[Review] Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time
Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is a game reminiscent of classic JRPGs from the PS1 era. At one time it was such a big project for Atlus to take that they decided it wouldn’t be deemed worth translating. Now, nearly a decade after its release in Japan, the west finally gets to play what many consider to be one of the best games in a great series.
Yes, it has come out in the last year of a consoles life. Like all great things though, it was worth the wait.
What an interesting little battle system Growlanser has. Imagine if you will, Chrono Trigger’s gameplay tucked inside an RTS. Actually, that’s pretty hard to imagine. It really is amazing how well it works though.
You start each battle with your range of command abilities. Choose to move a character to a set point, attack like a tank, or cast a spell. All abilities run through a similar Active Time Battle system that was made popular through Final Fantasy and other Squaresoft JRPGs in the past. Your characters all wait until a tiny bar is filled and then they in turn fulfill a chosen command.
Essentially, when you choose your basic attacks, your characters follow through with them until completed. In an RTS system this is a bit different as you have to adjust to commands in real time. Here, if you are desperate and need to change the course of the characters actions, it will cost you time and leaves your characters open to an attack. In some cases, this can mean the end of the battle. Strategizing what moves to use when is more of an important step than many Strategy game systems.
Magic on the other hand is all charged. If you are attacked in the middle of charging, your character gets dealt a higher than normal percentage of damage. This system really means you usually are left with a subset of classes that makes your party successful.
Your sword users and other close range attackers, like the main character, are almost always used for straight forward attacks to ward off enemies unless the scenario calls for something different. Magic users and archers usually back these tanks up. This gives the game a strong focus on enemy placement and effectiveness of battle. A little timer in the top corner rewards you on how quickly you are supposed to defeat your opponents, so finishing efficiently pays off. The strategy of how you attack and watching where enemies are becomes a major part of the game. More so when you add the many escort missions in. For the first time in a while, these missions feel like a solid way to change up gameplay focus instead of bogging the game down with troublesome AI controlled characters. Many of the game’s major battles all employ some unique strategy which gives the game a lot of diversity.
Honestly the only thing that really slows the action down is the length of time animating spells takes. Casting a fireball seems to take eons.
That’s the fundamentals, but the different variables are where the game truly begins to shine. Taking from Final Fantasy IX’s item system, all spells in game are learned by equipping said spell to your accessory. From here your character battles and gains experience to master that ability. The accessories have color coded slots that raise the effectiveness of learning an ability. You can then level up that accessory slot for better learning talents.
This might seem complicated, but all it equates to is putting a green spell in a green slot to learn how to cast a healing spell. With so many rings readily available, the customization in items allows you to boost your character according to whatever goal you want to make of them.
It’s a fun little management system that feels more rewarding than simply hitting goals and learning abilities. One could argue that this doesn’t do much to differentiate characters, but with so many party members that switch out in the game, you learn to appreciate the ones that stick around.
Probably the most interesting system to come out of the game is the familiar system. You are essentially given a group of faeries that help raise your characters’ standing by granting specific abilities. In effect, you are in charge of boosting and monitoring these little pixies in a Princess Maker style atmosphere. As they gain more experience with you, you can spend their points on boosting their personality traits by training them. They can study, work out, etc to boost levels like charisma which helps you in shopping.
I’m not sure it is an effective mini game, but it is pretty fun to play dress up with these dolls. The way they are incorporated in to the game however is well done as they basically work as your imaginary friend that runs around and boosts your battle strengths. It could have been expanded upon a bit more, but what we have is a decent Princess Maker mini game without all the exploration elements that came with it.
[+Unique ATB System] [+Strong Inventory Management] [+Fresh Battle Scenarios] [+Interesting Familiar System] [-Spell Casting Slows Battle]
Let’s get this out of the way. Satoshi Urushihara is the character artist on this game. He is a well known artist in gaming, manga and hentai. His art has a wonderfully distinct style to it, but if you can look at that screen shot above and get a bit peeved about the costume design, it’s not going to get better in the game.
