Review: Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time

The box art, no floating heads here!

Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is a strategy RPG for the PSP developed by Career Soft and published by Atlus. It was originally released for the PlayStation 2 back in 2oo3, and is actually the fourth game in the Growlanser series. This is the first time this entry has been released outside of Japan.

That was the extent of my knowledge coming into this game. Growlanser is one of those series that is hugely popular in Japan and virtually unknown in North America, and reviews I’d seen for the previous games in the series were….not so great. I usually like to play series in sequential order, but upon hearing that Wayfarer of Time had it’s own self-contained story, I decided to give it a go. What can I say? I like JRPGs.

So, for those of you who are like me and have no idea what this game is about, here’s the scoop: You play Crevanille, a “Ruin Child” (children who were put into stasis by a long-dead civilization) who was raised by a mercenary company. The mercenaries have come to the continent of Noyeval to see if there’s any profit to be gained from a war between it’s four nations: highly militarized (and democratic) Dulkheim, the Kingdom of Iglesias, the Kingdom of Markelay, and the Kingdom of Valkania (who isn’t so much warring as it is sitting around on the sidelines). Against the backdrop of these warring powers, mysterious beings known as Angels have been turning up and leaving a path of destruction in their wake, to what purpose is anyone’s guess.

The back of the box tries to sell the whole “chosen one” schtick that we’ve seen before, but the game is much more complex than that. If I were to say one thing about this game, I’d say that it definitely has an aura of mystery. Who are the Ruin Children, and what is their purpose? What do the Angels want? Can’t everyone just get together and talk things out? So far there are a lot of unanswered questions, and I was practically glued to my seat and lapping this game up until my battery died and I had to wait to charge it up again. Many critics have complained that the game takes a while to really get going, and this is true–but then again, it’s true for many JRPGs–but once it does, it grabs you and refuses to let go. The other complaint I heard is that there’s a lot of reading. Seriously, have any of the people writing these reviews actually played a JRPG before? That’s like complaining that a sandbox game gives you too much freedom to explore! Fortunately, for those of us who like reading, there’s some great writing in this game, and Atlus did a great job with the localization.

One feature I’d like to highlight is the way your choices shape Crevanille’s personality and his relationships with other characters. Too often in JRPGs, the difference between one choice and another is a line of text and little else. I’ve been choosing the “nice” options when they’ve come up in conversation, and, as a result, some of the “jerkass” options (such as leaving a girl you just rescued alone in the woods or being overly critical of your best friend) have actually been greyed out. I’m playing this game without a walkthrough, so I can’t really say how my choices have really impacted my game without playing through a second time, but I’m interested to see if my choices do impact the game in the long term. So far, I’m skeptical, but it’s interesting how the game actually seems to be tracking my choices.

As far as the combat system goes, for everyone out there who hates grid-based combat, I’m happy to report that there are no grids in this game. The game gives you a surprising amount of freedom in combat, and you can change orders for your characters on the fly. There’s also the rings system, which is something like the Materia system from Final Fantasy VII. Rings have different slots that you can use to equip spellstones (magic and skills). Some spellstones give you bonuses to movement speed or that character’s attributes, others give “knacks” (skills) and others give you access to, well, spells.Appropriate for a strategy RPG, the game rewards you for thinking strategically rather than charging an enemy you can’t possibly win against. In one battle, I was tasked with keeping the enemy away from some important research. I was having trouble with this mission until I remembered that the levers on the walls of the building I was defending would throw up barricades to buy the NPCs time to construct a barricade of their own inside the research room. The funny thing was that I was playing with these same levers awhile back, wondering what they were for, Chekhov’s gun, anyone? One complaint that other reviewers had was that the AI was as dumb as a post, but I haven’t found that to be the case so far. All of the NPCs ran when they should have and one was very helpful casting curative magic when I needed it. If one of them died, well, that was due to my blundering.

Speaking of which, this game can be challenging at times, but it seldom throws anything at you that you can’t handle. (Protip: If your attacks are ever doing 1 point of damage, try something else or run!) Well, what did you expect, it’s an Atlus game, and Atlus USA isn’t exactly known for publishing games that are cakewalks.  Graphics wise, well, this game was originally published on the PS2, so the graphics aren’t particularly revolutionary. The in game music is great, not as memorable as, say, Final Fantasy, but that’s not to say that it’s terrible.

In summary, I don’t know why critics are hating on this game so much. Yes, I suppose the characters run the gamut of JRPG stereotypes (although the moment I decided I really liked this game was when two of the most stereotypical characters ended up kicking the bucket, because I am a horrible person), and there’s nothing particularly original about it (although the Ruin Children are a nice science fictiony touch in an otherwise Standard JRPG setting). I wouldn’t say it’s exactly like if Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together and Suikoden had a baby, but there are definitely parts of this game that remind me of both of those. Overall, I’d say pick this one up if you like a well-written story with a metric ton of politicking and mysteries to solve and player choices that actually seem to matter.

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