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Review

Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time Review

  • Game release: July 31, 2012
  • Reviewed: August 1, 2012
  • PSP

Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time weaves a complex and captivating tale, but the combat doesn't pull its weight.

First released on the PlayStation 2 in Japan in 2003, the fourth game in the esteemed Growlanser series of tactical role-playing games has finally been made available to the wider world on the PSP. Those who have eagerly awaited the release of Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time will find much to admire; the tale it tells is populated by vivid characters whose struggles play out against the backdrop of a richly developed war-torn continent. But the combat is standard, lacking the depth that makes for satisfying strategy in other, better tactical RPGs. The result is an uneven game that alternates between the epic and the mundane.

The land is ravaged by conflict. Marquelay and Iglesias, Dulkheim and Valkania; these four nations use military strategy and, occasionally, diplomacy to jockey for power, protect their own citizens, and neutralize their enemies. In terms of its political complexity, the setting for Wayfarer of Time is reminiscent of Westeros, the continent whose conflicts are chronicled in George R.R. Martin's popular A Song of Ice and Fire books. You play as a young man (named Crevanille by default), one of the ruin children. Ruin children are found in stasis in the ruins of an earlier, highly advanced civilization that was destroyed some 2,000 years ago. Now, the appearance of destructive winged angels suggests that the forces that obliterated that civilization might be returning, and Crevanille and his friends set out to investigate ruins around the continent and find a way to prevent history from repeating itself.

It's a stirring setup for your adventures, and periodically, Wayfarer of Time pulls you in to its story. Seeing innocents slaughtered by the ruthless military forces of one nation fills you with rage, and moments when your characters regard the ruins of the previous civilization give the game a melancholy sense of history. Well-written dialogue brings the characters to life; you can't help but admire the wise, battle-hardened mercenary captain Dixon, and the egomaniacal womanizer Christopher is a character you will love to hate. The tone of the writing is smart and serious, befitting a tale of war in which characters often perish, and formal language is used effectively to suggest the divide between nobles and common folk.

But the moments in which Wayfarer of Time moves you with its story and characters are divided by gameplay sections that are often more tedious or frustrating than they are enjoyable. There are no random encounters; monsters are visible in the environment and can usually be avoided, though of course you want to fight a good number of the monsters you see in order to earn experience points and level up your characters. There are also missions--periodic battles that are tied in to the story, and that often have specific victory conditions that differ from the typical aim of simply defeating all enemies. You might need to prevent a certain number of enemy soldiers from escaping, for instance, or ensure that a certain character who isn't in your party stays alive.

Dixon has a philosophical perspective on his work as a mercenary.

Unlike many tactical RPGs in which characters move on a grid, here, your characters move freely about the environment, with the distance they can move and the frequency with which they act determined by their stats. Combat is usually quite easy. The first time you face a certain type of monster, it might take a short while to figure out what types of spells are most effective against it, but for the most part, you don't have to put much thought into what you're doing. And that's too bad; battles are often rote affairs in which you just wait for your party to finish wiping the floor with their enemies.

Missions are typically more challenging than ordinary encounters, both because the enemies you face can be tougher and because you need to account for the failure conditions that are unique to that battle. But once you've lost a mission as a result of one of these failure conditions, it's unlikely that you'll lose it again, because you've learned how the enemy is going to move and who you need to target to prevent that failure from coming to pass. If too many enemy soldiers slip past you on your first attempt at a certain mission, for instance, it's easy to position your characters and target your enemies to prevent this from happening the next time. So your second attempts are often simple matters of carrying out now-obvious recipes for success, which makes the result feel like a foregone conclusion.

Though the battles are rarely exciting, there's satisfaction in seeing your party emerge victorious time and again and watching them grow more powerful. You can equip your characters with spellstones that have various effects, like imbuing attacks with elemental power, increasing movement speed, and improving the effectiveness of healing items, which allows for a moderate but enjoyable amount of customization. Customizing your familiar is less enjoyable. This familiar, a subservient fairy-like creature who accompanies Crevanille, can be dressed in various outfits that you find throughout the game for your ogling pleasure. It's an uncomfortable bit of frivolity that's at odds with the serious tone of the game's narrative.

A good deal of your time is spent not engaged in battle, but rather puttering around towns and chatting with other characters. The conversational choices you make can impact Crevanille's relationships with other characters, and ultimately, your decisions can result in any of a vast number of endings. But this process feels more mechanical than organic; you can see how other characters feel about you on a friend rating screen and choose your dialogue options in an attempt to influence these ratings, but a character's interactions with you rarely seem to be influenced by how he or she feels about you.

Unfortunately, you might also spend some time just trying to figure out where you need to go and what you need to do next to advance the story. At times, a character might give you a clue, but if you aren't paying close attention and you miss that clue, you're out of luck; there's no way to check what your current objective is. As a result, you might spend minutes wandering around a town talking to all the characters you encounter to see if they trigger the next part of the story, finally give up, go back to the inn and go to sleep, only to find that this was what you needed to do all along.

