Grandia HD Collection delivers on its promise to bring high-definition remasters of Grandia and Grandia II to Nintendo Switch, bringing just a few bugs along with it. It offers nothing in the way of extras, like concept art, and it doesn’t provide quality-of-life options like in Square Enix’s Final Fantasy ports. It’s just two stellar classic Game Arts RPGs in a prettier package, and for RPG lovers who have never played them before, that should be good enough.
Grandia is prettier than ever
The original Grandia was a combination of pixel art sprites on three-dimensional backgrounds. This remaster applies a filter that smoothes out all of the pixel art and text so that you never see pixels. This can be a recipe for disaster, but it actually works to beautiful effect in Grandia HD Collection. The characters have never looked better. And though the backgrounds are inevitably still ugly, it and its sequel both enjoy a unique and strange steampunk aesthetic. The only minor gripe is a bug that causes the background music to hiccup at random intervals.
The first Grandia innovated combat with a mechanic of interrupting and canceling enemies’ attacks, placing higher emphasis on timing in battle. In truth though, this mechanic often doesn’t matter much outside of boss fights. Party members will level up normally through battle, but special abilities and magic are unlocked through repeated use of specific weapon types or magic of specific elements. If you grind for weapon/magic levels excessively like I do, it makes the game very easy; if not, the game might have a challenge.
Honestly, quality battle system aside, Grandia is actually better than I remembered it being. The eternal optimism of the characters and the narrative is infectious, and the writing is so charming and silly. Young protagonist Justin decides to go on a big adventure across the world because a magic girl tells him to, and that’s basically the story in a nutshell. It’s not a deep experience, but it’s breezy and pleasant in a way that makes it a perfect RPG for young kids. And the dungeons are typically unorthodox mazes, requiring you to use your compass to figure out where you are. The game genuinely feels like an adventure in all respects.
Grandia II is gold
Grandia II makes a slightly bumpier transition to Switch, but it’s still highly functional in Grandia HD Collection. The fully 3D character models have been cleaned up, seemingly ported over from the PC’s Grandia II Anniversary Edition, though they’re still chunky and funky by design. There is periodic slowdown during battle and exploration, but it’s not enough to hurt the fun. A menu glitch puts gray boxes under your stats when equipping gear, which again isn’t a problem but looks sloppy. And lastly, the game does not save your preference for how to control the in-game camera; if you don’t like the default option, you have to change it again every time you start playing.
Gameplay-wise, Grandia II takes everything that worked in the original and improves it. Combat is less grindy because all magic and skill upgrades are now bought through different “coins” shared across the party that are dropped by monsters. Likewise, all magic is used through equippable “Mana Eggs,” so you can change who uses which set of magic in an instant. Customizing your party according to what you think is the best use of coins is really fun and rewarding. The only downside is that, in general, the game is easy on its default setting. Fortunately, there’s a Hard Mode too!
Maze-like exploration returns in Grandia II, but it’s easier to figure out where you’re going in this game. Sharp and engaging dialogue returns as well. In fact, NPCs commonly have three unique dialogues, talking back and forth with party members. Reading it all probably adds hours to the game’s length – in a good way!
The difference with Grandia II is the story is much darker overall. Protagonist Ryudo is basically a self-centered jerk in the vein of New Hope Han Solo, and he’s openly hostile of religion, which is quite rare of an RPG protagonist. He is paid to take a cursed church songstress to see the pope so that an evil force can be exorcised from her body; incidentally, that evil force is a sexy woman with devil wings who can take over the girl’s body and become a party member. All in all, the plot ends up employing every JRPG cliché you can possibly think of, but the quality of the writing is so high and even funny (in a more mature way) that the predictability is forgivable. Grandia II is truly the culmination of years of JRPG design.
Grandia HD Collection is a powerful duology
In both games of Grandia HD Collection, the new aspect ratio is presented well overall. A blurring effect is used to fill out the margins in some cinematics, while it feels like some images were just stretched out (sometimes unnaturally) to fit the space other times. In all cases, cinematics are understandably grainy but typically still charming.
Ultimately, Grandia HD Collection is two games that play very similarly but with opposite tones. Grandia is for bright-eyed young kids, and Grandia II is for their cynical older siblings. Yet they both have excellent dialogue, open dungeon design, and battle systems that invite customization. If people can forgive minor bugs and a lack of extra features, Grandia HD Collection is something all JRPG lovers should play if they haven’t already. And if you have already played these games, well, maybe wait for a discount.
A review code was provided by the publisher.