Growlanser I is a Strategy RPG released for the PlayStation on November 25 1999 in Japan, developed by Career Soft and published by Atlus. It was also ported to PC in July 2001 and to the PSP on May 14 2009, with the latter port adding new characters and an additional story path diverting from the original story. It marked the beginning of a new series that would become the spiritual successor to the Langrisser series.
As of writing this review, there is no fully translated version of the game in English. However, it can be played via a translated script that covers the majority of the PS1 version, which can be found in the game’s GameFAQs page, or the series’ fansite Growlanser-realm.com. Unfortunately there’s no reliable way to play the PSP port’s new path in English, so this review will cover only the original version.
Plot & Characters
Long ago, mankind used to live in peace until the sun started to weaken, leaving their world in an unstable condition. Left with no choice, the two races; Humans who specialized in magic; and a winged race called Featherians who were knowledgeable with technology, co-operated in order to escape their doomed world. However, humans weren’t able to use magic in the new world. An exception to this were the Growsians, born during an eclipse and possessed with the ability to call out the magical energy of their old world: Growshu (also known as Grow in Growlanser II). Humans settled on land here, while the Featherians lived on a flying mechanical fortress. Many years have passed since their exodus from their home world.
Our story follows Carmaine Fallsmyer, a silent protagonist destined to become either the world’s savior or destroyer, and the adoptive son of the Kingdom of Rolandia’s court magician. After reaching the age of 17, this young man sets off on a journey along with his Growsian adoptive sister Ruise and his fairy-like companion Tippi to explore the outside world and fulfill his destiny. On his journey he becomes a knight of Rolandia who will play a major role in various events that will affect the world, from unravelling the secrets of the ancient Growsian culture, to stopping a full-scale war between the three kingdoms and discovering the threatening forces behind it
The story in Growlanser I is complex, intriguing, and fantastic overall. This shouldn’t be a surprise since it was written by Yoh Haduki, who would later become the writer for the highly praised RPGs Radiant Historia and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. It is engaging from beginning to end as plot points continue to unfold, twists are revealed, and friends and foes are encountered throughout the entire course of the game non-stop, leaving me hooked the entirety of this 60-hour journey and left wanting even more.
Like its predecessor Langrisser, the choices and actions you make can change some events of the story, the fate of certain characters, your bonds with your party members and even which character you’ll end up getting a paired ending with, which adds a fair bit of replay value to the game.
When it comes to the cast, they’re well-written, multidimensional and nuanced. As you progress through the game you’ll be given opportunities known as “Vacation Events”, similar to Star Ocean’s “Private Actions” where you get to spend time with party members and know more about their convictions, personalities, backstories and personal issues, which helps to add further depth to their personalities. The way the story uses its cast to help portray its central theme through the emphasis on the ideological differences between the two races led to interesting moments that made me adore the plot.
However, the problem I found with the story is that it takes a very long time to reach its central plot, as it spends the majority of the first disc introducing the characters and the world. At certain points, the game doesn’t tell you exactly what to do next, so you’re left wandering around until the new story event, but the script mentioned in the introduction of this review does help with getting the player back on track. It also falls off a bit near the end of disc 2, but that doesn’t necessarily ruin the overall enjoyment of the game in my opinion.
One can’t talk about the gameplay of the Growlanser series without mentioning its trademark “Real-time Mission Clear Battle System”. As the name suggests, battles take place in real-time where enemies and allies can act based on their active time gauge. Your party members can move to specific locations on the battlefield, attack, cast spells, use items, and defend oneself or others. After a level up they earn skill points to invest in mastering spells, passive skills and bonus stats depending on the character.
Many features from Langrisser make a return not only in this game, but the Growlanser series in general; like how the main character’s stat spread and skill list are chosen depending on a personality test. What‘s interesting however is that said test is undertaken in this title by exploring the starting town, interacting with the surroundings and the NPCs, which shapes the intrinsic nature of the protagonist and in turn his playstyle. The mission structure is also interesting, as it offers a lot of variety in terms of objectives and overall map design. Objectives range from reaching a certain destination before time runs out, saving allies and NPCs from enemies, and more.
While Growlanser I is less customizable and simpler in terms of gameplay compared to the rest of the series due to the lack of the rather complex Ring System, it still holds up rather well. Characters can have different roles in your party depending on the weapon equipped and the skills mastered. For example, you can have the choice of equipping a party member with a melee weapon that focuses on mobility and speed at the expense of offense, or a ranged one for the opposite effect. As the missions keep it fresh with their variety, you’ll have to try out different strategies for each one. However, one thing to point out is that Growlanser I is considered to be the easiest game in the series, which may be a bit of a disappointment for fans of the later games’ challenging difficulty. Yet it still has its fair share of tricky missions that are quite satisfying to figure out.
In terms of visuals, the in-game graphics are decent at best for a 2D PS1 game; the character sprites are simple yet well-drawn, but the backgrounds for the towns and dungeons are a bit hit-or-miss. The character designs and CG scenes were done by none other than Satoshi Urushihara, who previously worked on the Langrisser series and later Growlanser titles (and many more “adult” works, take that as you will). His work in this game is as great as ever as it gives a nostalgic 90s anime look to the game, and very fitting for its time.
As for the music, it is composed by Noriyuki Iwadare who’s better known for working on Lunar, Grandia, and of course Langrisser. The OST here is fairly good, and each track captures the feel of each event it plays in, although lots of tracks are overused which can be tedious considering the game’s sheer length of 50+ hours.
- A dramatic non-stop RPG story with a nuanced main cast
- A unique premise for its time of medieval fantasy with Sci-Fi elements
- An addicting semi-real-time strategic battle system with lots of customization
- Graphics may leave something to be desired
- Has a bad habit of sometimes leaving the player in the dark on what to do next
+/- Easier compared to later games in the series
All in all, Growlanser I is yet another hidden gem that never left Japan, offering an engaging and dramatic story, well-developed and fleshed out characters, a unique and addicting battle system, and it is a step in the right direction as a successor to the iconic Langrisser series. Although it is more of a “safe” game that the developers didn’t innovate or take many risks with, I would still definitely recommend this title to avid SRPG fans.