Game publisher Atlus' 'Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time' for the PlayStation Portable.
Game publisher Atlus' 'Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time' for the PlayStation Portable.
Us old farts remember what many of us refer to as the "good old days" of video game role playing games. This was back when games came in cartridges, polygons were delegated to geometry class, "HD" meant your 3.5" floppy disk was high-density (not high definition), and 2D JRPGs were king. These days, it seems like games are all about flash and bang, bells and whistles, and glitz and glamour; so, it's comforting to see a satisfactory old school styled JRPG as a 2012 release.
Developed by Career Soft and published in North America by Atlus, PSP game Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is the fourth installment in the companies' Growlanser series. That said, the game contains it own unique storyline. In other words, having played any of the previous three titles will do veteran players little good and newcomers won't feel out of place.
The game takes place on the continent of Noievarl, which consists of four countries. In its current in-game form, Noievarl seems similar to late-medieval Europe, though 2,000 years in the past the civilization was quite advanced (similar to the backstory of Squresoft's Final Fantasy VI). Ancient Noievarl, however, was Angelically punished for how advanced and powerful they had become -- bringing humanity to the brink of extinction. Because history has a way of repeating itself, humankind is yet again facing a similar threat, not only from the countries' warring ways, but also from Angelic beings who don't like that the humans have found ways of harnessing the power of magic.
This is where the protagonist, Crevaniel, comes in. He and his band of friends set off on a quest to stop the Angels from once again oppressing (and possibly exterminating) the human race -- all the while getting mixed-up with Noievarl's political and militaristic struggles.
The story is well-rounded and very interesting. That said, it's slow-paced by modern standards -- something that gamers with a couple of decades of video game experience might appreciate. That said, story sequences and conversations do make up quite a large chunk of the game. Those who find themselves getting a little impatient with the dialogue boxes, however, can simply hold down the "circle" button to accelerate through much of it. Something quite intriguing, though, is that this game has multiple endings to it -- possibly as many as 40 according to Wikipedia -- with this PSP version of the game (it originally came out on PlayStation 2 in 2003) having three ways the main story can go depending on the choices and actions made by the player. The fact that the game can be played multiple times and have the game's story alter a bit each of those times is a major plus to this JRPG.
Wayfarer of Time features traditional turn-based combat gameplay mixed with real-time strategy elements. Commands are issued character-by-character and each character and enemy on the screen acts accordingly, though the actual order of these commands are based upon how quickly the action can be used. For example, if a character's basic attack takes five seconds to pull off and an item command takes two, the character performing the item command can pull off two of those before the first character attacks one. Spells work in a similar, yet opposite way. Those actions need to be charged-up (the longer the charge, the more powerful the spell's effect), though another action (attack, item, etc.) can be performed immediately after without waiting.
Characters and enemies also have the ability to move around on the battlefield, thus making things much more interesting than the traditional "side A/side B" setup. Movement, however, is an imperfect art as the game has difficulty at times with a character's pathfinding. When this occurs, a character will be rendered essentially useless for its currently-issued command unless either a new command is issued; or whatever is blocking its direct path moves.
In addition to the standard assortment of commands, characters also have "knacks", which is the game's word for generic skills. Knacks differ between the exploration and combat modes and can prove to be quite the game-changer if they're well-executed. Combat knacks can, for example, increase a character's deal-able damage or plant a time bomb on the field. Exploration ones can provide better line-of-sight in dark areas or make it temporarily difficult for enemies to see Crevaniel's party.
When it comes to character equipment, Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time takes a less-standard approach than most RPGs. Rather than provide the player options of helmets, shields, and the like, characters only have two items with which to equip: rings and armor. Armor is just as it seems: a wearable item that gives defensive bonuses. Rings represent a character's weapon, though they can affect more than just attack ratings on the stat sheet. Rings are able to equip as many as three spellstones from which characters learn magic, knacks, and the like. These spellstones work very similar to materia in Squaresoft's Final Fantasy VII, though with a few tweaks here and there.
A side-element of this game is its relationships chart. There are actual parts of the game that are set aside specifically for getting Crevaniel to better know his companions, and, through interactions and conversation choices, can actually form a relationship with one (female or male). Players who invest a good amount of time nurturing these character-to-character relationships will find that the Crevaniel's "special someone" will find better outcomes to battles in which both characters participate. Relationship statuses can also affect which ending the player will receive. What's nice is that this non-essential side-gameplay mechanic doesn't get in the way of the overarching game as some might say it does in games like Dragon Age II, though it's nowhere near as deep as it is on other titles such as the Persona games.
Wayfarer of Time's presentation is an unbalanced mix of 2D sprite-based visuals on pre-rendered backgrounds and hand-drawn anime stills and animated sequences. Right off the bat, players are treated with a beautifully done anime intro video for the game with others scattered here and there throughout the game. They're fully voiced and have a very high production value akin to those that the PS2 game Lunar 2 is known for. The still frames are non-voiced, though they're still a treat for the eyes. The actual in-game graphics, however, are dated to the point of appearing like a late-SNES/early PSx title. That stated, there's a certain charm to them, even if the characters appear pixelated when in a situation that causes the camera to be zoomed-in closer than normal.
Complimentary to the mid-90's era gameplay graphics is Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time's soundtrack. While the game does have tracks that come off as being fully-orchestrated, most of the soundtrack is comprised of MIDIs. While the game's audio is indeed dated, the tracks have that catchiness that many current game soundtrack lack. These songs will be stuck in the player's head (either in part or in full) just like some of the tracks in those mid-to-late 1990's JRPGs did. The game won't win any awards for sound design, but that probably wasn't the goal to begin with.
Boasting more than 40-hours of gameplay, Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is a game that takes a bit of a time commitment from the player. Those who enjoy the JRPG genre probably won't mind -- in fact, they may wish there was a bit more since the story and its characters are all fairly interesting. It can be a bit challenging, though, and level grinding will need to happen here and there; furthering the game's hourly length for better or for worse. With the PlayStation Vita now more than seven months old and the PlayStation Portable being out for more more than seven years now, there probably isn't too much more (aside from annual sports titles) that will be releasing for the PSP. If that is indeed true, there are worse titles to for which Sony's previous gaming handheld could go out on than Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time.
Final Game Guys grade: B
(Atlus provided a copy of this game for review.)