Game Arts was a developer that maintained a relatively low profile throughout the 80s and early 90s, until they capitalized on the growing interest in the JRPG genre with Lunar: The Silver Star and Lunar Eternal Blue on the Mega CD. Unfortunately, since they had decided to develop games for a conceptual disaster of a console that never really took off, the Lunar franchise initially made ripples instead of waves.
Enter Grandia: Game Arts’ magnum opus for the next generation.
Grandia was, for a time, the Sega Saturn’s answer to Sony Playstation’s Final Fantasy VII. Where FFVII excelled in production values, Grandia managed to match its lofty quality standards with industry-standard level anime-style character designs, which were able to truly shine and come to life for the first time during the 32-bit generation.
To Nobuo Uematsu’s energetic musical compositions, Grandia had Noriyuki Iwadare’s equally enthusiastic orchestral compositions. The world was large and imaginative, and the battle system was fresh, taking what the Lunar series had and adding more active gameplay elements to it. Both games represented the absolute cutting edge of the genre for their respective consoles, albeit with completely different aesthetics and design principles.
Sadly, A western release for the Sega Saturn version of Grandia was not in the cards due to the console’s poor market shares outside of Japan. On the bright side, this meant that controversial game studio Working Designs, which had somehow managed to scrape together western localizations of the 2 Lunar games, would never get a chance to ruin it.
In 1999, a Playstation port was released, with a western release handled directly by Sony Computer Entertainment to come shortly after, forever safeguarding it from WD’s audio quality ruining, gameplay balance disrupting, awful “joke” writing crutches. Not this time, Working Designs!
Grandia II, and Widespread Recognition
With the Sega Dreamcast more commercially successful than its predecessor, Grandia II was Game Arts’ chance to gain recognition worldwide. Rather than continue the story of the first title, which was somewhat unknown in the western world despite the SCEA’s localization, Grandia II solidified the franchise’s model of individual titles being self-contained stories that shared various elements found throughout the series, once again paralleling Square Soft’s Final Fantasy series.
This proved to be a smart move as the vast majority of Grandia’s fans in the west were exposed to the series from the Dreamcast release of Grandia II, which has since remained the most popular and well-known game in the franchise.
Game Arts continued to produce less ambitious titles under the Grandia monicker throughout the first decade of the 2000s, starting with Grandia Parallel Trippers, a poorly conceived attempt at a portable title on the Gameboy Color, which already faced imminent obsoletion by the Gameboy Advance.
Following the Dreamcast’s downfall and Sega’s exit from the hardware business, Grandia Xtreme, a dungeon crawler that lacked the charming, in-depth story of the main series titles was released on the Playstation 2. A few years later, an attempt at another large-scale mainline series entry was made with Grandia III.
Grandia III: Return to Glory, or Uninspiring?
The focus of the series has always been an adventure, and discovering or rediscovering unknown aspects relative to the respective worlds that each title is set in by examining ancient cultures. Grandia III gives a nod to the ‘adventure’ aspect of its predecessors, following the adventures of an aspiring pilot with a desire to look to the vast skies and take flight.
The game featured some of Noriyuki Iwadare’s best compositions, and even had its own theme song, “In The Sky”, performed by J-pop vocalist Miz. On that level, it was a success. However, other aspects of the game fail to impress. The characters and world are not nearly as well-developed as the first two main series titles, with less believable lore to invest in.
Grandia III was a step in the right direction in returning the franchise to more substantial works after the spin-offishness of Grandia Xtreme and was much closer in significance to Grandia and Grandia II, but unfortunately still felt like a much less interesting game than either of the two by comparison, and failed to innovate. While it was not by any means a bad game, and maintained a generally positive critical reception, it was abundantly clear that the series was no longer the unique head-turning powerhouse that it once was; it had turned into something that was forgettable.
So What Ever Happened to Grandia moving forward?
While there have been no additional developments in the series after its slow decline that culminated with Grandia III, the original 2 Grandia games have recently received an HD remaster and re-release for the Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam, courtesy of GungHo Online Entertainment.
While the ports don’t add anything in terms of content and feature merely graphical “improvements” that some might shun in favor of the original, there are still nearly if not more than 100 hours of gameplay available for a cheaper price than most single full game releases. Nostalgia aside, the dollar value to hour ratio here is astronomical.
It’s unlikely a new installment into the Grandia franchise will ever come around, as most of the players involved have moved on to new things, but this is OK. Long-time fans of the series will look back on the nostalgia fondly as they replay the remastered versions of the game, and remember the series as a stand-out representative of an era of JRPG that is not quite lost, and definitely not forgotten.