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Image credit: Eurogamer

Grandia (1999)

  • Developer: Game Arts
  • Publishers: SCEA / Ubisoft

It's a sign of how the games market in Europe was maturing that as we advance through the years, more and more of the games on our list actually managed to get released over here. Admittedly, Grandia took its sweet time - Ubisoft didn't launch the game in Europe until early 2001, after US and Japanese launches in 1999 - but this, at least, is a game which European players eventually had a chance to experience. Which is just as well, because it was fantastic - and moreover, it was a genuine break from the strictly turn based gameplay of most RPGs previously released in the west.

Although its characters, dialogue and story were all strong and memorable, Grandia's real flash of inspiration was its battle system. Each character was placed along an "action line" at the bottom of the screen, and their icon moved along it at a pace corresponding to the character's speed. When they reached the end, an action could be performed - which would place them back on the line at an earlier point, depending on which action they had just used. Meanwhile, characters could run around during battles, with positioning being critical. These two innovations combined to make for a fast, dynamic and vastly enjoyable battle system which few other games have rivalled, even in recent years.

Graphically, Grandia is still a joy. Like a surprising number of our listed titles, it used 3D backdrops but stuck with beautifully drawn sprites for characters, monsters and NPCs. WIth the benefit of almost a decade of hindsight, this seems to have been the approach that worked best for PlayStation games in the long run. The system was more than capable of rendering simple, colourful backdrops effectively, but few games could deliver convincing, high qualitcharacters with such a low polygon count. Grandia's sprites, however, stand the test of time brilliantly.

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