Growlanser Generations Review

Released in December 7 2004 in the West by Working Designs, Growlanser Generations is a compilation of two Strategy RPGs—Growlanser II: The Sense of Justice; and Growlanser III: The Dual Darkness. They were released for the PlayStation 2 on July 26 2001 and December 6 of the same year in Japan respectively, and developed by Career Soft and originally Published in Japan by ATLUS. Growlanser II is a direct sequel to the first game, while Growlanser III is a distant prequel to both I & II. They were the last games that Working Designs localized before it eventually went defunct in December 2005.

Story:

The Sense Of justice:

The story of Growlanser II starts in the middle of the first game, with Wein Cruz enlisting into the officer’s academy at Burnstein with the hopes of becoming an Imperial Knight, the highest ranking knight in the kingdom. There he meets fellow enlistee Maximillian Schneider, who possesses a distaste for war and seeks to learn its intricacies and gain influence in order to become a politician to prevent it from happening in the first place. Despite their different motivations, the two admire the other’s goal and become good friends. One year later, the two have graduated, with Max becoming a minister to delve into politics as he wanted and Wein now a commander of his own squad. Along with Hans Bearnt who got inspired to get into the army after being rescued by Wein and Charlone Claudius, the daughter of an aristocrat who wishes to join the military much to her father’s dismay, the squad is sent on a mission by a corrupt superior planning to sabotage them. Throughout this story, the group will encounter new allies and discover new mysteries concerning a new war on the horizon and the truth behind an old enemy.

The main cast of Growlanser II

Sense of Justice’s story can go in many ways, as it has multiple routes with different perspectives, along with many secret events and endings offering lots of replayability. It tackles themes such as justice, freedom and peace. Characters from the first Growlanser reappear mostly as cameos, but some of them join your party later on, one being Carmaine, its main protagonist.

While you get conversations with your party at times, they don’t get that much development in the story. On the other hand, the antagonists have their own ambitions and reasoning for their actions, so it’s not all black and white. Alas, it suffers by feeling rushed with an extremely short length at an average of 10 hours of playtime, preventing it from developing further which is a huge disappointment since it had a lot of potential to become something greater in my book. 

One interesting thing I found in the game was a side quest where you have to find documents scattered around the map for a scholar, and they contain retellings of story events of the first Growlanser, but through the points of view of other characters aside from the main protagonist, showing hidden sides to them that were never seen in the original game.

As a big fan of Growlanser I and a bigger fan of its cast, I loved this idea, and I was surprised when I saw this level of character depth through suppressed thoughts, emotions and inner conflicts shown in the stories. Sadly, as the first game was never localized in the West, it lost all its meaning for western players, leaving it as fanservice for only those who already played the first game.

The Dual Darkness:

Growlanser III takes place a thousand years before the first two games. The sun is slowly dying, causing the soil to get barren, the food supply to die out and famine to spread throughout the world. In the midst of this catastrophe, wars and conflicts for survival between nations began on the continent of Kirschland. The story stars yet another silent protagonist by the name of Slayn Wilder, an enigmatic youth who suffers from amnesia after falling off a cliff, who gets saved by Annette Burns, daughter of a leading figure of one of the countries. As the story progresses, you’ll learn more about Slayn’s true identity, stop the wars from devouring the continent, and solve the mystery regarding the dying sun.

I found the story of this game to be fairly decent yet enjoyable, and it focuses heavily on political drama and world-building compared to the first two games, as it constantly retells the player summaries of background events that transpire during certain points in the story, which often got me by surprise yet at the same time got me more interested in the game’s lore. While war is a pretty common setting in strategy games, it still has its own special feel in how it emphasizes the themes of grief, and the sorrows of war which makes it come out as somber and dark (“Darkness” is literally in the title, what did you expect?) when compared to the previous titles. However, it can be a drag to get through as it starts out pretty rough and slow, and you’re not given too much information to get into the plot right away. The ending may also not be all that satisfying since there were still questions left to be answered, and it didn’t clarify much on what happened to certain characters at the end.

It’s also worth mentioning that this story is more linear than the previous two, i.e. the choices that you make throughout the game don’t affect the story all that much. This is of course aside from the usual character endings you unlock, in addition to what personality the main character will have have throughout the game which, will be talked about later in this review. 

While the characters aren’t exactly the main focus of the story, the sidequests make up for it.  One of the ways you trigger such quests is through an investigation agency, there you can obtain information about past plot events and personal details regarding some of your party members, provided that you have a good enough relationship with them. It’s an interesting idea to say the least. Vacation events make a return from the first Growlanser, but the number of events you get per vacation do not depend on your effort in the missions—instead you’re free to converse with anyone in your party once you’re allowed to do so. Some of the events tend to lighten the somber tone of the game when they feature Raimy, the game’s token fairy character, which is a nice touch.

