Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Disclaimer: I actually own the PS2 port, but that's not available on this site's review section. I assume that there are next to no difference, but if the GR staff still think this review is unsuitable, then they are free to remove it.
There are usually two aspects of a game, which can be likened to the basic physics of an animal. We have the bare bones, which represent the core gameplay, and the fleshing out, which pretty much provides the setting for the bare bones. In cases of console RPGs, the fleshing out usually also consists of sidequests and minigames, as well as the exceution of a typical good vs. evil plot, RPG version.
Grandia 2 is a game with bare bones fit for a whale, but with flesh that can hardly cover a mouse. At times, it's even sucking out marrow from the bones.
Let's go with the good parts first. Which is the combat system. Of all the console RPGs I've played, I don't think I've ever had so much fun with plain combat. During battle, there are two periods of waiting: First the ordinary waiting, which hinges entirely of the character's speed stat. Then, after giving the command, there is another period of time before the command is executed, and here the number of variables suddenly increase plenty.
A normal, two-strike attack will follow almost immediately. A one-strike critical hit will take some time to load. Special attacks and magic attacks will take different times based on not only how powerful the attack is, but also how well you've learned it. If your special attack is having one star, it's slooow, and doesn't do all that much more damage. If you've got 5 stars, it's very quick (sometimes completely immediate), and deals a lot of damage or healing. You increase the powers of these with Special Points and Magic points respectively, which are all earned through combat. In addition to the ordinary EXP points, of course.
And since all the characters -and- enemies are put together on one single line instead of separate meters, this makes even your ordinary random EXP-gaining battles filled with strategical choices of which most other RPGs can't come close to. The boss battles aren't the most difficult, but they also never get the feeling of being "piece of cake", at least not until you get rid of all the "minor" parts (most bosses consist of several enemies, or different body parts). There's some good action to be found here, that's for sure.
So far, so good. However, if all there is to an RPG is random battles, then not even the most robust combat system can help you. So, let's take a look at what else this game has to offer.
A "mash the button as fast as you can" arm wrestling game.
O-k.... What is going on here? Why aren't there any collectibles? Why not any proper minigames, any sidequests, any -anything- at all? That tiny little arm wrestling game isn't even fun the first time you try it. Thankfully, you only have to do it once.
So, what about the plot? Well, it's very, very typical console RPG from Japan-plot, which is to say, it's going to be an epic evil destroying the world, and it's not going to make all that much sense. However, there are ways to execute this plot formula in an engaging manner, and this is where Grandia 2 fails utterly and completely. The worst voice acting I can ever remember, completed with lots of cliches during the plot progression.
Graphically, I felt it was pretty unimpressive, though I do understand that it's a straight port from a game system not nearly as powerful as the PS2. The inclusion of cartoon FMVs during battle is cool. But the camera angle locked on a rotatable altitude makes the non-combat parts incredibly bland, and a feeling of repetitiveness. Music was... mostly forgettable, really. Nothing stunningly good nor stunningly bad.
The final recommended action here would to rent this game, play it with the mute button on during the talking parts, and keep yourself fighting on for as long as the combat system is engaging. For me, it lasted -almost- to the end, which clocked in at 47 hours. That is in my mind a very good combat system, standing on its completely lonesome own for so long. But since a horrible everything else cancels out the goodies,that's leaving us with a plain and average C.
+ Great Action + Really great Action - No sidequests - No minigames - No decent voice acting - Apart from combat, no nothing.