If you can read this review, you don’t need glasses. I kid, I kid. If you’re reading this review, chances are you’re like me: a fan of RPGs. It should go without saying that the glory days from the PS1 and PS2 era of games are gone and fans like you and me have little to be excited about these days. However, games like Growlanser: The Wayfarer of Time (for the purpose of typing up this review, Growlanser IV) should act as a reminder on why you became a fan in the first place. The announcement of its release stateside was music to my ears because the Growlanser saga is one meant for the true RPG fan.
Each title in the Growlanser saga usually involves war, politics and some form of potential destruction of the entire world. The story of Growlanser IV is separate from the first three games in that it takes place in an entirely new setting, but still has the three above mentioned themes. The world is a place terrorized by entities known as angels. Despite their heavenly appearance, angels wreak havoc on humanity with incredible ease. A group of mercenaries witnesses their power first hand after a village is destroyed in an instant. One of these mercenaries is Crevanille, a man with no memory of his past. Crevanille and his friends have to figure out a way to deal with the angels as well as an all-out war between the major countries. The best part about this story is that, along the way, you get to shape Crevanille’s personality however you wish. During nearly every dialogue sequence, you are presented choices on how to respond. A simple “yes” or “no” are a thing of the past for Growlanser IV. Instead, you have responses that shape your characters, as well as the folks you meet along the way. By itself, the story is good. However, molding Crevanille’s personality as you see fit makes the story even better.
If the story doesn’t draw you in, the classic Growlanser battle system will. I should warn you that this is one of the more challenging RPGs out there. There have been a few missions that showed me the Game Over screen when, in all honesty, I thought they were missions that I was supposed to lose. Battles in Growlanser are a mixture of turn based and real-time strategy. As you wander the world map and/or advance the plot, battles will begin between your team and the enemy. In battles, your options allow you to attack an enemy, move around the battlefield, use magic and items, or use skills called Knacks. Once you have made your selection, you and your foes will either begin to charge their spell or head towards the enemy. Attacking is done immediately. After one attack, you need to wait for a bar to go down before the next attack. Magic can be charged up to five levels, but doing so means waiting longer for the spell to finish. The aforementioned Knacks allow you to halt enemy movement, increase your speed, and even deal more damage at the cost of your own HP. You can pause the game at any time to issue new commands and then continue the sortie. Fighting enemies on the field usually takes little effort. The story battles are a completely different story. Typically, you have your four person party pitted against a ten-man army consisting of swordsmen, archers, spell casters and healers. It will take time, patience and a couple of game overs to fulfill your objectives properly. Winning or losing doesn’t always depend on defeating all of your foes. You may have to protect someone, or move to a specified location, or even (and annoyingly) stop enemies from burning down flags. Despite the level of difficulty, there is a ton of fun to be had because each battle will keep you on your toes and on the edge of your seat. The best part of the battles is that you get to put the Ring System to use. In previous Growlanser titles, you had a ring with three numbered slots. These slots can have stones put in them to use and eventually learn new abilities. Now, you have to add color to the mix. Matching stones with the same color grants bonuses, while different colors means you won’t learn the attached skills as quickly. All of your characters have the potential to learn a variety of skills and magic thanks to the Ring System. These also include bonuses like more HP, the ability to inflict paralysis with an attack (aside: this has saved me SO many times I recommend learning it as soon as you can) and HP regeneration.
The graphics in Growlanser IV look like those from the third game, except with a bit more detail and color. This was a good choice, considering how ugly the 3D models from Heritage of War looked. Fans will be glad to know that the spells still look as flashy as ever, with some of the more powerful ones taking you away from the battle and showing you a mini-movie instead. Granted, you can skip them if you’re not in the mood to wait. You can also skip the animated movies, but why would you want to? Urushihara, the token artist of the series, once again shows his creative side with some gorgeously animated videos thrown in. With that said, what the hell was he thinking when he created Remus? No, seriously. He is wearing a plaid beret, a matching head wrap that contains his white hair that goes down to his knees, and hot pants. -HOT PANTS- Do you know what hot pants are? Well, look them up, and you’ll see. Kylie Minogue worked those in her 2000 video for Spinning Around, but Remus cannot work them due to him being a dude. Oddly enough, he happens to be very relevant to both the story and a huge asset for battle. I just…never mind. Everyone else looks fine, despite the fact that most of the women are wearing outfits that are so tight that you can see their navels. I’m not sure what it is with Urushiara and making it so the female cast can’t breathe, but whatever floats his boat.
I will finally mention that the music is nothing to write home about and the sound is, as usual, just there. Now, the proper conclusion. Growlanser: The Wayfarer of Time shines as an example as to why I love RPGs so dang much. It has a cast of memorable characters with distinct personalities (and hot pants), battles that are challenging but gratifying, a vast amount of customization, and endless options that let you shape the way Crevanille is viewed by his friends, enemies and the world around him. With multiple endings and a splendid New Game Plus option, there is plenty of incentive to play again and again. I am quite thankful that a title in the Growlanser saga got another stateside release. So, fans of RPGs, I say this to you: do yourself a favor and buy this game. You’ll be glad that you did, and more importantly, you’ll remember why you enjoy RPGs.