Where is the 'Punch Christopher' option?

There are no quest logs here, and other modern amenities common to the genre are absent as well. When you wander through a maze-like dungeon that has no automap feature and offers no option to save until and unless you emerge victorious on the other side, you might wish for some of those absent conveniences. Wayfarer of Time is a product of a previous era, and it looks and feels like it. But rewarding tactical combat is not a modern gaming advance, and even in 2003, there was no shortage of role-playing games that could put a satisfying strain on your noodle. Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time stumbles on the battlefield, and in some ways, it feels like a relic of the past. But these flaws don't fully overshadow the engrossing power of its rich world and well-written story. If you have an appetite for a grand and intricate fantasy tale, you may find that the foibles are worth enduring.

The Good
Intricate story set in a complex world
Good writing that creates vivid characters
The Bad
Straightforward, unremarkable combat
Sometimes unclear where you need to go
Character interactions feel mechanical
6
Fair
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6 comments
VayuPurana
VayuPurana

this reviewer commonly gives scores around a 6.0 

figures.....

gba1989
gba1989

I think 6.0 is fair enough. A 9 if you love SRPG.


Battles are challenging but aren't tedious if you look at in a different light.

monicker
monicker

Gamespot should not be allowed to review PSP games. They are ALWAYS wrong. Always WAY TOO harsh. I really like this reviewer, but when it comes to anything hand held, especially PSP I ignore the F out of this site, no matter who reviews it.

zenlang
zenlang

This game has awesome sauce all over it. Glad I did not listen to this review :D

Appomaddox
Appomaddox

This is a great game.

 

I honestly made a GameSpot account just so that I could make a comment here. I keep wondering if Carolyn and I were even playing the same game. And then I wonder how long she actually played it before writing this review. Now that I have put quite some time into this game, I feel this review is almost as surprisingly opposite of what I think as the Monster Hunter reviews. If your standard casual FPS gamer was reading this then it would probably help them out, and they would know this isn't the game for them. However, if you're looking for a review of this game then odds are you saw the cover art or something  in the Playstation Store and it looked appealing to you, which means you probably aren't that guy. So wouldn't it make sense to review the game with the same outlook that people who actually play these kinds of games have? Like... JRPG style? This game excels at everything it tries to excel in. There is a lot more I could say but I don't want this to drag on. Maybe I'll write my own review later. I just feel like this is going to be a diamond in the rough that not a lot of people will notice.

finalstar2007
finalstar2007

loving this game so much.. playing it on the Vita

CloudXentar
CloudXentar

6 for this epic game? Carolyn you don't know jack about gaming.

Zelor
Zelor

epic story and chars,very attractive,ridiculous save point,and battle setup,some time you have to fight throught out 3-4 heavy battles non stop,then u got ur ass kicked,you have to load an "ancient" save game,run a long long way back to where u die,and with a litte luck,u die again,exp : there is a boss fight that only 1 NPC can damage it before it run away,and the main reason u fail because the NPC can run fast enough to catch up with the bitch...the nearest save point is 6-7 map away,and 2 cutscene

shawnathanmcfly
shawnathanmcfly

I've played many strategy and random encounter rpgs throughout the years, and I find that this series managed to combine the two very well. Maybe I'm a bit of a dork, but there were quite few battles in this game where I didnt blink once, and ended up with sweaty palms near the end of a fight (Usually during a fight that has a condition). If that doesn't define an enjoyable experience, then what does? And this may have been the FIRST TIME in awhile where I had to put some creative thinking in strategy game.

 

I'm glad to hear not too many JRPG fans here are letting this review stop them from buying this title, I can't believe a "professional' reviewer gave this game a review without playing it through completely. In fact, I can't believe I researched a review for a game I'm already enjoying, I'm going to bed angry.

LFDOG
LFDOG

What a shock that this reviewer gave a JRPG a poor review. I appreciate reviews that point out flaws, but those that add too much personal opinion seem unfair. For example, what exactly is "tedious" combat? Using the same button combos? Shallow weapon sets? Few spells? It needs to be defined more specifically. I just don't think that this reviewer should be assigned the task of reviewing a genre that they obviously do not enjoy or understand.

finalstar2007
finalstar2007

I might buy it soon since its playable on Vita

so_hai
so_hai

Still think I'll get this one anyway.

wikedvw
wikedvw

Loved Generations and this game feels better!

Spinnerweb
Spinnerweb

'Frustrating' and 'no random encounters' don't fit in the same sentence. Random encounters in RPGs have always been frustrating as long as I can remember - you're running along to some place where you can heal with 2HP left and -BOOM!- you get into a battle out of nowhere and that's the end of that. I'm pretty glad this game doesn't have random encounters.

