Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time takes place 2000 years after the arduous battle between humans and angels. Once at the pinnacle of technology, now mankind has fallen from their former glory. Spells are just a myth. Angels are now legends. Still, humans still have not learned from their mistakes and war is as common as ever. Were the angels correct in attempting to exterminate humankind two millennia ago?
War and politics are the central themes in Growlanser games, and can be found throughout the story. Your friends today could be your enemies tomorrow, and the opposite statement holds true as well. Changing alliances and betrayals are treated like some sort of a game. Meanwhile, the angels are perceived to be mankind’s greatest threat but with the history of civilisation long gone, no one knows for sure. Although the theme of war and politics sounds a little too deep for a game, you can rest assured that Growlanser does not delve too deep into the specifics. It spares players from feeling like reading a boring history book and only shows the most important and enjoyable bits. Simply said, the pacing is near perfect and events are meaningful.
The main character in Growlanser is Crevanille, a mercenary from the famous Alten Schwart mercenary brigade. Due to some unfortunate circumstances he’s lost the people dear to him and now is on a quest to exterminate the angels by his late boss’ wish. Crevanille is a silent protagonist, but you can choose different replies when prompted in such situation. Your choices will not matter much to the main story aside from specific plot points, but it will affect other character’s affection towards Crevanille. This is especially important if you’re interested to see a specific character’s ending, so be mindful of your manners.
Joining Crevanille’s quest is his mercenary friend Remus who was also in the brigade and Frayne, a ruin child which was saved by the heroes in a mission. An interesting aspect about the characters in Growlanser is that they have their own motivations and reasons to believe in the path that they’re heading in. They might not be memorable as nothing really stands out personality-wise, but the interaction between characters in the game are believable and natural.
At its heart, Growlanser is a strategy RPG. You choose commands from menus that pop up and your characters will follow the instructions that are given to them. What Growlanser does differently is that the battles are played in real-time, and movements are not confined to a tactical grid like most SRPGs.
Although the battles are played in real-time, any other action aside from moving and charging spells will halt the combat on screen and plays the corresponding animation for said action. The game will also pause automatically when the menu screen is brought up to issue more commands or to just take a breather from being assaulted from all sides by the opposing faction. This meshing of RTS and SRPG elements makes battles more intense and is a great middle ground for those who find turn-based strategy RPGs too slow and the hectic pace of real-time strategy games too fast.
Actions in battle are determined by the status of the ATW gauge. This gauge is directly affected by a character’s ATW stat and it determines the amount of time that needs to elapse before the gauge can fully recover, similar to the concept of cooldown. The difference is that any kind of action will cause the ATW gauge to increase, bar moving and casting spells. Getting attacked while a character is idle will also increase the gauge, further delaying the character’s actions. The implementation of the ATW gauge adds a sense of tension especially in grand scale mission battles where the party is outnumbered and squeezing every last bit of the gauge is required.
Contrary to normal actions, spells must first be charged before they can be cast and the caster will be vulnerable and take extra damage until the charge is complete. Spells come in several levels and higher level spells take longer time to cast. Surprisingly the amount of MP needed to cast a low level spell and a high level spell is similar, leading to some very difficult choices of casting low level spells repeatedly or to just take some punishment until the charge for a level 5 spell is complete. Later in the game, the party will have access to combination spells which can deal devastating damage and most importantly, area-of-effect spells, which can be a lifesaver.
Battles in Growlanser are divided into two groups: random battles and mission battles. Random battles are not really random as enemies appear on the map at all times and can be engaged at will. These battles are done in small scale and are useful for grinding levels or to gain ARP (Action Role Points). The type of monsters also changes depending on how far you are in the storyline by replacing the weak low level monsters with threatening beasts.
Mission battles, on the other hand, are the ones which will advance the storyline and test the player’s wits and patience. In comparison to random battles, mission battles take place on a grand scale.
Early mission battles have simple objectives such as defeating all the enemies on screen, but the later missions involves securing an escape route while fending off enemies and to defeat the enemy general while being bombarded with high level spells. It’s fair to say that the mission battles are indirectly portraying the despair and hopelessness of war by pitting the party against insurmountable odds. Some battles can be tricky, but with the right strategy even an under-levelled party is able to turn the tides on their side.
Weapons in Growlanser’s world come in the form of magic rings. The type of weapon that materialises depends on the user’s personality. In gameplay terms, these ring weapons provide stat boosts and 3 slots for equipping spellstones for party members.
The ring system is very enjoyable in the versatility it allows. A spellstone can have varying effects, ranging from increasing the movement rate by 20% to having 50% resistance towards spells. This allows characters to be moulded in ways you think is suitable for them, whether to be a teleporting harbinger of death or a jack-of-all-trades to adapt in any situation. In case that the equipped spellstones are not suitable for your current battle, it is also possible to switch everything up on-the-fly. There is a lot of fun to be had in customizing characters so that they operate at maximum capability in the limited range of 3 spellstones.
Aside from providing specific perks to a character, spellstones also provide valuable skills that can be permanently learned. This system is slightly reminiscent of Final Fantasy IX’s ability system, but there are no limits to the skills that can be used by a character in Growlanser, aside from being limited by class. Each stone carries a specific latent skill which starts at level 0. By actively participating in battles, party members will gain ARP which are automatically allocated to the skills. Once a skill levels up, the character will learn it permanently and can swap the previous stone to learn another skill.
Another mention that can be made about the ring system is that the stat modifiers and slots are random. Stronger enemies will drop better rings, but the random nature is still apparent. Some rings might have multiple high level slots but weak stats, while other rings can have amazing stats, but poor slot levels. On one hand this is not really an issue since it is possible to level up ring slots, but it will take quite a while especially if one of the slots on a nice ring starts at level 0. Fortunately the game designers were kind enough to allow shops to sell an item which can increase a ring’s slot level by 1, but this option is only viable late game.
Overall, Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time has a very well written story and is at a great pacing. the characters are enjoyable and the game throws enough gameplay variations to remain fresh. Aside from the main gameplay mechanics outlined above, there are also sub mechanics like the Familiar system and Furlough, where you can increase friendship points with your party members.
Food for thought:
1. Once enough friendship points are built with your party members their status portrait will change from indifferent to happy.
2. Status buffs are best applied before battle to save precious casting time and actions in battle.
4. Allocate around 400MB for the install data. The game has some slowdown problems during battle and item management unless data install is used.
5. There were several animated scenes present between story segments and they’re gorgeous. It would be amazing if there were more of these scenes.