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28th Sep 2019 | 1,806 views
The Granstream Saga is an RPG that every time I play (I have played through it 4 times now) angers me greatly. It is a game that had loads of potential and opportunities to achieve greatness, but the developers never seemed to follow through with their great ideas.
The Granstream Saga was released in Japan in 1997 and in 1998 in the US by the hand of publisher THQ, which was better known for its great wrestling games rather than its terribly bad RPGs (summoner, Quest 64, Aydin Chronicles.)
However with the Granstream Saga THQ had something special on their hands, today the game still stands as THQ best published RPG in my humble opinion. However while THQ had a part to play in the downfall of the Granstream Saga most of the blame must go into the developing team.
Shade formerly known as Quintet (Of Soul Blazer fame) was the developer team behind this game. They had great ideas but poorly executed most of them.
Let’s begin with the graphics, the game was ground breaking for it’s time, it was touted as the first Action RPG to be completely done in full 3-D graphics, and that it was, but with unspectacular results.
The 3-D worlds are smooth and colorful, the character models look excellent on the limited PS1, and their clothing and Hair look the part. Each one of the four continents looks different even if some of the numerous dungeons are a bit repetitive.
Now for the negatives: First of all the camera view point is horrendous, unlike the typical PS1 ¾ over the top point of view that games like Xenogears, Grandia and Breath of Fire used. The Granstream Saga ditches that perspective in favor of a full over the top view, meaning the camera is always on top of Eon (the main character) looking straight down, this allows for some confusion during dungeons, and for a limited view of the game’s impressive (at the time) 3-D backgrounds. During battles however the perspective switches to the more traditional (and truth be told; more efficient) ¾ view. It must be said that the camera can be rotated at will as in Xenogears and Grandia.
However there is no excuse for having that full over the top view during exploration, unless A.) Shade was trying to experiment with a new camera perspective or B.) Shade was trying to disguise some horrific graphical flaws that the game has. I think that after being in this business of playing and reviewing RPGs for years, B is the answer than makes the most sense to me.
Having a full top view eliminates a problem that was very common during the 32-64 bit era, the problem with “Pop-up”. This problem consisted in some in game objects, like enemies, NPC’s and buildings popping out of nowhere into the screen, because in those days the draw in distance in games was pretty limited.
The Granstream saga seems to have a problem with this while the game is on motion, because most notably in the continent of Volcos in the town of Tulku, I could see bits of land filling “black holes” at the top of the screen when Eon is moving. Thus the reason of why the game uses a complete over the top view was revealed to me, the game has MAJOR pop up problems.
The are a number of possible reasons for this issue being present in the game. The PS1 couldn’t hold a candle to the N64 in what rendering 3-D worlds was concerned, but even then the Granstream Saga didn’t exactly pushed the PS1 Hardware to the limit. Which brings us to another possibility, Shade might have rushed the game out of the gate in order to beat the FAR superior Ocarina of Time into the market.
Perhaps I am looking too deep into this issue and a likelier explanation is that Shade quite simply didn’t have enough experience with 3-D graphics and the PS1 hardware. It would be fascinating to interview one of the developers about the development cycle of the game.
A short cycle might be the reason why the game character models while decent looking from the top down perspective, have no faces. When the game’s camera closes in, you can see that all of the human character faces are quite simply blank! No eyes, ears, eyebrows, nose or mouth.
The hard part in modeling a character are the polygonal features, drawing faces into them isn’t as taxing, and thus it is in little details like this where one can see that the game might have been rushed, which was a shame because other than that the graphical package looks solid.
The world is colorful, and the graphics are smooth (or as smooth as could be on PS1 Hardware.) There is plenty of decent texturing on the environments, and considering this game was the first Action RPG in full 3-D glory one can’t be too hard on Shade for the mishaps.
The game features some of the most gorgeous anime CG scenes ever featured in a game. The CG sequences are a triumphant display of great Character Design and Masterful animation, these scenes also showed that while the game might not look like it, the Granstream Saga had a considerable amount of financial backing behind it.
Aurally the game excels, the game features beautiful compositions, and fantastic tunes that showed that while the visuals failed to live up to their potential, the music can proudly stand against anything on the PS1 that wasn’t composed by Uematsu or Mitsuda. Even though some tunes do reach that quality level. What really hurts the score here, is some repetitive music particularly in the dungeons.
The Voice acting is top notch, some of the best ever in a PS1 RPG if I might say so, all the actors delivered solid performances, except Korky and Arcia who pretty much stank throughout the entire game.
This brings us into the gameplay, which like the music for the most part lived up to the expectations, the exploration in the game is average fare, you can find items in treasure chests, barrels and crates. You can talk with every NPC you see and you can move smoothly through the towns and the dungeons. The only thing that hinders exploration here is the awful camera, and the fact that the towns and continents are fairly small.
The Dungeons are basically bland mazes in which you walk your way to the end until you meet with a boss. There are some puzzles here and there, but usually they are straight forward and of poor quality, but in hindsight, puzzles in 3-D RPGs have only been executed to perfection by Nintendo in the Zelda series, so I won’t penalize Shade too much for making mostly dull puzzles. This is everything true as those Zelda games were released after the Granstream Saga was out, on the shelves.
The Battle system however is where the game shines. No, it’s not perfect, but before Ocarina of Time no one had really done something like this in an action RPG (no one had attempted a full 3-D real time battle system), and it plays surprisingly well considering that most things on the game feel half-done.
Pressing the Square button you can automatically cast a magic spell, pressing the “X” button you can attack and the Start button opens up a menu that allows you to switch magic and use items.
