I'm not a bird, I'm Korky the spirit beast!
Since the days of Temple of Apshai and Bard's Tale, I have been totally absorbed by RPG's. These days, nearly all of them are Japanese translations (especially on the PlayStation), and The Granstream Saga is obviously no exception. All the little Japanese quirks we've come to expect are here: linear gameplay, anime movie clips, teenage love triangle, quirky translations, juvenile plot, and the ubiquitous cutsie anime mascot with a squeaky voice (Ahhh, Korky, my little feathered friend. What would I do without thee?).
It seems that the world needs saving once again in the form of a goofy story. One hundred years ago the Imperial Wizardry (bad guys) fought the Allied Sprit Army (good guys) on the planet Granstream. The evil Wizardry used a forbidden weapon which shifted the planet's axis, causing the ice caps to melt and flood the whole world. To save a few people, four wise men used a magical flying tower and four magic orbs to float four large islands into the sky.
A century later, these islands are sinking towards the water below. They need their batteries recharged. Who can do it? I'm sure it will take a teenage warrior and his teenage friends, of course.
You are Eon, a teen-warrior-orphan with a mysterious past and a magic scepter, which is really a bracelet. You'll need the help of Laramee, a teen pirate girl, and Arcia, an annoying singing girl who is the descendant of a wise man. Together you can find the four orbs and Arcia can sing the magic songs of lifting and save the four continents. Oh, and don't forget Korky!
The Granstream Saga is your basic RPG with hit points and magic points and plenty of weapons and armor and items. One odd thing is that there are no experience points. You simply go up a level when you reach a particular place in the story. Money is in the form of gems, but isn't very useful because you can pretty much just find all the items and equipment you need. I saved the first two islands without ever buying a single thing.
The graphics are quite good. Everything is polygonal (Hooray! No squashed anime sprites!) and is seen from a top down view. The transition to combat is absolutely smooth, and the camera simply changes angles slightly. You had better be ready to fight when it does, because the combat engine is real-time action and is tons of fun.
Rather than the usual 'you hit troll, troll hits you' style of turn based combat, you must test your hand-eye skills against the enemy as well as your equipment and strength. You must move Eon around, dodge, strike, counter-attack, perform special moves and cast magic spells if you want to win. All this in real-time polygonal fighting. While it isn't as complete as a pure fighter like Soul Blade or Tekken 3, this is easily one of my favorite RPG combat systems ever.
Unfortunately, while the enemies look good and are fun to fight, there isn't enough variation. Most of the enemies are just variations of earlier models, a little tougher and in a different color. Also, because there are no experience points, it doesn't really do you any good to fight them. Despite the cool combat system, I found myself avoiding monsters whenever possible. Of course you also have to find the monsters first, and this can take hours because of the interminable story.
While the story isn't as bad as some RPG's (like the unfathomable Mystical Ninja), you are forced to sit through hours of it in this incredibly linear game. There's a reason it's called The Granstream Saga and not The Granstream Leaflet, but the story is nowhere near good enough to take up hours of my time establishing minor plot points and displaying inane dialogue.
Instead of fighting monsters, you are forced to read useless text like, "Hello. I love your hair. I just love the thrill of nature." And yes, you can also learn the thrill of slave mining as you spend ages searching the walls for rocks, just so you can be led back to your prison cell for some more text-dialogue. Repeatedly. After completing some sections of the game, it can take 45 minutes or more before you ever actually get to fight anything again.
So that's The Granstream Saga in a nutshell. The combat system is the best I've seen since Kings Field II, and I'd really like to see it in future RPG's. There are plenty of weapons, spells and stuff to satify any RPG junkie, and the graphics are great. However, even all that isn't enough to justify the mind-numbing hours of total non-action. With more monsters and a less intrusive plot, this could have been a real winner.