Growlanser: Heritage of War PS2 Review

August 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, PlayStation, PS2

Publisher – Rising Star Games – Developer – Career Soft – Genre – RPG – Players – 1 – Age Rating – 12+ – Other console/handheld formats – N/A

The Growlanser series is over ten years old and encompasses six games, but only recently have us Europeans been getting acquainted with it. Growlanser: Heritage of War may be the fifth game in the series, though it’s the first to make it to Europe. Thank heavens there’s no need to have played the others to know what the hell is going on narrative wise, then.

Initially you’ll take charge of Seldous, a guy who detests war and is trying to bring an end to it. By discovering the Admonisher, a super weapon (think of it as a medieval nuclear weapon) which is the ultimate deterrence for anyone who is thinking of starting a war, he founds the Peace Maintenance Brigade. Things then shift forward twenty years and you find yourself playing Randall for a while, then General Rockbein, then Fanille and after all that, Haestan a mute, dour faced and spiky haired teen takes centre stage. If you hadn’t already guessed, this guy is the lead protagonist and if you hadn’t, you likely haven’t played many Japanese RPG’s in your time.

The visuals are largely functional, though bland and occasionally blighted by framerate issues. On the other hand the artwork from Satoshi Urushihara is incredible.

The story is reminiscent of Suikoden, carrying a theme of war. It’s captivating, and even though there are clichés along the way, the setup of the story is effective in putting all the pieces into place. It turns out that the story is a major strength of the game, so that’s one important JRPG facet that Growlanser: Heritage of War gets right.

When it comes to fighting however, slight cracks begin to show within the games’ foundations. The combat system allows you to move about the battlefield freely, though when attacking you’ll have to wait for a short period until you can attack again. Knacks are special abilities which activate instantaneously, whilst magical spells require a charge up period before they are unleashed, the amount of time being determined by the level of the spell.

That all works to an adequate enough level, though when enemies cast spells you’re left unable to move, which is fair enough, but not so much when the battlefield is filled with magically proficient enemies that constantly bombard you with magic, leaving you unable to even move an inch without being fried, frozen or electrocuted or whatever, which can occasionally make for frustratingly slow battles. There’s path finding issues, too, where characters get stuck against enemies and objects, which in some of the tougher fights is frustrating, leaving you no choice but to guide them with the move command.

One of the strengths in regard to the combat is that there’s plenty in the way of variety of objectives. One mission might ask you to protect people for instance, whilst another might have you stopping enemies from escaping. There are also secondary objectives, of which are largely not essential to progression, though if you meet their criteria you’ll be rewarded with additional post battle rewards. As the game is mostly an easy one, those who’re seeking additional challenge are advised to attempt these tasks.

As far as character growth goes, on top of exp, victory in battle will also earn you knack points, of which allows your characters to learn new abilities. Skill plates can be fitted to an ability tree and the idea is to place them in a line from left to right with space enough for eight lines, though knack points only flow to one line at a time.

Similarly to many Western RPG's, you're sometimes required to pick your responses in conversations, though unlike its western counterparts, your choices rarely have a bearing on the direction that the story heads in.

However, when the tree starts filling up with skill plates, it all begins to get a bit hard for the eyes, and then there’s the problem of not being able to remove attached plates until much later on in the game, which can make for some frustrating situations when you mistakenly attach one, it’s just awful design. When you finally get the option to properly play around with the ability tree, some will enjoy tinkering with it for extended periods of time, whilst others will find it all a little too fussy.

More positive is Growlanser: Heritage of War’s impressive lifespan. The main game itself is sizable, but there’s also a wealth of rewarding diversions that, should you do it all, will add tens of hours to the game. There’s something seemingly around every corner, be it weapons to find, secret dungeons to explore, a fairy contest of which your fairy companion, Korin is able to enter, amongst other things.

The core of Growlanser: Heritage of War is heavily flawed, though elsewhere it does get some things right: there’s a lot of game here and the story is brisk and entertaining, of which will be big enough strengths to allow some RPG fans to overlook or at least tolerate its flaws, and for them it could very well be a worthwhile rental at the very least.