You can control the character movement by using the “D” pad, and block with the “O” button. The system really relies on patience, as long as you hold the block button down, you can’t take any damage (as long as the enemies don’t use a special attack which in most cases is easy to counter), so all you have to do in theory is wait for the enemy to open up and then attack. It sounds easy but it makes boss battles longer than they should be specially the extremely durable last boss. Most of the bosses can be killed by using your standard meele attacks, but faster ones like the mages, might require some magic use if you want to save your self some time.
Thankfully enemies can be seen on the screen and can be easily avoided. Since leveling up happens pretty much automatically during key scenes of the game, avoiding battles doesn’t hurt in the least. Your success will depend more on exploration than anything else, as your equipment is usually all that matters. You can find swords, battle axes, armor, shields and LPs (which augment your life meter) hidden throughout the Granstream world.
One tedious aspect in battle is that you can’t move while using your shield but maybe I am just spoiled by Zelda.
As a tip from me to you, there is an all-powerful sword that you can find, right at the beginning of the game in the church of Arona. Once you enter the basement take a step back (but don’t go back upstairs) and face the West wall, use the panther eye in your inventory and you will get the Onimaru the most powerful weapon in the game. It will make the entire game very easy so you decide whether to use it or not.
Finally, lets examine to one aspect of the Granstream Saga that could have and should have made it great, but in the end didn’t due to poor translation and poor scenario writing…the Story.
The story in the Granstream Saga starts like this, you play as Eon, an Orphan who was found by and old man named Valos, Eon had a scepter attached to his arm when found, Valos raised him as his son. However not everything is well at the Granstream Nebula as the world is composed of four floating continents. Shilf, Aquas, Lavos, and Sephir.
The continents are floating because Four Wiseman used the magic Tower Airlim to lift them into the heavens before the Water covered the entire planet. All this thanks to the Imperial Wizardry who fired a weapon into the core of the planet in an effort to destroy the opposing allied spirit Army, this caused the planet to shift on its axis causing the melting of the polar ice caps.
However 100 years have passed since then, and the continents are slowly sinking since the Wiseman have disappeared. Now Eon and Valos desperately work to slice off chunks of land from Shilf in an attempt to make the continent lighter and slow its decent towards the sea.
This is the prelude to a story that could have been great. While the prelude sounds great, from there the game slows down into Eon meeting two love interests; Arcia who is right down annoying but is the descendant of a Wiseman making her the only one that can unlock the power of Airlim in order to lift the continents. And Laramee, who is far more interesting than Arcia, but she is not given enough importance until the very end of the game.
The story moves at a decent pace, however the is almost Zero character development during the entire quest, if it wasn’t for the CG cinemas anyone would have a hard time telling me that Laramee and Arcia are both in love with Eon. There are moments where I feel the story could have settled down a bit, a developed a relationship between the three but it never happened.
In fact the story was getting right down boring and predictable, even though Slayzer kept me somewhat awake, until a major hint of a previous of an event of great importance to Eon was dropped. But even then, the game kept up the boring pace up until the very end when you enter the very last dungeon and the villain decides to reveal everything. When he does reveal everything you will be likely left in a perplexed state asking yourself why in the hell didn’t the game writers revealed the story through flash backs and conversations in between characters throughout the game. The story of Zeruge and Princess Ellemera is even more interesting than the story of Eon, Arcia, and Laramee, so why did they let the villain just ramble on about it, instead of letting the gamers experience the whole thing slowly throughout the game?
The way you have to decide which girl you are going to keep at the end of the game right before the last boss battle (which by the way is an extremely cool feature that games like Grandia 2 should have used) let me know that the story called for a deeper relationship between Eon and the two girls.
Unfortunately the scenario writer stank. In fact when you have the kind of talent to completely botch a hell of a story concept like the one The Granstream Saga had, you have to be put in jail and to never be allowed to see the light of day again for the rest of your life. Thus Shade screwed up big time; they had a story with Xenogears potential before Xenogears and they botched it.
However THQ, the publisher isn’t leaving out of here completely unscratched either, their incompetence in delivering a solid translation is unforgivable, the spelling mistakes run rampant and the dialog completely stinks, it has no life or personality. The Granstream Saga is the kind of game that maybe Working Designs (the best publisher in the biz at the time) could have saved as they would have surely put the money and effort to deliver a great translation. Who knows maybe even go the extra mile and add some scenes in order for the game to have moderately better character development.
The saving grace of the plot? The two CG anime endings are awesome, and every ending is pleasing regardless of what girl you choose to keep.
Whether the Granstream Saga was rushed or not, there is no excuse for ruining a game that could have and should have been great. The story has one of the coolest plots devices ever. Unfortunately there is not enough of it, as the writers couldn’t keep up to their own great ideas. The game might never gain cult classic status (it’s been 21 years since its release and its fanzine hasn’t grown), but it clearly earns this title in my eyes: “The Game With The Most Wasted Potential Ever.”
Gameplay: 7.0-Typical RPG controls and features, however the real time battles were something back in it’s heyday.
Graphics: 7.0-The camera is terrible, the characters faces are plain, but the graphics are smooth and the anime scenes rock.
Music: 8.5-Probably the best category for the game the composer rose to the occasion unlike the….
Story: 6.0-…The Scenario writer who ruined a story that could have gotten a 10. If the story would have been judged on just the concept it would have gotten a ten but the execution was completely ridiculous. Character Development was literally a no show.
Replayability: 7.0-Two endings but if you save before the last boss then all you have to do is fight the boss twice while picking a different girl and bam…you have seen both endings.
Overall: 7.0-A great story concept ( though poorly executed), very good music, awesome anime sequences, and a solid battle system make the game worthy of a play through if you can find it. In the end the title might never reach cult classic status unless a sequel is made, but seeing that Shade has disappeared since this, and that no one brings this game up when talking about past great RPGs, the odds of a sequel happening are a million to one. It boggles the mind what this game could have been….