When re-examining the HD remaster of Grandia and its sequel, it makes me consider the wide array of re-releases we have seen in recent years. Some publishers set out to re-build the game from scratch with a modern engine and/or a re-imagining of the world’s visual style, while others decide to simply increase the resolution and touch up the in-game models with perhaps only a few alterations to the actual gameplay. Grandia HD Collection certainly sits in the latter category: it is a remaster, not a remake and, for these two games, that is more than enough.For those not familiar with the original games, the Grandia titles are mostly well known for their unique battle system, which plays loose with the standard turn-based nature of most RPGs by having an action bar that the characters move along before they can choose and complete their actions. Characters move along at different speeds and, most notably, can be pushed back of have their actions cancelled by the right attacks from an opponent. This battle system stays at the core of all Grandia titles and is their defining feature.
The worlds and stories differ between the games, but the first two titles focus on the greed of man and a youthful band of heroes that sets out for their own reasons before being drawn into a larger story that threatens the entire world. Both stories are engaging and have their own twists and turns, not unlike some other Japanese RPGs for their era.
When starting up the new collection, the menu is clean and simple, with a slideshow of character art from the two games in the background. The noteworthy addition in this first menu is the option to choose from a variety of text and audio language options. For those that prefer the original Japanese but need an English translation, then this is a great option for you and it works seamlessly in both games. Other than that, this menu simply serves to select which of the two games you want to jump into.
Starting with the first instalment in the series, the original Grandia immediately shows you a widescreen version of the pre-game cutscene, which opts for using the blurred duplicate effect around the original 4:3 video rather than stretching it to widescreen, which can be forgiven if this would affect the quality of the cutscene. However, it is interesting to note that they do widen some, but not all, of the later in-game cutscenes. In fact, some of the cutscenes seem to have been significantly touched up, such as the clips of the ancient Angelou civilisation, where a number of the moving models in the cutscene seem to have been remastered. However, it can be a bit jarring that the style keeps changing throughout the game.Once you get past the cutscenes, you get your first look at the environment and the character models. Those that have played Grandia before will know that the original Saturn game opted for a fully 3D environment, while the character models were all 2D sprites, drawn from a variety of angles. This was revolutionary at the time and the 3D environments scale up well, looking clean and crisp. However, the development team obviously decided that the 2D sprites did not scale up as well so decided to smooth the models with the sort of automatic smoothing you see in some emulators. The result is not brilliant, with fuzzy shapes rather than sharp sprites. It is interesting to note that there are a few sprites in the game that have not been smoothed and you can see the original enlarged pixel sprites in all their glory. It was probably a tough decision as to whether to use the originals or not. Perhaps an option to switch over to the unsmoothed sprites would have been a nice touch as they are a nice reminder of the original intention, even if scaled up on our modern HD screens.
Once you get into gameplay, it plays very smoothly. Combat initiates in a flash and does not have any noticeable slowdown, besides a few hiccups in the model movement that was present in the original. In the overworld, there are sections where the camera pans around over a wide area; playing on the Switch, the camera movement is just a tad jagged when outputting to a big screen but is barely noticeable when in handheld mode. While flying over the town of Parm, it would have been nice to see the original texture of the ground from the Saturn version, rather than the more jumbled PlayStation texture, but it is nonetheless a great view of the houses and factories from overhead.Voices and text all line up fine in the game, which is often a problem with porting these older games onto newer systems, so that is nice to see. It is also pleasing that they fixed an age-old bug from the game, which was Feena’s Time Gate move, which originally required achieving a level of 99 in both water and wind skills in order to unlock due to a bug in programming. Now they have significantly reduced this to cost only level 18 in each. Perhaps some hardcore fans will miss the challenge, but most casual players will now be able to see the third Icarian spell without having to grind it out!
Not too much else to say about the original game: a good port of the game onto a modern system, with a few quality of life improvements to keep it going strong. Always a pleasure to play Justin’s adventure.
In terms of the sequel’s graphics, it seems to suffer from a similar problem to the original: all the 3D models (which now includes the characters) are very crisp and sharp, but any drawn images, such as a lot of the far backgrounds, look very fuzzy by comparison. However, having everything close at hand looking detailed is very nice. It would have been nice if they had remade the text fonts as they are also fuzzy and have already shown to be easily fixable on the Steam release.There are a few glitches with the models, such as the texture for Elena’s closed eyes disappearing, being replaced by a scary-looking red strip. This is fortunately quite rare, but rather distracting. Another issue is that there is a frequent loss of frame-rate when the game is busy, such as in a large dungeon or during battle. This seems to be worse after resuming the Switch from sleep mode while the game is running.
While it was present in the last release, it would be neglectful not to mention the game’s hard mode. At the start of the game, you get the option to play through with harder enemies for a greater challenge. For those that know Grandia’s battle system, it is still fairly straightforward to progress without grinding but a few errors in battle will quickly find you on the back foot, rather than the more forgiving standard version. It is a nice addition to bring veterans back in for a tougher challenge. The inclusion in this HD package does highlight the lack of this feature in the original game (particularly with fan edit Grandia ReDux proving a hard mode is certainly possible).Wrapping up our look of Grandia II, we can see that the game is still visually pleasing and amps up the action of the original’s battle system nicely. With the frame rate issues addressed, this would be another excellent port of the game but it is perfectly playable and enjoyable in its current state.
Aside from a few frame-rate issues in the second game, the games are ported well to the Switch and it is nice playing them in both handheld and docked modes. In terms of the remastering aspect, some more work could have been done with the 2D graphics and text to make it really clean but, if you can stand a bit of fuzziness, these brilliant titles still shine through.