Title The Grandstream Saga
Developer/Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment
Type Role Playing/Action
English Version Available
Reviews #1

Review #1 by Paul Hansen

If you're curious enough, make sure you're Japanese is up to par. Otherwise, *wait*, and I mean it, *wait* until the English version. There is 20% anime (cut-scenes), and a lot of dialogue. Loads of it. Apologies all around, but if I actually translate all of the story (well, the 60%-70% that I *could* read) it would take me days to get past the first world. As it was, fast forword through the dialogue, and a couple of hours. In other words, don't email me for walk-throughs and translations, plebian rabble.

The game is set up in a total 3d world, at least technically. Reality is a bit different. You walk around in a 3d world, set from a ultima-ish top down view. You only have 6 degrees of movement though, which is made easier by the fact that you can move the angle of the camera within those degrees also. It's not as clunky as it sounds, and actually works fairly well. Better than ffVII's movement, at the least. All of the objects, backgrounds, and monsters are rendered in 3d, all looking very nice. They even anti-aliased the pre-rendered textures, to soften the looks of the game, but there's not much worry of pixalation, since you're not going to close up on anything anyway. It's all rather nice, clean, and well, to be honest... Bland. It's all so clean and neatly layed out that while you'll never get confused about where you are, or what you're looking at. It's all rather sterile, actually. The main character, and the other main characters are done rather well. They all have distinctive costumes, and their hair matches their anime portraits. But they have no face... Main characters and shop owners all communicate with a anime portrait, which means half of the dialogues are of the talking heads type. Good or bad, depending, I suppose, if you like the artist that's doing the portraits (he's good, in a john byrne blandish sort of way. I'm sorry, I'm in japan. I see better).

The game swings between anime cut scenes (there's either a movie already out, or coming soon) and the 3d world. The anime runs smoothly, and is done well, but we're not going to be breaking any new ground with it. Strictly pedestrian by japanese standards. Not riviting, unfortunetly. Barely, at most, a step above tv anime. Probably a straight-to-video anime. No CG scenes, other than the actual gameplay itself.

The battle sequences are interesting. You're party consists of well, 1 person. The main character has control over an item/force called a scepter, though it's really a gem on his wrist. The scepter's able to create a variety of magics, physical and energy based. The scepter seems able to create solid images of items that you encounter, which it brings forth when they're needed. At the most basic, it creates you're armor and weapon when you enter battle mode, and you basically upgrade/find new weapons for it to create/bring forth during battle. This does mean your character mostly walks around in his clothes, and explains why he can have more than one type of armor and weapon (a couple of pairs of plate mail, are, admittedly, a little heavy to carry around, and would take some time to put on...). It also can learn/absorb new magics, of the usual defensive/offensive types. Other uses are to copy specific dungeon items, to open paths/open doors. At one point you need one more gear, so you copy one and replicate it where it's needed. Since everything except minor items are taken care of by the scepter, it's a simple, albeit magic-laden, method to explain 12 suits of armor (and we won't mention the weapons) carried by the character.

Battle is fairly, ah, tight. There's you and the bad guy. That's about it. The enemy shows up on your main screen, as you're running around. If he/she/it/cthulu touches you, you go into battle. No multiple enemys, just one bad guy per battle. Strategic battles are not on the menu, nor even parked out front, being scratched by the valet. You do have a variety of moves, weapons and magic, though. So far, you've got knives, swords, and axes. Different weapons have different combos, and different damage. Knives do little damage, but with d-pad movement special attacks, along with 4-hit combos and speed, can be useful for certain opponents. Swords, the mainstay, usually have a 3-hit combo, side sweeps, and may have a special (later on, probably). Axes have, at most, a 2-hit combo, usually only single hits, but do the same damage or more as a 3-hit by the sword. Slow, but works well against certain opponents (ok, there is some strategy here). You do fight in a 3d arena, where you can move around to the back/sides of an opponent, jump back, shield rush, and probably some other moves. Far past the Kings field system, and much faster. It takes time to learn new enemies moves, which you do have to do, but theres not a lot of variety in enemies, so what you learn will stay with you... You do have a shield, and blocking is an integral part of the battles. It's usually block/counterattack with most of the enemies. There are two types of Really Bad Guys, physical (swords/fists) and magical. The magical are the harder (usually) since they have a lot of long range attacks, which you could sidestep except most of those long range attacks are homing missle types. Basically, turtle, attack, turtle, attack.

