While Grandia II was disappointing
in some ways (mostly its length and the formulaic plot
) it did two things so well I wish they'd become standard
for all console RPG
The first is that when you rest at an inn, you have the option of eating dinner first. If you choose it, you're treated to a scene of the characters eating and talking about what has happened to them recently. There's no FMV or voice acting, but it's still a dirt-simple way to develop characters long before the big plot twists start rolling in, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The second is, of course, the combat system. Grandia II's combat system is an absolute gem, worthy of its own standalone game similar to Final Fantasy Tactics. For starters, there are no random combats. You can see every enemy on the map as you progress, and can avoid a lot of fights if you so desire. When enemies spot you, they turn red and give chase; if they catch you like this, they typically have the initiative. On the other hand, if you can sneak up on them, you get it.
This positioning isn't just eye-candy, it has real tactical significance. You can easily defeat otherwise tough enemies by catching them by surprise and surrounding them, and the reverse means you will be pulling out the heals mid-battle.
Combat itself is turn-based that feels like real-time, and you don't control your characters so much as direct them. At the bottom of the screen is a time bar, and it has marks for all four of your characters on it as well as the monsters. As everyone runs around, everyone's mark progresses up the bar in relation to their stats. When a character hits the 3/4 mark on the bar, you can input a command for that character. You cannot command your character to move, he does that on his own. Instead, you tell him which monster to attack, and whether to use a normal attack, a stronger-but-slower critical attack, a spell, or an item. While you're doing this, everything else pauses. Once you've made your decision, game time starts again, and your character will then progress up the last 1/4 of the bar at a speed based on what you asked him to do. When his mark gets to the end of the bar, he executes the command.
But it's not that simple. Whenever someone gets hit, their mark gets knocked down the bar a bit based on how bad the hit was. Therefore, if your character takes a critical hit from a monster and his bar gets knocked back down to before the 3/4 mark, his attack is cancelled - he does not get to attack, and you'll have to input a new one when he hits the 3/4 mark again.
Sound frustrating? Well, the good news is that the monsters work exactly the same way. Is a creature gearing up to use his devastating special ability? Smack him hard before he casts and he might not get the chance.
That's right, folks - the monsters don't cheat in this game. All the mechanics are presented up front, and the monsters must follow the same rules that you do. If an enemy is almost dead, he doesn't get to suddenly attack three times in a row and then instantly cast MegaSuperUndoAllYourHardWorkHeal on himself - he must choose an action and then wait for it to go off. And monsters are just as susceptible to cancels as your own characters, there's none of this "oh, it works on you but not the monsters" business.
As you might guess, this is incredibly satisfying to someone who grew up with Final Fantasy-style combat. With this system, combat becomes an interesting puzzle to be solved instead of something to be endured until you get to the next plot point. Which is as it should be.