Author’s Note: This review was originally published on January 14th, 2008. It features “witty” taglines that were featured in other reviews around the time. If there was ever a game that I wish could erase from a franchise, Heritage of War would be a top contender.
If you live in the United States, you know that our history with Growlanser was never much to brag about. Working Designs localized the second and third installments a few years ago, even though we knew little about the first game. Then, a fourth installment was released, and it was supposed to be the best of the bunch. The fifth installment, which I knew little about, happened to get a USA release in limited quantities. I figured, if I enjoyed Growlanser Generations, I’d enjoy Growlanser V. Released as Growlanser: Heritage of War, out third Growlanser title had the potential to be ground-breaking. Unfortunately, it was the opposite.
Before you gain control of the main character, Haschen, players go through multiple points of view in the story that lead up to Haschen’s role. The game begins with a few people caught up in the flames of war between various countries. These people have been doing all they could in order to stop the war and are tired of seeing lives lost. Calling themselves the Peace Maintenance Brigade (PMB), they were able to restore a mighty piece of technology called the Admonisher. This floating cannon had the ability to turn a town into a crater. After a display of its power, the peace was restored.
It has been 20 years since this incident, and players meet Haschen. This small town boy has joined the PMB, but with his new friends, must disdain the old ways of the PMB in order to preserve the peace. Furthermore, due to the continent’s location in the middle of a vast ocean, resources are running low and creatures that feed off of human flesh called Screapers are on the loose. Haschen has his work cut out for him.
The idea of having multiple prologues was an interesting one, although I got sick of them after the third scenario. By the time I was able to control Haschen and start up the main story, I found myself annoyed by the events that unfolded. By itself, the story is interesting, meaningful, and even philosophical. However, the conversations and interactions with every single character makes the game feel rushed. Also, certain questions never get answered, even though they should.
Haschen plays the role of the silent protagonist. Often times, you are able to chose an answer when someone asks you a question. These answers will determine which of the multiple character endings you will see at the end of the game. To the game’s credit, there are some fun characters you will get to know. Each one has their own values and ideals, and you will enjoy seeing them grow for the common good.
A Clothing Explosion.
Staying true to tradition, Growlanser: Heritage of War has art created by Satoshi Urushihara. Now, in Growlanser II and Growlanser III, the character designs were well done. In the latest Growlanser, something must have happened in the style department. The character faces and portraits look fine, but their clothes are a disaster. For instance, Fanille, who is a young scientist, is dressed in a bat costume. Melvina, the token strong woman, has a helmet with wings the size of an albatross’s. Krious looks like a pirate for no reason. The list goes on. It’s not that the designs are bad, they are just bizarre in every sense of the word.
When you are not watching the OVA-quality cutscenes or strangely looking upon the character designs, you will notice that the graphics seem to be out of date. For an early PS2 game, the graphics might have been passable, but this is not the case with the way the PS2 games look today. Character models are blocky, and their animations lack fluidity. The environments are plain, preset backdrops. Heck, even the towns are boring to look at. Graphically, the complex, detailed character designs contradict the bland character models and areas.
The Sounding of a War Trumpet?
The music is hardly noticeable in the game. When you walk around the world map, things are serene. When you get to a town, you hear standard town music. In battle, there is a bit of a brass sounding instrumental that attempts to make the battles seem epic. Voice acting was done well for some of the characters, while the rest of the characters fall flat. The sound department was hardly a problem for the game as a whole, but some more effort with the music may have helped spruce things up a bit.
Move It or Lose it!
Taking an old school approach to travel, Heritage of War has your party follow the main character in caterpillar fashion through the dungeons, towns and world map. This may sound exciting to those die-hard, old school RPG players. However, for some reason, your characters have these annoying tendencies to get in your way, not move at all, or stray away from the party. If you are trying to get into a door or room, sometimes you will be blocked by a doofus party member.
There is lots of traveling to be done, too. The world map is vast, and getting from one point to the next will often take some good time. Also, certain areas are crowded, making your party blockades inevitable. This can get especially annoying if you are running around in a dungeon. Of course, where there are dungeons, there are monsters.
