There are a lot of things that the Nintendo Switch is good for, but if I had to pick one of my favourite reasons to own the console, it would be for playing classic JRPGs. The system is beefy enough to be able to run HD remasters of older games like a breeze, and the added portability is just the icing on the cake. Now, fans of the classic Sega RPG franchise Grandia get to experience that portable bliss with the launch of the Grandia HD Collection.
I never got a chance to play the original Grandia games when they first came out. There was never a Saturn or Dreamcast in my home growing up, and even though I would see the names mentioned every now and then as, I never felt the urge to find a way to actually play them. Thanks to these HD remasters of the first two games, I can finally say that Grandia is good as hell.
If you’re new to the franchise like me, you’re in for an absolute treat with this collection. Each game is its own standalone narrative experience with a different setting and collection of characters, but there’s enough shared DNA in the gameplay and humour of the games that they still end up feeling like two pieces of the same incredible JRPG universe. The biggest difference between the two games comes from the visuals, though. Grandia 1 is a 2D sprite-based game with few 3D models or environments to speak of, but Grandia 2 is a fully 3D game full of classic Dreamcast chunkiness. This leads to a few discrepancies in the quality of remastering for both titles, and while diehard fans will be able to pick up on numerous minor alterations, there are a handful of flaws that even a newbie like me was able to notice.
The first game takes a long time to get you into the action, but it’s also a start full of old school charm. You play as a young treasure obsessed boy named Justin, who runs around town with his friend Sue every day as they get up to various wacky pretend-adventures together. One day, however, they end up being thrust into a very real adventure that sees them form a party of adventurers to seek out the truth behind a long lost civilisation. There’s plenty of silliness to be had with the story, but also equal measures of shock and awe. It’s all delivered with an incredibly sharp script that hardly feels like it’s out of 1999, and every part of the tale made me feel like I was on this grand adventure as well..
Unfortunately, the voice acting isn’t quite as timeless as the writing. The English voices in Grandia I mostly fall flat, with a lot of awkward line readings and an ill-fitting cast. Thankfully, the new addition of dual audio means you can swap to Japanese voices if that’s more your thing. Audio issues persist with the music of the game, too. Despite having a wonderful soundtrack, it’s hard to appreciate it due to an annoying music looping bug that causes overworld and dungeon tracks to reset every time you exit battle – hopefully this can be fixed in a patch.
Battles are a really unique twist on turn-based ATB action that sees characters dynamically moving around on a 3D field once their turn comes up. You can use combo attacks to deal big damage, or use critical attacks to delay and even cancel enemy turns if your timing is right. I loved the way the visuals of the battlefield played into the strategy during battle, but the way your camera is constantly shifting and zooming as the 2D character sprites shuffle across a 3D battle environment can be a little disorienting at times.
Dedicated Grandia fans might end up taking the most offense with the way visuals in this game have been handled. The HD remaster of the first Grandia softens every sprite and background with a sprite filter, but opts to apply this softening directly onto the art of the game instead of providing it as an option or toggle. It’s hardly noticeable in portable mode, but a bit more obvious when docked. Even though I thought the artwork of the game still looked incredible, others might be miffed at the erasure of the original sprites from this release.
Grandia 2 has far less visual controversy, meanwhile. The shift to 3D visuals makes the game translate to HD much more smoothly, with character models and environments looking super crisp. While the sequel has a similar sense of humour to the original game, the overall story is a touch darker. You play as an abrasive lonewolf named Ryudo, who works as a special mercenary-for-hire called a “Geohound”. He’s hired to escort a priestess to a nearby castle for a mysterious ceremony, but when things go wrong during the ceremony it’s up to him to continue protecting her as the two of them aim to prevent a cataclysmic disaster. Ryudo is a rude idiot that’s hard to like, but you can tell there’s a heart of gold deep in there somewhere. I loved Grandia 2 because the way you seem him grow and open up as the story progresses was really rewarding.
Unfortunately, it was a little hard to get to all of that narrative excellence thanks to some rough framerate and slowdown issues. The game tends to noticeably drag as you explore certain environments and combat can slow come to a snails pace if there are more than just two enemies on-screen. Playing the game docked rarely helps, either. I had a great time with Grandia 2, but the constant slowdown was a huge roadblock in my enjoyment.