Every once in a while I discover a game that is just so perfectly Retro, it deserves almost immediate attention. It’s been a long time since I discovered a truly retro rpg that I haven’t already played. So when I found a copy of The Granstream Saga at a used games store for a measly $5, I happily snagged it up.
Now when I say I had never played the game before, I should add that that’s not completely true. I had an imported version of the game when I was in high school, and at the time it didn’t have some of the flashier elements I was used to enjoying in FFVII, so I barely gave this game a second look. And like many of the older rpg’s on the psx, this is a game that I now find tons of enjoyment in.
Granstream is a game that is actually better now than it was then. While at it’s release it was an average or even kind of bad title, Granstream uses enough unique and interesting mechanics that it manages to be better as a retro title than it ever was as a new release. Ultimately, Granstream was just ahead of its time in some ways, and doesn’t hold up in others.
Why do I say this? Let’s look at levels for example. Most rpg’s provide experience after every battle, which when built to a level up provides stat increases and perhaps skills or spells. In Granstream you are awarded levels as you progress through the story. This is really forward thinking for a game designed in 1995. It’s similar to western rpg’s now that award experience for completing quests. I may be wrong but an experience system that is rewarded through the story, and not through battles seems pretty obscure for the time period. But this is one area where Granstream manages to be better now, because varied level up systems are part of what keep a retro game fresh.
Another element that I think keeps this game viable over a decade later is it’s battle system. While the game could easily have provided a boring turn based system, it instead reaches into another element of Zelda style play, and allows you to duel each enemy in a real time. You must strafe, block and time your strikes accurately to be successful. This system is challenging and fun, and rewards you for discovering each unique enemies weaknesses. The only negative to this is that there is a decent amount of palette swapping, and more varied enemy types would have really helped. After battle, instead of experience you are rewarded with either a charge to your scepter (provided you took no damage in the fight) which can be used to earn items, or a small MP restoration. Item drops are plentiful, so you rarely will run out of healing items as long as you discover how to use the battle system to your advantage. The difficulty is decent, as you can’t just grind to get stronger. Instead you need to use your brain and treat each enemy type as a puzzle. This really does add lots of depth to each encounter. Equipment further’s your opportunity to strategize, as you can equip different weapon types each with their own strengths and weaknesses. I personally stuck to swords because of their versatility, but axes and daggers are each effective options.
The story of Granstream is based upon the red haired hero, Eon and his friends as they try to find a way to keep their floating continents from falling into the ocean. As you journey to each continent you will have to discover the heir of each land, and help them restore their country. In all honesty the plot is somewhat drab, and after the first few dungeons you will find yourself praying that the next land will provide a more compelling reason to attend to the dungeons. But overall I thought the story was passable. I think the blank faces (literally blank; no eyes or mouth) in the cut scenes really hurt the dialogue sequences. You end up with an occasionally interesting plot scenario, but primarily its slow and you won’t really care that much. The plot is primarily told through the normal rpg trappings of text dialogue, but Granstream also includes a handful of nicely crafted anime style FMV’s, reminiscent in their vibe of the Lunar games. These scenes are the only graphical element that serves to keep the game colorful and fresh, and they add a nice warm touch to the otherwise relatively cold presentation.
Overall, I would basically say that Granstream Saga is a nice hybrid of Zelda style dungeon crawling, and a traditional rpg. And the two game styles mix quite nicely. Maybe it’s just that as an adult gamer I appreciate the unique twists in gameplay, as well as a more mature difficulty, but whatever the reason I’ve become a solid fan of this quirky title.
Time for the Rundown:
How difficult is this game? Honestly, it’s not too bad. But every once in a while you will have a tough time with a new enemy type that will eat up lots of healing items. Until you learn how to use the battle system to your advantage, you may occasionally get worked over. You can’t just swing away or you will be really frustrated. But if you are patient and discover how to defeat each enemy, you will find a very rewarding battle system. Later on, after becoming familiar with each enemy type I would actually say the game is too easy.
Should I use an FAQ for this game? That all depends on whether you want to just destroy it, or actually enjoy the challenge. I would recommend avoiding a guide unless you are really stuck. A walkthrough for puzzle solving will rarely be necessary however, and dungeons are simple enough that you can probably work through them without too much trouble. The difficulty is really only present in the battle system, not the puzzles.
Any tips for this game? Well, one secret that will help you if you want to totally abuse Granstream is that you can find the games’ most powerful sword almost at the very beginning of the game. It really ruins the game though, because you will never care about finding new equipment, which make the dungeons dull. I found it, but never used until the very end when it was only slightly more powerful than the regular weapons. Total gamebreaker though if you are into that sort of thing.
Should I play this game? If you like dungeon crawlers like the Zelda games, and you don’t mind outdated 3D graphics, it might be the perfect game for you. I personally would place Granstream on the “must play” list for any retro rpg hunter. It’s a fun title with lots of unique ideas. Plus, as its such a cheap game to find, you really can’t lose.
Here is the opening video to get you amped up to play!