Second Impressions: Grandia (PSX – 1999)

I played Grandia to completion back when it was first released, and have always considered it one of the high-water marks of PSX-era JRPGs. However, in a lot of ways, it hasn’t aged well, particularly while playing it on original hardware (or PSP, where I first attempted to replay it) due to slowdown, so I’ve never made it more than a few hours into a replay. This time, I’m playing it via Retroarch, using GPU overclock for a consistent 30fps, and it’s like a new experience.

I’m currently two hours deep and exploring the game’s first dungeon: the Sult Ruins.

Some thoughts:

  • I *love* the sense of optimism and adventure. One of my favourite games of all time is Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, which shares these attributes, but Grandia takes it to another level. There’s no overarching horror encroaching on the world at the get-go. In fact, it’s a time of peace. Justin wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an adventurer—to explore the world, discover knew things, dig up knowledge. In this day and age where we have grizzled Geralt from The Witcher, Lara Croft dousing people with gasoline and lighting them on fire, and beautiful but excessively violent games like Ghosts of Tsushima, it’s so refreshing to return to a time when game settings were fun and joyous.
  • I’ve seen people refer to Grandia as a Saturday Morning Cartoon, which I think is a great analogy. In a lot of ways, its tone and approach to its characters—its latent optimism—reminds me of Avatar: The Last Airbender, which I admire.
  • Playing at a locked 30fps via Retroarch (Beetle/Mednafen) with GPU overclock turned on is a dream. The original game was a bit too ambitious for the original PSX hardware (I haven’t playing the Saturn version) and slowdown was rampant. It’s silky smooth now (with the option of doubling the framerate and speed of the game, if you’d like) and helps shake a bit of rust off the 20 year old experience.
  • 32-bit polygonal graphics are probably my least favourite style of graphics, and they… aren’t great here. Textures are muddy, geometry is blocky and inconsistent (seams between polygons are visible everywhere), and the layout of towns/dungeons, even with the rotating camera, is a reminder of the learning curve associated with designing 3D environments in the ’90s.
  • Still, the world has a lot of charm, and the reliance on bright, varied, and saturated colours makes it a joy to explore.
  • My memory of playing the game as a teen was that I really loved Leen and Lilly. They were both interesting in different ways and stepped outside some of the typical tropes for women in JRPGs (particularly Lilly with her pirate past and tendency to tell Justin to bugger off because she was busy running her own business.) I was pleased (and, honestly) a bit surprised that both of them have stood the test of time, and remain my favourite characters early on.
  • Speaking of which, I think the thing I’m most impressed with, especially considering the game’s age, is the diverse and strong cast of women.
  • Dialogue, especially with random NPCs is great. Having the party members, specifically Justin, respond and interact directly with NPCs, often illustrating something about their relationship, or revealing something else about the setting/history/other characters, gives it a liveliness that many other JRPGs (especially those were NPCs seem to just shout the same generic comment into a vast void of nothingness) lack. Parm feels *alive* because Justin and Sue have an actual place within its social hierarchy. Some NPCs look down on Justin, others joke with him, some reminisce about his dad, some provide context for the world, and Justin’s an integral part of these conversations—they’re two way streets, and that makes all the difference.
  • Good golly. The voice acting is as flat and unimpressive as I remember.
  • On the other hand, the localization is much better than I was expecting. Lots of great humour. Characters all have their own personalities. Exposition is handled well. Just all around a pleasure to read, and right there with the translation for the PSX Lunar games as some of the best of the era. I give Working Designs a lot of credit for Lunar, but it’s clear that Game Arts created a foundation of good writing that Working Designs was able to pull from.
  • I’m still too early to comment on the battle system, since most enemies require little more than mashing the attack command, but I will say, I’ve always considered the Grandia-style battle system to be the best in the ‘biz, and I can’t wait to get deeper into the game to truly experience everything it has to offer.

Edit (June 29, 2018)

A few more thoughts:

  • The soundtrack is just as lively and wonderful as I admire. We discuss the game’s strong sense of adventure, and I think the score has as much to do with that as anything else. There’s a sense of momentum and possibility in all of the tracks that really motivates you to keep pushing forward.
  • Sticking with the game’s sense of adventure, I think one of the reasons it’s so effective in its execution—above and beyond what I discussed above, re: its theatrical ambitions—is that Justin’s journey, at least in the early stages, is entirely self-propelled. He’s not caught up in a larger even that pulls him along like a leaf caught in the swells of a raging river. He’s proactive, and chases his dreams. He pursues the secrets of the Spirit Stone, explores the Sult Ruins even after he’s turned away, and, when invited by Liete, sets off on a journey to Alent, but, more importantly, the answer to the questions he’s pursuing.
  • I also like that his dad is a source of inspiration, but not a shadow of regret or anxiety, as missing/dead parents often are in these sorts of games.
  • The frantic camera in battles is really disorienting now. I get that they were trying to go with something dramatic and cinematic, but, in hindsight, I think the battle system would have benefitted from a static camera. It just feels like it’s haphazardly zooming in and flying around a lot of the time.
  • The meal scenes are wonderful! I terrific way to give the characters more opportunity to breathe, provide a natural platform for exposition/world building, and humour, while not awkwardly forcing it upon players who aren’t interested.
  • Some of the sprite work in the game is excellent. I really loved this sprite of floating Liete:


Emulator: Retroarch (Beetle/Mednafen)

Shader: crt-geom

Emulator: Retroarch (Beetle/Mednafen)

Shader: crt-royale-fake-bloom