Joshua2222
Joshua2222

*sigh* Well it's obvious Carolyn didn't play this game for very long. I just found a Quest Log in my Menu. You don't get it till around 2 hours into the game but it's there. So....just for reference people.

 

 

l777l
l777l

I prefer Kevin VanOrd's expertise.

Zelor
Zelor

sorry, cant*

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@Spinnerweb

The reviewer didn't even say that having visible enemies is wrong.

 

You may have associated the statement about visible enemies with the previous statement about "frustrating combat", but the way I see it, the statements after the "frustrating combat" one is just an opener for the description of combat.

 

The elaboration for "frustrating or tedious combat" only comes in the next two paragraphs.

 

You are overlooking those in favor of arguing statements that are easier to attack, when these are not meant to be elaboration of the summary.

Bhemont
Bhemont

 @Spinnerweb Just saying, but if you shouldn't have to run around in RPGs with 2HP, there's usually always the menu button, where you can easily heal yourself without the risk of triggering a random battle.  

 

 

Spinnerweb
Spinnerweb

Besides, what's so wrong with having visible enemies? You can fight them if you want, but you can avoid them if you don't have a lot of HP. Random encounter doesn't mean 'enemies appear out of nowhere' anyway.

Spinnerweb
Spinnerweb

 @Joshua2222 This may be a mean thing to say but... BUSTED, Carolyn, BUSTED! :D

Haha. Well, I got the game and it's been great so far.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

 @l777l Until Kevin VanOrd tells you what you don't like to hear about a game.

NYSailorScout
NYSailorScout

 @Stealth_Knight_  My soul weeps for the fact that straight women have to put up with creatures like Stealth_Knight. And, Carolyn has identified herself with name and picture. Have you done the same? So you are a coward as well for making personal attacks on somebody while hiding. Pick on somebody your own size. In fact, you can pick on me. I don't have a photo or my name up and we are equally anonymous. 

Spinnerweb
Spinnerweb

 @Gelugon_baat The way she said it, she put it negatively. Enemies being visible is a given in the genre by now and if it's innocent elaboration it's irrelevant.

Spinnerweb
Spinnerweb

 @Bhemont I'm kinda stingy in RPGs. :P Besides, you won't always have healing items with you.

Joshua2222
Joshua2222

 @Spinnerweb Yeah I don't really understand the issue. I don't really have an affinity for either kind, I like both. I kinda thought it was universally recognized as being an improvement from the very old RPGs but I guess not......

Spinnerweb
Spinnerweb

 @Gelugon_baat I haven't really discussed this much with you in any other review except this, so no.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

 @Spinnerweb Like I said, that statement about visible enemies is just an opener.

 

Say... Haven't I put forth this very same argument to you before? For a game far earlier than this one? That what you see as an associated statement is what I see as just an opener?

 

That said, back in this game's time (2003), the genre still has more than a few games with randomly popping encounters.

shadowysea07
shadowysea07

 @Joshua2222 besides pokemon the last one i can think of off the top of my head was ff10, glory of heracles, x-2 , enchanted arms and wild arms 3. most of those being from 2002/3 heracles was on the ds so the only one without a proper excuse would be enchanted arms.

Joshua2222
Joshua2222

 @Spinnerweb Lol :P I've been trying to remember the last RPG I played with random encounters and I'm realizing it's been quite awhile.....

Spinnerweb
Spinnerweb

 @Joshua2222 It is. Random encounters are an Ultimate Ghosts and Goblins kind of thing now :P

Spinnerweb
Spinnerweb

 @Joshua2222 I will - soon, soon! ... Once I finish this, Unchained Blades, Gungnir and Knights in the Nightmare first through. Screw Atlus and Xseed for localizing so many games at once :P

l777l
l777l

 @Stealth_Knight_ Hateful diatribes may not be all that effective. And if you feel attacked by ideological/radical feminists, you may equally want to think about more effective alternatives. If that motivates you, it can be quite appropriate, although it remains to be seen whether addressing a particular individual (Ms. Petit) is the right choice.

 

Feminists quite readily accuse men as class/group - and as individuals - of oppressing women, of conspiring, being sexist and misogynist. These are extreme accusations with the potential to be extreme insults. Reacting with phrases like "make me a sandwich" to such feminist attacks is comparatively mild. It's not inherently good, but instead of (conveniently) taking it as confirmation of all these fairly crazy and/or malicious theories of oppression, objectification, conspiracy, and sexism anyone interested in the actual truth - as compared to politically and ideologically convenient "truth" - should examine cause, effect, and meaning.

NYSailorScout
NYSailorScout

 @Stealth_Knight_  Stealth, I agree that it is suspicious how Carolyn keeps giving consistently low reviews to JRPGs. BUT, why are you making it so personal? I love talking smack with my friends as well but she is not a personal friend and you gotta have some compassion and respect. Imagine if YOU were the one to receive endless personal attacks all day long for stuff (gender, sexuality, appearance) that have NOTHING to do with your job. Just ease up on the smack-down.