Throughout the years, publisher Working Designs has localized many titles for the U.S. market that we gamers might otherwise never have seen. Some of these include the Arc the Lad series, Lunar 1 and 2, and Elemental Gearbolt to name but a few. Working Designs usually does an excellent job at translation and tweaking gameplay on their releases, and their latest, Growlanser: Generations, is no exception. After numerous delays the game is finally available at retail here in the United States. So how does it fare? Though the visuals may be dated, the overall package is excellent and well worth the purchase for any RPG/Strategy fan.
Growlanser: Generations is actually a collection containing two four year-old games by Atlus and Career Soft released in Japan only – up until now – namely Growlanser 2: The Sense of Justice and Growlanser 3: The Dual Darkness. In Growlanser 2, you follow a young hero, Wein Cruz, on his journey to become an Imperial Knight. Growlanser 3, however, follows the path of a character named Slayn who attempts to uncover his own past, which he does not remember. Both games involve pacing the land and uncovering information from its inhabitants; recruiting help from a variety of interesting characters, and engaging in both random and staged battles to advance the storyline. Branching dialogue and the responses you choose all weigh upon the outcome of both games.
Growlanser 3 has a feature not found in the previous title where you choose your character’s blood type, which directly affects personality. Differences between the two also appear on the world map. Growlanser 2 features a world map in which you choose a destination and are moved there much like Final Fantasy X-2. When over a town, a button brings up everything that can be done there, such as going to an inn, shopping, and gathering information. Everything is done from the overhead map with the dialogue from characters happening through text on the screen, which makes things both simple and quick. Growlanser 3’s map differs from 2’s in that it is more free roaming in the traditional RPG sense, giving way to a little more exploration. Some other differences to note between 2 and 3 are that Growlanser 3 has less characters you can use in battle, it’s a little harder, and has a more intriguing storyline.
The gameplay is where Growlanser: Generations truly shines. Battles do not take place on a grid, much like Nippon Ichi’s strategy offerings. Commands are handed out to available characters at the beginning of the battle, such as attack, techniques, skills, spells, movement, or defense. Characters carry out the commands they are given until they are either interrupted by the menu button, spell casting is complete, or their assigned target is defeated. In this way the battles in Growlanser have a fast-paced feel a little different from say, Tactics Ogre. Spells, however, are not instantaneous and have a casting time attached to them, making the decision making regarding casting a little more complex.
Characters in Growlanser use what are called ring-based weapons. These weapons are rings that are equipped and take the form of a weapon that best suits a particular character’s traits. Rings bring with them various stat boosts in strength, defense, and attack. Also, rings have slots in which gems containing various attributes such as fire or a better dodge ability can be equipped, making for a more potent weapon.
Characters, like in any other strategy RPG, obtain experience from their endeavors after every battle. After gaining levels, new points are earned which can be applied to new skills and techniques. One problem evident with many of the skills and techniques is that they seem rather useless, and you may often find yourself not using them much at all. However, the ability to choose these does add a deeper gameplay experience and a bit more customization possibility.
The presentation is probably the weakest spot in Growlanser: Generations. The graphics consist of 2D sprites, and the characters are very pixilated. Backgrounds can be bland at times, lacking detail. Spell effects are also rather lackluster. The graphics are not far removed from something you may have seen during the 16-bit era or some early PSX titles. However, the character portraits shown during much of the dialogue in the game are drawn really well and lend an anime feel to the game, bringing the characters to life. These games are a few years old, but in comparison – especially to other 2D titles – the graphics just can’t win it for Growlanser: Generations.
The sound in Growlanser: Generations is a little better than its presentation. Some of the music can be dull and generic, but most of it sets the mood and does an adequate job. The tunes range from rock-inspired tracks to quieter classical style pieces. The sound effects do well, but are nothing really special. Though the translation job is excellent, the voice acting is just plain average. Many of the characters’ dialogue seems forced and almost laughable, leading many players to probably just turn down the voices of some the game’s more annoying characters.
Growlanser: Generations is a great package when all is said and done. The gameplay is great and with two games for the price of one, Growlanser brings countless hours of strategy RPG fun. Any fan of the ?old school’ or strategy should definitely check this one out. And for hard-core collectors, there is also a special edition of the game with extra goodies for around $90USD ($40 more than the standard edition).