Its great combat system and its colorful cast of characters are enough to recommend it to those who might have overlooked the Dreamcast version.
The Grandia series has quite a legacy considering it spans only two games. Game Arts' role-playing series has hopscotched across no fewer than four different consoles over the span of nearly half a decade. The first Grandia game was published only in Japan for the Sega Saturn back in 1997, and at the time, it was probably the only role-playing game (RPG) that compared favorably to SquareSoft's groundbreaking Final Fantasy VII. Nearly two years later, Grandia finally made it to these shores, though solely to Sony's PlayStation system. The following year, Grandia II debuted on the Sega Dreamcast. So apparently now that another Sega system has been discontinued, another Grandia game has found its way onto another Sony console, courtesy of French publisher Ubi Soft. There's little doubt that Grandia II shows its age in the PlayStation 2 version--you can tell it's a direct translation of an older game. But the game itself actually holds up quite well, and it's well suited for those who haven't let Final Fantasy X raise their standards too high.
You don't need to be familiar with the original Grandia to get into Grandia II. If you've played other RPGs or seen some anime, then chances are you'll find that the game's setting, plot, and cast of characters seem pretty typical. You play as Ryudo, a young but seasoned bounty hunter who's always looking to sell his sword to the highest bidder. At first he comes across like a bully. But as you might expect, over the course of the game Ryudo shapes up into more suitably heroic form as he travels the land with Elena, a princess who becomes stricken with an unusual curse. Elena is quiet and Ryudo is likable enough, especially when he banters with Skye, his talking hawk friend. Though some of the game's dialogue is spoken, most of it is written out on the screen, subtly pausing at times to give a sense of how the characters are probably inflecting. Some of the dialogue is actually quite good--you'll probably appreciate Ryudo's cynical interjections during some otherwise-generic conversations about the usual sorts of problems that always seem to plague fantasy realms such as that of Grandia II.
Grandia II is a fully 3D game that uses a floating 3D camera angle that's fixed at a rather close-in, isometric vantage point. You can rotate the camera about the main character--you constantly have to, because scenery will often obstruct your view--but you can't zoom out or tilt the camera at all. There's an onscreen compass that helps you get your bearings in the game's somewhat bland 3D environments, but the tight view angle makes the places you'll explore in Grandia II seem rather small, which undermines the sense that you're on some sort of epic journey. Each area in Grandia II doesn't just seem small, but actually is--there isn't much room to explore before you find the next point you're supposed to go to in this linear game. For what it's worth, if the scenes were any bigger, you'd probably end up getting lost more often; as it is, you can concentrate on forging ahead.
Grandia II's combat system is one of the best aspects of the game. You won't find the numbingly repetitious random battles that can be found in most Japanese RPGs, because Grandia II does away with random encounters completely, and the combat system itself is considerably more interesting than usual--it's very dynamic and looks and feels almost as much like a fighting game as an RPG. You'll watch as your characters constantly move about the battlefield, getting into the best position to attack their foes. The action occurs in real time and pauses only when one of your characters is ready to act. At that point, characters have a variety of options--they can perform an attack combo on the selected foe or go for a critical hit that's faster than a combo but less damaging overall. Characters can all use a variety of different kinds of magic, as well as items and powerful special abilities. They can dodge and defend, too. Grandia II uses a system of initiative--once you select an action for your character, your character won't act right away. The same rules apply to your enemies, so if you see one of them setting up a special move, you may have the opportunity to counterattack for extra damage and cause the enemy to lose its turn for good measure. Whatever the case, battles are smoothly animated and visually impressive as a result, even though the polygonal characters look blocky.
Pretty detailed review for the most part, but I am re-playing Grandia 2 now in October of 2012 (on DC), and by today's standards even, I'll say this is a great JRPG (since not many are really coming out in North America presently). And I, being a fantasy author, actually like the story quite a bit. Its captivating. It unfolds slowly at first, then starts raveling out the way it should. It might be a wee bit predictable here and there, but I far enjoy this story over the recent Final Fantasy games (XIII and XIII-2), and some others presently coming out here in the West (like Mass effect 3). Anyways, great article, and a great game. It leaves an imprint on my memory, even today in 2012. In my mind, great game-play means more to me than graphics constantly improving.