yourself in a predicament where you actually wonder if you're going to make it. One thing that I do like about boss combat though is that virtually all bosses have multiple parts to them. So that way the boss gets to have just as many rounds of action (or more!) as the party does. It also makes group attack spells (often the most powerful in a game) more useful during boss combat. You don't feel quite so bad about blowing gobs of MP.
The dungeons were fairly straightforward for the most part. The more innovative ones were largely the Valmar's body mazes, which unfortunately I'm tired of doing. If I see another RPG with a body maze it'll be too soon. I'm not a fan of greasy organic dungeons. The moon dungeon was similarly annoying. I guess I prefer my more traditional caves, castles, and forests. The compass helped a lot though since it would always point the direction to go. My only complaint is that it didn't have a North/South axis. Sometimes it would have been nice to get a better bearing than "the exit is that way."
The story of Grandia II is pretty much standard fare for an RPG. I didn't find anything that was absolutely mind blowing, except for the plot twist involving the evil god actually winning in the ancient battle between Light and Darkness. But the evil god was broken up into many little pieces so even though he won it wasn't like he got to have the world. It seems the world just figured he lost anyway and went on with their lives. Certainly that's what the characters think when the game starts.
Also, if you've played the Lunar games, you'll notice some similarities between its storyline and Grandia II's . Perhaps no wonder, because one of the Grandia II writers is the man primarily behind the storylines for Lunar . Both sport singing girlfriends, plot twists involving the revelation that the good god is dead while the evil one is coming back, a supposedly good guy (Zera or Ghaleon) who becomes the final villain of the game because he thinks humanity needs a god, both supposedly good guys have a henchwoman who is in love with them, and perhaps the greatest cincher is the whole power of humanity theme. The idea that humanity can get along without gods is prevelent in Lunar and Grandia II and is ultimately what drives the heroes on to victory.
So an original story it's not. Grandia II's main plot has been done before. It's not bad, but not excellent either. One of its best assets was the love triangle between Ryudo, Elena, and Millenia, but unfortunately after powering that rivalry for so long, and even making it look like Millenia was dead (so it looked like Ryudo and Elena would be together in the end), the game cops out in the epilogue. No, Millenia and Elena just go their separate ways in the end, certain that Ryudo will come back to them. Where's Ryudo? Off doing a little errand of his, which oddly enough takes him several months to do. Does it take that long to find a nice place to bury a sword?! So we never do have any resolution to the love triangle. Hell, I would've been happy with Millenia and Elena just agreeing to share Ryudo as long as there was some concensus on what would happen. As a writer I think it would have been better to leave Millenia dead (sorry Millenia fans). Bringing her back in the end didn't really change the story in any way, and reopened the biggest subplot without bothering to even attempt closing it.
Overall I'd say this is a fun game. The characters, story, and battle system are all good, though they don't quite reach the realm of excellent (though with some tinkering I think the battle system could come close). I'd like to play this again sometime.