One thing that always endures with classic RPGs is the story that you find inside. While there have been a ton of great games that brought innovation to menus, combat and different skill systems, it’s the story at the heart that’s kept the games interesting and engaging decades later. I sometimes thing about 7th Saga, an oldschool RPG that had the coolest way to fork the storyline progression and move the game forward (very similar to Octopath Traveler, now that I think about it), but the core story was really dull, in my opinion, so I never go back to it. But when the tale is told well, you can always count on people reliving the experience time after time. The Nintendo Switch has a diverse playerbase, so it’s exciting that there are brand new players who will have a chance to see the legendary Grandia games for the first time in the Grandia HD Collection.
If you’ve played the games previously on their respective systems (Playstation or Sega Dreamcast), then you may or may not be happy to know there isn’t a lot of overhaul that came into the modern ports of these games. The HD is not, as you might imagine, a redesign of the game from the ground up, but a picking and choosing of the best parts of the original versions and mashing them into a singular, definitive edition. For example, Grandia I had both a Sega Saturn and Playstation release, but the Saturn version had better graphics and detail while the Playstation version had cleaner code and better stability. Both Grandia and Grandia II have the option to play in Japanese and English, with word bubbles mixed however you’d like, and I have to give the usual warning about the English voice acting. If this is your thing, go right ahead, use the English dubs: they’re not bad, especially not when you consider the era, and they serve their purpose, particularly because a lot of the characters have Western names from the beginning and not name swaps to appeal to Western audiences. Basically, if you’re worried that the game will deviate too much from the source material, don’t: it’s essentially the same thing.
You can start with either game, as the stories of Grandia tend to be quite standalone, but I do recommend starting with the first Grandia. The storyline is quite a bit longer due to some pacing and game elements we’ll touch upon in a moment, but it’s also the more similar of the two to the glorious RPGs of the 90s. In Grandia, you play Justin, a young boy who longs for adventure and wants to prove himself in the world as a great hero, even though he’s quite young. Like so many other great games, Grandia provides the ultimate in wish fulfilment for Justin, as the game introduces the antagonist, General Baal, before anything else, and slowly reveals Baal’s plan to take over the world while acting like a benevolent leader. Justin, along with a small cast of delightful characters, will stumble into these plans as they pop up and shoulder the task of being the hero through time and the desire to do the right thing. This is a classic case of a missing father, holographic plea for help, airships, ancient robots, and world ending power with the name Gaia being mixed in. It’s got all the right moves in the story, and Grandia executes them rather well.
What makes Grandia a different beast is the tone and the delivery of what unfolds before you. Sure, a lot of people praise the combat system that Grandia pioneered that was reused in the sequels (and imitated elsewhere), but I think it’s something more important than that: it’s the story reveal. When you begin Grandia I, you’re dropped into the middle of a reveal that’s unskippable, fully voiced and purposefully drawn out. In a time where games were still getting their sea legs in terms of voicework, Grandia has a jaw-dropping amount of dialogue throughout, and it’s well done and purposeful, like they were recording an anime before anything else. When characters begin speaking, you don’t have a choice but to listen to the complete exchange, as the director created them and planned them, until the words have exhausted themselves in their own time. When Justin, Sue or any of the other characters interact with NPCs, even inconsequential chatter has appropriate back and forth (not voiced, of course) that’s more than someone just spouting off “Boy, that General Baal is something else!” Justin has his own opinions because he doesn’t just shut up and listen when others talk, and his party members will often comment on his own comments. It’s got a sincere anime feel to it that’s more than just graphics and design: it’s execution.
As you delve deeper into the world of Grandia, you begin to appreciate a lot of the nuance in design that’s come from the classic, generation-crossing game design. There’s more of an experiment with 2.5D, as it’s clear we weren’t ready for full 3D yet, but that can make for an incredibly disorienting journey if you aren’t familiar with the game. Journeying through Alent or the inner guts of the airships is a beautiful trip, but it can be labyrinthian if you’re not used to using the compass or consulting the map to make sure you aren’t getting lost. Combat, when it comes, is more static in this game, allowing you to see the active bars filling in a rush to see who lands the first blow, you or the enemy. Spellwork is as important as good equipment, and the whole thing is still leaning heavily on the storyline developing underneath you as we see more about Hilda’s character or the true nature of Liete. Top all this against a truly magnificent score by one of Japan’s great musical creators (Iwadare Noriyuki), and the original Grandia is a long, exciting and memorable journey through a beautiful and wonderful world.