I loved the game’s characters, the side content fleshed out their personalities well and they’re quite memorable to a degree,  but I really wished that a few of them got their own moments in the limelight (cough Yayoi cough), rather than just focusing on some more than others.

GAMEPLAY:

Growlanser Generations improves upon the real-time strategic gameplay of the first one by adding lots of new features. Clearing missions is classified into three ranks: a normal Mission Clear which is fulfilling the main objectives; Mission Complete which is achieving every single objective or clearing the mission perfectly; and Mission Failure by not meeting any of the objectives which often results in a Game Over. The way you clear a mission may affect the outcome of certain events in the story and potentially your bonds with your party, and completing a mission is generally a lot harder than simply clearing it, so good luck completing some of them, especially on a normal playthrough. Moving characters is now done through drawing a maximum of four lines to mark the course for the character to follow, making it easier for them to move around the battlefield without bumping into obstacles and the like on their way through. Both games now feature random enemy encounters where the advantage of one side over the other differs, and you might get an advantage over the enemy or vice versa, or just the usual face-to-face battle. You know the drill from other JRPGs. 

Spells are charged up to levels (a maximum of nine), and the higher the level the stronger their effectiveness, but also a longer charge time and higher  MP cost. You can distribute points cumulative to its level onto the spell’s targets to assign who will be targeted with what level, and can thus target multiple enemies/allies with different intensities of a spell.

There’s also the addition of Techs (renamed to Knacks in Growlanser 4 and later games in the series) that are active skills and a useful boon in many situations, with varying effects like landing a guaranteed critical hit, accelerating a character’s movement, increasing elemental resistances and so on. The localized versions of both games have an auto-battle feature which makes normal enemy encounters less of a chore, but prepare yourself for Artificial Stupidity, especially towards the end where normal enemies can be tricky to beat.

The Battle User Interface

And of course, the most important addition is the new equipment system: The Ring System, a defining feature for both games and their sequel Wayfarer of Time. Party Members can equip only a set of armor that can hinder their movement if they lack enough STR, and a “Ring Weapon”: A ring that manifests itself into a weapon (duh) depending on the user. Each ring has different stat bonuses and three gem slots with varying levels. You can equip gems into the slots depending on their level, these gems have a plethora of effects ranging from preventing magic from being cast on the wearer, to increasing normal attack range or giving the ability to cast certain spells. Rings are dropped from enemies and the faster you defeat them, the higher the ring’s quality. They can only be equipped at a ring shop, and you can also come across unidentified rings which can be appraised there as well. As for gems, you can purchase them from said ring shop, or found in treasure chests or dropped by enemies.

It’s a nice innovative gameplay mechanic and adds a whole lot of strategy and challenge into the battle system, and experimenting with different gem combinations for different situations is rewarding and satisfying, since a lot of missions require proper use of these gems. For example,  if you’re in a mission where your party is surrounded by hard hitting mages, you can then equip Dispel gems that will prevent them from being targeted by magic, or you can equip Quickness gems in an escape mission to avoid being caught by enemies

In general, both games constantly kept me on my toes and required me to constantly replay a lot of missions to try to figure out their strategy. Trying to complete missions adds to the thrill of the game with their overall complexity, and puts the player’s micromanagement skills to the test through the mastery of the Ring System.

The Ring equipment screen

The Sense of Justice:

Growlanser II featured a bunch of features exclusive to it that add to the challenge. The team size has changed from five in the first game, to a whopping eight, which is pretty much your entire party. While using everyone at once is a fun concept, having to manage every single character can be overwhelming with how intense the game is sometimes. There’s the removal of consumable items which makes healing and recovering from status ailments more difficult than usual, so you have to take it into consideration at all times through other means like dedicating someone for it, or equipping specific gems like Vampire or HP Recovery. Similar to a certain other ATLUS franchise (something about rejecting gods), if the main character Wein gets knocked out it’s Game Over, therefore using him properly is required or else you’re likely see checkmate. The difficulty itself here is punishing if you’re not prepared enough, and can get frustrating at first due to the absurdity of the mission design. From getting sucker-punched by enemy reinforcements in the least convenient moments, to having your characters cornered and inflicted with troublesome status effects. Party members gain experience points through attacking and using spells or techs instead of just KOing enemies. Exploration is done on a point-based map unlike the style of I with its interconnected areas, and there are no towns or dungeons to explore, but merely going from point A to point B, talking to NPCs or party members, visiting shops or triggering event cutscenes and missions. It’s straightforward and simple, but it’s really nothing fascinating.