Your character does have attack magic, but, well, you don't have that much in the way of magic points. You don't regenerate magic points during rest or sleep, you either get it from potions, or as treasure from defeating the enemy (of all the things that make a twisted sense, this one doesn't). Potions are expensive (at the beginning) and enemy points are at most, low-percentage random, so spells are not a major factor in the beginning. Experience points are a bit different also. They don't seem to exist, to be honest. You only level up in specific ways. 1 is to gain better weapon/armor/magic. 2 is to gain Life points/hit points. 3 is actual levels. But you don't gain levels by amount of enemy, you gain a level at specific points in the game. You can fight for 3 days, but you won't pop up a level until you reach that point. In fact, given the scarcity of treasure from the monsters, you *are* better off in most cases to just run around the placed monsters. They do give out treasures, and in some spots, have to be defeated to go on.

There's a downside to all of this, though. Memory. There's not enough on the playstation, or any console for that matter, for this game-type. As mentioned before, there's no multiple enemies. Not enough memory, after loading in you're characters armor, weapon, and magic, and ditto for the enemy. Enemy tactics are laughable also. It takes, at most, 2 battles to learn all of an specific units attack patterns, at which point you could take them out with a butter knife.

The maps are well, small. You go upstairs *load*, enter area, go out of area *load*, enter room *load*, well, you're getting the picture. They look good, but small. Secrets are at a minimum. You do not interact with you're background much, either. You open a chest, long sequence (load), bitmap icon pops out, fade back into game. Checking out chests, barrels, boxes and misc.? Nothing moves, nothing shows up, just, wow, you found (insert fantastic new name for healing potion here) in this barrel! Doors move, elevators go up and down, but man, they've run out of memory. This is not snes Zelda. In fact, Zelda 64 fans, it's going to happen to it too. Face it, 3d takes up memory, lots of it. Consoles have run out of memory. It's like when Bill Gates said that the maximum memory we would need is only 64k. Well, that was then, and this is now. You want a good 3d world, you need 40 megs of ram. Sigh.

The characters walk around a lot, do simple movements, and swing their arms once in a while. Otherwise? Not much else. The main characters climbs up a ladder to his bunk bed (generic ladder climbing sequence) and then is suddenly lying down. Nothing inbetween, which is just a *bit* distracting. Did he like, teleport from the top of the ladder to lying down? I wouldn't whinge, but for the fact it happens in other areas when the character has to do any special moves also that the programmers didn't want to waste time for a one-off for. I'll say this, having the whip-wielding overseers at square is a good thing. Details do matter. 60 frames per second? Yeah, as long as there's only two characters on the screen. Any more, and boy, does it slow down. Your doing the funky jive walk, and suddenly, it's the blues. They don't put a dash button in either, probably because that would halve gameplay time.

Music is some like, funky, dude on the sythesizer. With instructions to make it slightly depressing, and mellow. If my character really had to listen to this music as he's slogging his way through, he would kill himself, or turn into Marvin the depressed robot. Another detail that was to hard to deal with, basically. There is no world-map walkabout. You teleport from scene to scene, to each map, basically. Exploration is not this games' forte.

Puzzles are there, but not in abundance. Simple, in most cases.

Dialogue is definitely there. Well, written dialogue. Lots and lots of it. If you cannot read the japanese, wait for the english, because, well, it's probably a good 40% of the game. Given the amount of kanji, the english translation is going to take a while.

All in all? Well, I don't hate it. They did do some things well, enough to carry it. But great? No. IMO's all around, though. I like multiple character parties, with different abilities, and exploration up the kazoo. Some people will love this game. Others will declare it better than FFVII, and that it trumps Zelda 64 (which, given that Zelda's vaporware, is not hard to do. At least until I check it out at the nintendo fair in makuhari messe friday ;). And, for them, they will be right. But I know a good burrito when I taste one, and this one doesn't have the gas to keep me burning the midnight oil.