Grandia II, which came some years after Grandia and exists on the “next generation” of systems (many will have played it on the Playstation 2), is a fantastic game that seems to exist in an entirely different fashion from Grandia I. While the first one was full of a magic of innocent and wonder (it carries more of the tonality of Game Art’s earlier title, Lunar), the backbone of Grandia II is a sharper, more mature formation without going “gritty” or separating itself entirely from the originals (looking at you, Grandia III). Here, you play Ryudo the Geohound, which is a sort of mashup of mercenary and all purpose errand runner. Since we already know mercenaries are happy people who definitely don’t have tortured back stories, it’s only fitting that we see Ryudo do the first job assigned to him, get openly despised by the clientele, and then have to take on a job that sounds like an escort mission but turns out to be an exorcism. Ryudo’s entire purpose in the game is to help out Elena, who is definitely sporting some gorgeous wings that are apparently a bad thing, and finding out a lot about how everyone has a bit of sadness in them, but we can band together and make the future brighter for everyone. The story is a lot more to digest compared to the first, but it has a tone to it that older players will enjoy more (probably a result of aging up the game to make it stand out for returning players).
Also, Grandia II seems to take notes from the first on how to improve their game and make it even better, which creates the rare “sequel that is more memorable than the first”. There’s still plenty of fantastic voicework and great dialogue, but a lot of it is skippable: you can mash buttons through conversations if you simply don’t want to be chastised by Ryudo’s companions at the current time. The menus are cleaner and with a more appealing layout, which wasn’t a massive problem before BUT shows forward thinking and proper utilization of next generation technology. There’s still plenty of the older ideas here to keep people linked in (memory slot organization, progressive expansion through important conversations), but the game was, essentially, streamlined to make it stronger in execution. This is the primary reason why you can finish Grandia II in substantially less time: the game allows you to drive instead of gracing you with its presentation.
Plus, and this is a big one, the combat is EVEN BETTER. The combat of Grandia, which I glossed over a bit, was groundbreaking in presentation. The active bar and the ring of commands helped to draw the eye of people who were used to more static, ATB style fights from Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star, plus the ability to move about the screen and position yourself, giving it more of a Secret of Mana meets Tales of Phantastia approach. With Grandia II, you see an expansion into a system that was more technical and strategic without getting overwhelming. You can design combos through combat by adding accessories and utilizing spells to boost the number of hits you deliver. If you plan things right, you can actually cancel out other attacks, which is a two way street: there were several boss fights where Mareg got whacked in the right way that he forgot how to use his spear. That’s not even including that magic was properly weighted in this game: if you want a simple heal spell, that’ll only take a tick, but it’s going to be a few moments if you want to summon a rain of hellfire or raise the dead. It just makes sense, and pushes Grandia II more towards a full on RPG experience.
The only downside to Grandia II versus the original are the graphics, and someone will probably want to fight me on this. Grandia felt like the perfect representation of anime coming over to gaming in the 90s, something that was ambitious but not always successful when it came to marrying the two genres. By adding a more anime feel to Grandia, it slowed down the pacing of the storytelling but allowed players to drink things in in an appreciative, relaxed way. You sometimes forgot you were playing a game and weren’t watching the story before you. Grandia II, while well designed and excellently complimented by another banger score, was done up in the 3D modeling of the late 90s/early 2000s, and that had…middling success. In combat, it was phenomenal. You were already moving around a lot during battles, and now you had a true 3D feel to it, so you cared very little about the backdrop around you in terms of sharp trees or slightly angular boulders. But when you’re walking around the cities, the countryside, or the foreboding ruins, you become more aware at the awkwardness of the cuts, the very clumsy moments where certain sets of graphical assets were less important than others. The characters themselves, which arguably look better than many Playstation 1 3D sprites, aren’t even close to some of the highlights that we saw in later PS2 titles, or even Dreamcast games. This is the generation that gave us Kingdom Hearts, and, while these aren’t square sprites, they just aren’t as clean as they could be.
Two very different games, both born from the same world, and both incredibly excellent in their own right. As a fan of classic JRPGs, there are few gifts finer for Nintendo Switch players than the Grandia HD Collection. You’ve certainly got time now, and I think we can all use a break from constant online frantic gameplay, and an opportunity to kick back, relax, and drink in a fine wine of a game that’s only aged better in so many facets.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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GRANDIA HD Collection Review
Gameplay - 9/10
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 9/10
The utter classic duology of JRPGs brings fantastical world building, elaborate stories and memorable characters to the Nintendo Switch in this HD collection.