Review – Growlanser: Heritage of War

The third Growlanser game we’ve received stateside, Heritage of War, is actually the fifth in the series. We received Growlansers 2 and 3 as the last games of the late Working Designs (what is Gaijinworks up to, anyways?) in the Generations package. This game is a more than adequate successor.

Similar to the third Growlanser, Heritage of War is a Strategy RPG with leanings toward the RPG side. You move around the world exploring cities and caves, but when a battle starts, you enter a sort of active-time strategy mode in which you can pause anytime to give orders to any of your allies. For those of you who’ve tried Final Fantasy XII, it’s a lot like that with a faster pace and pausing while giving orders. In random battles, your allies’ AI can usually take care of things on its own. The main character can be commanded by simply moving him/her around and pressing a button to attack a nearby enemy. Between these two factors, you really don’t have to enter the menus during most normal battles.

Unfortunately, there is no minigame in which you cheer up this switch.

Here’s the first thing that HoW (what an acronym) does well – very little micromanagement and normal battles rarely break the game’s pace (that sounded like two things). Random battles are quick, easy and still fairly rewarding – pretty much no grinding is needed. When I did level, it was because, wonder of wonders, doing so was enjoyable. Missions, meanwhile, usually have objectives such as “prevent enemy X from reaching point Y” or “defend allies X from all enemies.” Hidden objectives will affect your bonuses at the end of the battle, but will not change the plot – unlike earlier games, where some plot paths required fulfilling similar objectives.

Like combat, the Skill Plate system is simple enough to learn, but is deep enough you’ll still be managing it near the end of the game. There are three types: Active (called “Knacks”) such as stealing or an area of effect attack, Passive (such as increased attack speed), or Magic (which is what you’d expect). You get new plates to place in your plate “tree” which flows from left to right. Only one plate on the far left may be activated, and all connected plates are considered active. Only active plates level up from skill points (inexplicably, “Knack Points”) and active plates are also more effective than their inactive brethren. Early on, it seems a bit confusing; around mid-game it felt just right. Later on it’s useful to manage, but you’ll likely have maxed out all the skills you wanted.

The setting of Growlanser feels somewhat cliched. On a continent cut off from the rest of the world and plagued by nasty monsters called Screapers, the major nations are fighting amongst themselves for the steadily shrinking amount of viable farmland. Onto this stage step three individuals striving for peace amongst flurries of poor dialogue (“You are working for peace? I, too, desire peace. We should work to end wars together!”). They find an ancient weapon in a ruin and force peace throughout the continent at gunpoint (see US foreign policy). The rest of the game takes place 20 years later, with a few more side chapters before the main character, Haschen, comes in. I don’t feel bad about spoiling the first chapter because it’s in the instruction manual.

In this way HoW trips up a bit at the beginning. The shift in perspective is a double-edged sword – you get a bit more background, meet a few characters, et cetera, somewhat earlier than you normally would, and it gets you a good feel for the Plate system used to gain skills, but at the same time very little of it has a major impact on the story. You’ve got a good seven or eight hours before you’ll even see the main character. I loved the multiple viewpoints in Suikoden III, and Dragon Warrior/Quest 4’s multiple chapters were each long enough to be small games in themselves, but Heritage of War has neither the sheer detail of S3 nor the challenge of DW4. The plot does become more concrete as time goes on, and one particular twist was especially good as it was both surprising and had a strong impact on the characters.

Among the least outlandish of the character designs.

The characters make up for the somewhat awkward shifting of focus. The main character, of course, is silent – he says only what you choose for him to say. This gives him a “personality” which is described by the game with traits such as “bravery” and “kindness” (which seem not to do a whole lot) and “friend ratings” with the other characters, similar to Star Ocean. Each of the other characters, however, has a decent personality and perhaps an overly strong design. Krious, for example, looks an awful lot like a pirate. I’m fine with this, as pirates are cool. Randall looks a lot like a street magician and throws cards in combat, but he also wears a huge pink thing around his shoulders for no apparent reason. Melvina is described in the art manual as a combination of a “nun, a Valkyrie and the Grim Reaper” and you can imagine how that turned out.

Their designs aside, they’re all quite enjoyable and make up for the slower parts of the plot. All things considered, voicework is pretty solid; no acting was so bad as to stand out, and only the highest-pitched of the fairies’ voices were annoying. The dialogue improves somewhat after the early chapters as well.

Overall, I’d say Growlanser is a pretty solid game. It’s a tough call at the current prices, but if they drop a bit or you’re running out of good S/RPGs to try, it would be a good bet. The entire game clocks in at somewhere between 25 and 35 hours – although there is no timer on the game, so that’s only a ballpark estimate on my part.

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16 years ago

nice writeup. i bought growlanser generations a few years back. fortunately i was “in between” jobs at the time and got a chance to play all of the first and some of the second. i really like the battle system. the fact that you can pass maps in different ways (some ways are definitely better than others) was a fun and challenging twist. how similar is this game to those, especially the first (since i have more experience with it)?