Grandia II was easily one of the most anticipated Dreamcast RPGs when it was released for the system last year. The original gained a cult following after its release on the Sega Saturn in Japan. The game garnered critical acclaim for its innovative combat system, excellent use of sound, and impressive graphics. RPG fans were dismayed when it seemed that the game would never see the light of day in the US following the Saturn's demise, but fortunately Game Arts ported the game to the PlayStation and Sony released it in the US. For the sequel, Game Arts turned to Sega's next system, the Dreamcast, and came up with a game that brought many of the original's gameplay strengths and mixed them with older characters and a more mature storyline. Following Grandia II's successful release on the DC, Game Arts has opted to port the game to the PlayStation 2. After spending some time with the North American build of the game, it looks as though Game Arts is up to the challenge of bringing Grandia II to the PS2.
The story puts you in the role of Ryudo, who is a mercenary called a geo hound. Ryudo is hired to escort a young priestess named Elena to a ceremony that will prevent the return of the god of darkness, Valmar. Things go awry and Ryudo's simple escort job pulls him into an adventure that will find him in a race to save the world. Along the way, he'll travel the globe, meet a variety of colorful characters, and discover the truth behind his world's history. If you've played Grandia II on the DC, you'll be familiar with the plot, as the PS2 version follows it exactly.
While Grandia II on the PS2 is basically a port of the Dreamcast version, Game Arts has tweaked and added to the game's graphics engine. Grandia II was one of the most texture-intensive games on the DC, featuring incredibly detailed graphics that were a true showcase for the system, and achieving the same "look" on the PS2 is sure to provide a meaty challenge for Game Arts. While it goes without saying the graphics take a hit in their move to the PS2, things aren't as bad as they could be. The characters still maintain a high level of detail, and they're close to their DC counterparts. The environments are a bit sketchier, as the textures aren't as clean, and, in some cases, they can be a bit blurry. Rotating the camera using the L and R triggers is a bit slow at the moment, but the game is still quite early, so there's time for improvement. One of the more significant changes to the game is the replacement of the DC version's real-time story sequences with 25 minutes of CG in the PS2 version. It's an odd choice, considering the in-game engine is coming together pretty well, but the CG is well done. The impressive lighting from the DC version, which illuminated characters when they were around a campfire or passing torches in a dungeon, hasn't been totally implemented yet.
The game's innovative combat engine is still intact, featuring a mix of real-time and turn-based gameplay that keeps things interesting. You'll see your enemies onscreen when traveling through environments, so you'll be able to choose whether to avoid them or engage them in battle. In addition, if you're careful, you'll be able to initiate combat from behind them and "surprise" them, giving yourself the opportunity to get in a hit before the fight starts. Loading into combat seems to be a hair quicker in the PS2 version, which helps keep things moving along at a good pace. The game's magic and skill attacks, which featured MPEG video overlayed on the polygonal graphics in the DC version, are well done on the PS2. The spells and skill attacks are one of the nicer features in the PS2 version, as they come out quickly and don't slow the battles down when they're used.
The sound in the game is well done, featuring solid voice work and immersive ambient sound. The 90 minutes of voice acting from the DC version, which was directed by Metal Gear Solid voice producer Kris Zimmerman, has been brought over and still holds up well. With a good sound setup, you'll appreciate the ambient sound in the game as you travel through the various environments, which all have their own distinctive sounds.
So far, Grandia II is making a decent leap to the PS2, in spite of a few rough graphical edges. Fortunately, the story and gameplay are intact and should provide plenty to engage players. Grandia II is set to ship this December for the PS2.