Monday, October 24, 2011

Anime-inspired video games – Growlanser II: A Sense of Justice (PS2)

Growlanser II: A Sense of Justice
Developer: Chunsoft
American Publisher: Working Designs
Platform: PS2
Genre: Strategy RPG

In the fast- paced video game industry, franchises are developed and dropped in the blink of an eye. The strategy RPG genre has seen some interesting franchises, like Final Fantasy Tactics, Valkyria Chronicles, and Shining Force. What is not as well-known is another franchise by RPG developer Chunsoft, known as Growlanser. The series started with the release of the original Growlanser on the PlayStation 1 back in 1999. With six iterations released in Japan (last one in 2007), the franchise has a couple of hallmarks to set it apart from other Japanese RPG’s. The first main hallmark is the unique strategy RPG battle system that is unlike any other Japanese RPG. The second hallmark of the franchise is the gorgeous character designs of Satoshi Urushihara. I will focus on Growlanser II, released in the United States by Working Designs. It was a unique RPG experience that seems to have been forgotten in the footnote of RPG history.

The story of Growlanser II follows the exploits of Wein Cruz, an aspiring knight for the kingdom of Burnstein. During the exams he becomes good friends with Maximillian Schneider. Fast forward a year later Wein and Max go different paths due to Max’s distaste for war and Wein’s ambitions to become and Imperial Knight. He becomes a commander in charge of two aspiring knights, Hans and Charlone. Wein had saved Hans’s life during his practical exams, and now Hans wants to become a knight to help people. Charlone is a beautiful aristocrat who desires to become an Imperial Knight against the wishes of her father. Wein has a commander who dislikes him and sends Wein and his subordinates to very dangerous missions. During one of their missions the three of them are framed for breaking a dam and destroying a village, becoming the most hunted criminals in Burnstein. Their adventures will test their mettle and challenge the notions of justice and loyalty.

The game was made in the early life over the PS2, so graphically it really does look like a PlayStation 1 game. The game uses sprites for the characters over static nicely-detailed backgrounds. During event sequences, massive sprite portraits of the characters talk and interact with each other. To move in the map, the character moves from one point to another, with no random battles. The soundtrack from Hiroshi Fujioka is one of my favorite aspects of the game. The music is very good; the world map is nice and relaxing. The battle music is one of the strongest parts of the game. There are a variety of battle songs that plays in the background that has a unique theme to them. One of the best songs in entire game is when the song would switch from the calm battle tune to the “frantic” song. It normally plays when the characters are ambushed or would be put in an extremely difficult situation. Once it starts playing it gets your heart beating because it only plays when the cast if put in extremely perilous situations.

The game is part strategy RPG and part dating simulation. One of my favorite aspects of Growlanser II is the branching storyline and the dating sim elements. The branching storyline occurs when Wein has to make critical decisions over important points in the game. These decisions can change the storyline and has ramifications in how the player goes through the storyline. The critical decisions are combined with normal decisions that are made over the course of the game. Each normal decision determines a character’s affection for you. Over the course of the game, there are a variety of situations that the cast of Growlanser II are placed in, and every single decision will affect the perception of how the characters in your party view you. The branching storyline and the decision points that changes character affection is one of my favorite aspects of the game (for the record, I got the Charlone ending in my first playthrough).

The battle system of the Growlanser franchise is like no other, and its unique battle system is one of the crown jewels of the franchise. During battle, the characters have a range of attack that is represented by a concentric circle. As expected, a sword user would need to get close to the enemy to attack, compared to a magic user or an archer who can separate themselves from the enemy. The characters can move from one location to another in real time, there are no limitations to move except the time it takes to move from point A to point B. Once they reach the destination, there is a bar that activates that determines their next move in real time. They do the attack, and then the bar fills up again. In that time, the enemy can attack. This is all happening simultaneously, so you can pause the battle and move the characters to commence attack. This battle system all moves in real time, so the consequences of bad strategy are felt immediately. It is one of my favorite Strategy RPG battle systems of all time and it does make me sad to see it not replicated more in the videogame world.

Each character has a unique weapon called the “ring weapon” in which they use a ring to create their weapon. Each ring has three slots from level 1-9 (ex: 9-4-4) which means that a character can have a level 9 gem in the first slot, level 4 gem in the last two slots. Each of these gems grant the character a unique ability or trait, for example I put triple attack on Charlone, which means that she can attack three times in one turn. Depending on your decisions, the choice of ring weapon and gems can change the tide of battle.

Growlanser II is a great game if you can look past its dated graphics. It has great character designs that showcase the incredible talent of the artist behind the franchise. The music is wonderful, with the musical cues changing to create one of the most intense strategy RPG experiences. The branching storyline and the dating sim elements add a level of replayability that makes it easy to beat and play again. It is also graced with one of the best battle systems found in any Strategy RPG. If you can find this classic and can get past the dated graphics, you may find that underneath it is an amazing game.


Janet said...

Great review of Growlanser II, the game is hard but it is awesome. I hope they have a remake for the PS vita.

Anonymous said...

Dang, seeing this review make me feel nostalgic. I want to play it again

Davey D said...

Good review. FYI: Growlanser IV: Wayfarer of Time is coming to the PSP in English on July 24th. I hope you'll review that game also.