Expect to see this in the game, A LOT!

The Dual Darkness:

Growlanser III adds new mechanics such as Cooperation Spells that party members get access to when they master the skill “Cooperation”. When 2 characters charge certain spells simultaneously, they can combine these spells to unleash a more powerful one. And if the component spells are of the same type the result would be the same spell with its level being the sum of both components’ levels, otherwise it’d depend on spells used and the level being the median between components. For example: Lv5 Fire Arrow + Lv3 Wind Cutter=Lv4 Fireball, or Lv4 Ice Barrage + Lv4 Ice Barrage=Lv8 Ice barrage. Team size here—barring the occasional non-playable guests—is four characters. It’s a well-balanced number of members to manage, and has stayed that way in every other title to come after it.

The main character’s personality affects specific aspects of the game, in addition to establishing his initial characteristics and stats from the beginning via choosing his blood type and constellation. His personality traits can also change throughout the course of the game depending on the dialogue choices the player makes, and leaning to a specific trait at the expense of another unlocks more dialogue choices and might grant a bonus ability, and the bonuses he gets tend to fit what trait he has. For example, if Slayn is leaning towards a more of a “nice guy” attitude he would have a higher resistance to status ailments, but on the flip side if he acts more evil-natured he would learn the Thievery technique. If he’s a self-confident person he learns the Dash tech to move faster, but if it’s the opposite he learns the Cycle Up spell to speed allies up. It’s a cool way of implementing more freedom in character customization, and I enjoyed messing around with the choices on newer playthroughs to see what kind of the results I would get.

Exploration this time around is done in an overworld map like what you’d see in old school RPGs, and there are even times when you’ll encounter NPCs that reward you for saving them from monsters, be it merchants being attacked that allow you to purchase items from them with discounted prices, or animals that grant you random items. There’s also the inclusion of randomly generated dungeons, although for the most part they’re a bland and dull chore that you’ll find yourself blitzing through their floors just to reach the next stairs to eventually get out, so they get tedious quickly as the game goes on. The “My City” mechanic from the first game also makes a return but as more than just a place to communicate with your party, as you can even recruit NPCs from other towns to fill a role in your town; from merchants to a fortune teller who tells you about Slayn’s characteristics and relationships with others, which is a bit reminiscent of the Suikoden games.

Difficulty-wise it’s much more balanced than Sense of Justice, and a good start for newcomers to the series. It starts out simple enough to get used to the combat mechanics and such, until halfway through where it gets significantly harder, but still manageable with enough understanding of the mission at hand.

Old Voltone City, your base of operations for the majority of the game (it may look empty, it’s still home).

PRESENTATION:

There is nothing much to say here in the presentation department, and this applies to both games of the compilation. Don’t expect Odin Sphere when it comes to graphics as they’re not really all that astounding for 2D PS1 games released in the early 00’s. The character designs are as good as expected (personally I prefer those of the third game since they’re more detailed) and the sprites are decent-looking. However, the backgrounds look bland, but are still serviceable and not that big of a turn-off. The music is composed by Hiroshi Fujioka who previously worked alongside Noriyuki Iwadare on Lunar and Langrisser, and is pretty average and generic. You may find catchy tunes here and there, but again, there’s nothing to write home about. The localization is as one would expect from Working Designs, who are well-known for quirky translations, but your opinion on it depends on whether you’re into these kinds of localizations, or just a big fan of WD’s previous works on games such as Lunar and Magic Knight Rayearth.

CONCLUSION:

Pros:

 Both:

  • Addition of the complex Ring System that elevates the strategy aspect to another level
  • Both games are quite difficult for those seeking a challenge

The Sense of Justice:

  • Immense replayability with lots of routes and secrets to explore
  • Tackles some interesting themes
  • Develops the cast of the first game indirectly

The Dual Darkness:

  • Focuses a lot on the politics and worldbuilding
  • Has a darker tone compared to previous games
  • Difficulty is more forgiving than its predecessor

Cons:

Both:

  • Neither the graphics nor the music are notable

The Sense of Justice:

  • Story seemed rushed and incomplete
  • Very short for a strategy game 
  • Suffers from some balancing issues

The Dual Darkness:

  • Boring randomly generated dungeons
  • Ending leaves some loose ends

Growlanser Generations is a nice little collection recommended for strategy fans or those seeking a challenge. Both games have decent storylines despite having glaring flaws; with Growlanser II being quite short but with different routes and deep themes, and Growlanser III being simple and linear yet with a somber tone with memorable characters. Gameplay is the most notable point here with the debut of the Ring System offering lots of customization and challenge. As Dual Darkness is much more forgiving than Sense of Justice, I highly recommend starting with the third game for newcomers to the franchise.

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