Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time [Review]
You’d think the fact that Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is a port of a nine year old game would create more problems for it. The music still sounds pretty good and the graphics, while a little blocky, remind me of a time when RPGs were a lot more straightforward and fun. The combat reminds me of the same, giving me an intricate combat system that is surprisingly straightforward. It’s a shame the good stuff is hopelessly mired in a terrible anime plot, one that is always wrapping its claws around anything you might like about the game.
Right from the start you’re going to have to slog through some long, painful exposition that does its best to keep you from ever getting interested in the game. I understand what they’re trying to do, though. By throwing a lot of different faction names, organizations, and characters at us all at once, it’s supposed to make the player feel like they’re a part of a living, breathing world. If there’s lots of different groups, then it gives the player a sensation of being one small part in a huge, world-spanning conflict. For me, all it does is shut my brain off while I wait to see who’s actually important enough for me to remember.
Names and titles were hurled at me at the start, and I just ignored them while I breezed through walls and walls of text, desperately trying to see if this was a game or an animated novel. Instead of making me feel immersed in the world they’d created, the opening shoved me right back out of it and frustrated me. I don’t have a problem with having a complicated story, but that needs to be doled out in little chunks. A person’s memory can only take so much, and this game was pushing well beyond that.
Besides, the start of a game, movie, book, or anything, needs to have a serious hook. For games, that first few minutes needs to start off on a high, exciting note. It needs to show the player that their money hasn’t been wasted on the game. If the people behind Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time wanted to show me that I was part of a bigger conflict, why couldn’t they have started me off in some huge battle, or at least had me fight something within a few minutes of the game starting. I would have felt more involved in the conflict if I could have seen my role in it.
Final Fantasy Tactics managed as much years ago, and it was just as complicated. Just the same, it kept you in the action at a much better pace, giving hints about what was going on through direct, concise cutscenes. Despite taking less time to tell its story, it also managed to create more interesting, compelling characters than Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time did in its hours and hours of dialogue. When a character died at the end of the first act of Final Fantasy Tactics, I could see how it sparked the events of the rest of the game. I could understand the pain of the characters. When they died in Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time, I was just happier that there were fewer people to keep track of.
Luckily, this slows down a little bit after a few hours in, and the game moves more into its combat system, which I do like. It plays a lot like a standard RPG of the SNES era, where you have to wait for a gauge to fill up in order to attack. The difference here is that the game factors in distance, so you have to get close to enemies if you use a sword, but have a distinct advantage using magic or a bow. It doesn’t do this using a grid system like most tactical games, instead keeping the action moving freely in real time. This results in something that feels like a smooth hybrid of both standard and tactical RPGs, and it makes the battle much more interesting than either type alone.
You also have the option of many different tweaks you can add onto each character. Through the use of rings you can attach permanent buffs to your characters, or equip them with spells to learn. Just by having them equipped, they get better and stronger over time, giving you access to better spells and abilities as you level up. It allows for a lot of customization if you feel like taking your character in a certain direction, but I often just equipped items that helped with my character’s specific combat role.
As each character has only one weapon that they use, I equipped them with skills that helped them with that. My archer was my first line of attack, but I wanted him to be hitting the bad guys more times as they came in, so I gave him something to boost that. My hero was straight melee, so I increased his range and movement speed. There’s lots of cool stuff you can do with them, and it can lead to some neat combinations. It was a nice touch, and kept me invested in the combat system.
You will need every edge you can get in this game, as it can be really, really hard at times. You can power level through a lot of your initial troubles through the game, letting the best armor soak up damage, but there comes a time when you will have to be smart in order to win. Enemies do pretty high amounts of damage, especially ones that use magic, and if you aren’t very careful with how you fight some of them you’ll be back at the loading screen. I lost a lot of fights in areas where I was absolutely steamrolling the previous bad guys just because I hadn’t paid attention to everything on the battlefield. Knowing what you should be doing really makes the difference between winning and losing.
I’m really glad that the combat is interesting, as the music is just…bland. One of the biggest draws of the RPGs I love has always been the music. Look at games like Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, and Suikoden II, and you’ll hear a bunch of great tracks from a handful of different musical genres. In Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time, there isn’t one track I can recall. Even when I was playing the game, I would have to force myself to pay attention to the music to notice it at all. It’s all functional as ambient stuff, but it doesn’t stir up emotions or even a basic reaction when it plays. It’s not good or bad, merely present.
I have a few other gripes about its interface, as well. One that trips me up at every turn is the fact that I have to push down in order to have a cursor appear in any dialogue choice window. That would seem like something that’s pretty minor, but you might have forgotten this game’s age. It came from an era where putting a save point before a hard fight wasn’t always guaranteed, so I’ve died after putting a lot of time into a dungeon. Worse, I’ve probably run through long periods of dialogue that I don’t really want to read again. Now, though, I can’t just hammer through it, as I have to keep activating my cursor when the game asks me a question. On top of that, it does this on every window you have any kind of choice in, and I’m always tripping over it. I can’t even buy a potion without having to hit down into the shop menu. It might sound really stupid to complain about something so minor, but it has literally been driving me crazy.
There’s also a lot of stats and abilities that are buried within the menus. I was being told that I was learning new skills, but it took me a while to find them. As it turned out, I had to hit the accept button on a character status screen a few times to get to the information I wanted. Given that I had a button for using things like the order the characters walk in on the map, and the options I was prompted with at the game’s start, I can’t figure out why this information is so well hidden. Again, it’s a minor problem, but one that bugged me a lot.
When an RPG’s combat is the only thing it has going for it, every little problem builds up in a hurry. I do like playing this game, but it’s like the developers are making it as hard as possible to enjoy myself. I like the combat, and once the story shaved off a lot of the extraneous characters, I started to get interested in aspects of it, but it’s still asking me to accept too much crap. Unless you have an interest in anime pretty-boys constantly taking about nothing while anime girls stand in as provocative a way as possible, this game is going to have a hard time keeping your interest. If it had been just a bit more straightforward in its plot then it really could have been something I’d recommend. As it stands, I’d love to see this combat system put into a game where the writers knew what they were doing. You’d really have something worth playing, then.