The port is a bit rough at times, but the battle system does more than enough to make up for it.
HD re-releases have become a mainstay in video games, especially recently with classic RPGs coming to the Switch. While improved visuals are the core improvement, many have also opted to add features to make the journey more brisk, giving players the option to breeze through content. However, that isn’t the case with Grandia HD Collection, which instead focuses on delivering a more authentic experience. While at first I found myself yearning for Final Fantasy’s triple speed, I actually came to appreciate its absence, enjoying the game at the intended pace. That is, when slow down wasn’t prolonging battles, which is certainly the most glaring issue among a few plaguing this port.
Grandia II revolves around a young Geohound named, Ryudo, who is by nature of his job is an outcast. Acting much like a mercenary, he takes on a plethora of different jobs to earn enough coin to keep him going. We found ourselves joining his adventure as he takes on a job to escort Elena, a sister of the church, to a nearby tower to perform a ritual. Things go terribly wrong during the ceremony and Ryudo quickly finds himself embarking on a much grander journey with Elena. The two are joined by a number of other characters as they attempt to prevent the evil Valmar from resurfacing and destroying the world.
At the beginning, the story is a bit slow to develop and only having two playable characters makes battles a bit mundane. However, things ramp up nicely once more playable characters are unlocked and watching as your party interacts and grows. Journeying from town to town is very linear; entering an area, clearing enemies along the way to find the exit to the world map, then selecting the next town. This actually is my preferred style of play, but if you enjoy loads of sidequests and exploration, Grandia II might leave you a bit disappointed. Battles aren’t random, you’ll see enemies on screen and will be able to dodge them if you like, but that isn’t always possible, especially in more confined areas. The number of encounters felt good, not being overwhelmed with constant fights, but enough that you wouldn’t lag behind in power.
While I enjoyed the story being told, Grandia II really stands out is with its unique battle system. Battle UI features a timeline in the corner that shows enemy and player icons that as time passes move towards the COM and ACT portions of the bar. Once one of your party members reaches COM, you can select an act whether it be an attack, magic, item, defend, or even evade. Then once they hit ACT, they’ll fulfil that action and cycle back to the beginning of the bar. This doesn’t seem out of the ordinary except that you can actually time attacks to counter enemy attacks or even cancel them outright. It’s a bit confusing at first as your two options for a standard attack are combo and crit. Naturally a crit sounds enticing, but this is actually used to cancel enemy attacks. By properly timing a crit on an enemy while they’re between the COM and ACT portion of the timeline, it’ll cancel the attack sending them way back on the timeline. Counters are performed by timing a hit right as they’re about to land a hit on one of your party members. This won’t outright cancel the attack, but it will delay it.
Evading can be used to not only avoid enemy attacks, but also be done strategically to line up attack timing for cancels and counters. Using the evade can stall you from attacking, helping to land a properly timed cancelling attack. Since party members and enemies can only move a certain distance, the evade can come in handy to save those precious health points, letting you live to see another turn. Overall, the battle system is extremely fun and rewarding when used properly. Chaining cancels, not allowing an enemy to attack for a prolonged period of time feels incredibly satisfying. It’s a bit unfortunate that the explanation of these mechanics is left up to an NPC found in town inns that you don’t necessarily have to talk to. I didn’t fully understand the intricacies of the system early on and those intricacies are what make it so rewarding. This could have contributed to the feeling of a slow start, not fully realizing how engaging battles are.
Outside of battle, powering up your party members is also very rewarding. Leveling increases stats, but as you defeat enemies you earn special and magic coins. Special coins are used to unlock and power up character unique moves, some of which have incredible animations. Magic coins power up eggs, which can be equipped to different party members, allowing that character to use the unlocked magic on that egg. In addition, magic coins can be used to power up Books, giving different buffs to party members such as increased stats and enhancing specific magic types. Being able to trade eggs and book buffs to different members of your party allows you to approach battles differently and I found that to be almost as much fun to tinker with as the battles themselves.
As I mentioned before, this port faces a few issues, but the most noticeable is the slow down during battle. Battles end up being drawn out because of it, which is bothersome because they’re already on the relatively lengthy side as it is. The amount of slowdown can vary, but on occasion it’d really chug coming to a snail's pace. In addition to that, some seemingly random audio hiccups occurred during battles where music or sound effects would be extremely low for a portion of the fight. Outside of battle, traversing the world is a pretty smooth experience. The visuals look sharp while still keeping the nostalgic early 2000s look and feel and the soundtrack holds up extremely well.
Having never played a Grandia game, I came in not knowing much about the series and what makes it great. Walking away, I’m left in awe of not only the battle system, but also how you power up your party. The port is a bit rough when it comes to slow down, particularly in battles, but it’s worth dealing with the inconvenience to experience this classic.