This is what he does and how he draws. His men and women are all pretty and as great as it looks, they do tend to get a bit ridiculous as you can see in Tricia above. He’s a great artist and all of his characters are drawn exceptionally well. They are all just pretty boys and girls though so watch out.
That being said, these characters all have a bit of substance as the script really lends a lot of strength to each and every one of them. It works off a visual novel style decision tree system similar to games like Mass Effect. This lends a lot of interesting dialog choices beyond the normal discussions. Growlanser offers many different discussion options that adds a lot to bridging friendships among party members through their journey.
What a journey this game truly is. I hate to mention any plot points in the story as it really is a roller coaster rushing through one chaotic twist after another. The basics simply are you as a red headed protagonist are on a quest to try and stop angels from blowing things to kingdom come. This requires you to travel through many different ruins in an attempt to understand answers. In the background however is a very serious war that has you working inside the war ravaged countries to find some sort of clue to who you really are and what you can do to stop this devastating threat.
It isn’t overly complex, but every time the story begins to take a turn towards normalcy, something absolutely crazy happens. Storytelling like this is immensely effective as nothing ever feels too much. There are some terrible things that happen to our hero that almost come out of nowhere.
I can’t stress how much I was enraptured by this story. This is something I haven’t said about a JRPG in years. The reason it works so well is that your characters all are put in some pretty bad situations. They are all left in places that bring out who the character is in a substantial way. It is a bold effort and it almost always paid off. Unfortunately, many of the background dream sequences tend to be a bit more dull. It adds to the political intrigue, but it tends to be more filler less substance.
If there is one thing I have to applaud Atlus on is the dialog in this game. For the most part there is little error in execution. The script is well written and it is almost error free in editing. It is in the little details however that you understand what kind of task this was to translate.
Each and every towns person has their own dialog. This isn’t lines like “I am Error” as they all have something they need to say. Even though a good majority of it isn’t pertinent, the sheer volume of it all is really quite something. Likewise, this flows in to the many different dialog choices and even endings the character can achieve. To say this was no small task is an understatement.
The crew at Atlus USA worked hard on this and it shows.
[+Huge Localization] [+Excellent Plot Twists] [+Interesting Characters] [+Rich Dialog Tree System] [*Satoshi Urushihara on Art] [*Bland Dream Sequences]
Growlanser retails for $29.99 for a game that is long enough to drain your console’s battery many times over. The multiple decision trees and endings alone make this a worthwhile buy, however if you are on the fence please note that this RPG may be one of the last in the series to come over. It is available for retail and download over the PSN store, but much like Gungnir, it has launched with no direct download for Vita systems. The game can however be transferred via the link cable if you have purchased one. Hopefully, this will be rectified soon as I’m itching to play this on my bigger screen.
With the amount of content here, there is plenty to do and see that easily justifies what equates to half the price of a normal home console release. This is a great price for the game and if you ever see it on sale, snatch it up. If you choose to go the download route, it is under 900mb, so there shouldn’t be any issues fitting it on a memory card.
[+Console Length on a Handheld] [+Multiple Endings] [+Small Sized Download]
Playing Growlanser brought back a lot of the nostalgia from the games that brought me in to RPG gaming. It reminded me of games like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VII. Not simply because of the systems it employed, but because of the quality in execution of the entire game.
Yes, it has an art style that’s a bit ridiculous. Yes, it is a bit over the top sometimes. It is a great game and it is the perfect one to end the PSP’s life cycle.
[+Unique ATB System] [+Strong Inventory Management] [+Fresh Battle Scenarios] [+Interesting Familiar System] [+Huge Localization] [+Excellent Plot Twists] [+Interesting Characters] [+Rich Dialog Tree System] [+Console Length on a Handheld] [+Multiple Endings] [+Small Sized Download] [*Satoshi Urushihara on Art] [*Bland Dream Sequences] [-Spell Casting Slows Battle]