JRPGs from the late 1990s can develop a bit of a reputation. It was when Square Enix had Final Fantasy VII have 3D characters in 2D rendered environments. Tales of Destiny relied largely on 2D, though it did have a 3D overworld. Then, there was Grandia, a game that blended incredibly detailed 2D sprites, 3D environments and different kinds of activity and story beats that were unique for the time and even still a bit fresh now. It was great back then and now, having it in Grandia HD Collection on the Nintendo Switch, reminds people of why it is still such a great game.
Compared to Grandia II, Grandia hasn’t appeared on as many platforms as often. So, one of the things it has going for it in Grandia HD Collection is exposure. If someone didn’t play it on the PlayStation in 1999 or 2000 outside of Japan, odds are that they missed it. (Meanwhile, the sequel kept showing up on platforms.) Having less exposure to the story helps it out. So does the manner in which the story is handled. This is a coming of age story about a young man who has a dream about becoming an adventurer, gets the chance to pursue it after finding an artifact, then gets caught up in international intrigue and saving the world. The difference here is a genuine sense of innocence that Justin has as he sets out on his adventure. He begins as a kid playing with friends, treating wooden swords as Spirit Swords.
While he always retains that sense of adventure and kindness, we see him grow as he is exposed to other adventurers and learns about the history of his world. It is new to him, so it is new to us. He can end up saving his “idol.” But, before that, we’ll get to see him scour streets and the area near a canal for a key to a rival’s “treasure.” His dialog responses reflect this as well. Which is another thing that was novel then and still feels fresh now. We get to make decisions for Justin and, while it could be a situation where picking a wrong answer means just revisiting the conversation and picking the right option, it still fits well with the game and adds to the immersion.
Speaking of immersion, Grandia still looks great even at over 20 years old. The HD remaster really cleaned things up, so the UI is crisp and easy to read. The character portraits look amazing. The 2D sprites are wonderfully done. Especially since there are so many for unique circumstances that you would really only see once in the game. When Justin and Sue need to look for Gantz’ key, they actually crawl around the street looking for it. When they head on a ship to the New World, there is a moment where Justin is despondent below decks, and both his icon and character sprite change to reflect his current disposition. Even if you aren’t reading along, you can see how he is feeling from the slump of his shoulders and tilt of his head. The textures for the 3D environments and items also look fantastic in HD. Their simplicity makes them pop, and the elaborate sprites fit well in this world and keep it from looking dated.
Even the battle system feels really ahead of its time. It had an active element, as you could always see who was up to act next at the bottom of the screen. You would have characters use certain weapons and abilities to build them up to act in certain roles in the field. Characters might not always be around, due to people having other obligations or the story taking them away for the moment. It is a system that forces you to think about what roles you might need people to take, what their natural tendencies seem to be, and when you need to prioritize certain sorts of actions.
Grandia is a classic RPG, and Grandia HD Collection gives more people a chance to see it. It makes it prettier than it has been in years. It lets different gameplay elements, such as character advancement that takes their actions into account and story elements with unique actions, shine.
Grandia HD Collection is available for the Nintendo Switch. Grandia HD Remaster will come to the PC on September 2019.