Command and Conquer. Well, sort of…
Monsters, regardless of being on the world map or a dungeon, are found meandering aimlessly. If you get close enough to them, a battle will begin in real time. Some of these battles are easily avoidable, but often times you will have to battle in order to gain much needed levels. When a battle begins, your party will automatically go in for the kill, or perform an action that you set. Also, you can hit the command button to have your party members do whatever you wish. Unfortunately, issuing command after command gets tedious and you may be inclined to just let them do their own thing. Also, every god damn time you go to a character, they’ll have something to say like, “Yes? What should I do?” or “Next?” or “Tell me what should be done.” That was so annoying, I had to mute the game at times.
You can move Haschen around where you see fit with the analogue stick, and you attack a foe by hitting the X button. When he does this, a meter will appear and when it drains, he’ll attack again and again until the foe dies. Basic enough, right? Well, there are a few problems. The first is the terrain. Objects will block your party members from getting to an enemy. This will not be a problem for those who primarily cast magic, but your it will be for your warriors who are power houses and want to attack with their skills. It is even more annoying when your party members seem to run together towards one another, making things look like the game is beginning to glitch.
In battles that advance the story, you have conditions for victory and defeat. These are fine, and in some cases, they can make the otherwise boring battle system somewhat intense. However, conditions have a tendency to change at the drop of a hat. If your team is in the wrong position for these changes, you will probably get a game over. This is quite annoying, and it happens often. Also, executing certain spells and skills causes the game to pause all action. So, you have to wait until the action finishes to issue new commands. Not to mention, like a normal attack, skills take some time for recovery.
Whether or not a battle is for the story, it plays out in a dreary way. Your AI controlled party members tend to flub up trying to execute something, or you have to constantly deal with the cumbersome command menu and assign commands. Battles could have been intense in the way they were back in Growlansers II and III, but they are more of a chore in this installment.
A Knack for Tree Loving.
Learning skills comes with an ability tree system. Plates, which you find in battle, or get from stores, have various skills, spells, or attributes attached with them. By placing them in a line next to each other, you can learn a good amount of moves. During battle, you will obtain knack points, which will allow you to level up your skill plates. While this may sound basic, there are a few twists to the system. To have the knack points distribute, you have to activate a line of plates. This means that plates below or above the activated plate will get no knack points. At the end of some plates is an arrow, and when the arrow touches another plate, you will earn knack points for that skill along with the first one. Basically, you have to connect the plates in such a way that you have arrows going from left to right.
You can level up multiple plates at once. However, in the event you want to cease the flow on one activated plate row, your levels on said row will drop. This means you need to always have a row activated in order to perform high level attacks. Unfortunately, the cumbersome plate system has limited space. When you reach the end of a row, you will be unable to place any more plates in that set. Thus, if you get a plate you wish to use, you have to start a new row. Certain items allow you to change the arrow direction, and some items will allow you to remove plates. However, these show up later in the game.
Making the perfect skill plate row may appeal to some, but for me it was too much. You will earn an endless supply of plates, and trying to cram them all into one row will take effort. This expensive, monotonous system, made me yearn for the ring system found back in Growlanser II. Unfortunately, things changed for the worse.
Extras in the Box. Extras in the Game.
One reason to pick up this game would be for collection purposes. There were only a few releases, and finding one down the road will be troublesome. Besides the game, picking it up new nets you a key chain, some hologram cards, pins, an art manual, and a media disc. For those who go all the way with this 35 hour long game, you will find some side quests at your disposal. The biggest one is the fairy challenges that your token fairy friend, Korin, has to deal with. That will tack on some extra hours, as will side missions that allow you to get rewarded with items.
Heritage of War no More.
I was extremely disappointed with Growlanser: Heritage of War. What had the potential to be an excellent addition to an excellent series turned out to be the opposite. The battles were bothersome, the skill system was cumbersome, the graphics were lonesome, and the story was lacking. Even if you enjoyed Growlanser Generations, I suggest avoiding this title. The same can be said for those who are looking for a new RPG. Only get this game if you are a collector and want it for the value. However, if value is based off of the actual game content, then it might as well be worth little to nothing.