Grandia II is a ConsoleRPG for the DreamCast? and the PlayStationIi. As it fits onto a single CD, it doesn't have room for lots of shiny graphics, unlike the FinalFantasy series. Fortunately, this means that, like in the old days, the designers distract the gamer with good gameplay instead of with shininess.
A rough analogy of the gameplay would be that it's like ChronoTrigger in 3D with a heavily religion-laden storyline. The storyline is decent, if entirely linear (i.e. there are no subquests; there's one optional "dungeon" and two minigames, but everything else is required) and highly predictable. There's a sizable amount of character interaction and the characters have distinct personalities (again, they're predictable and cliched personalities, but nonetheless they are distinct). As an RPG, it is unambitious, but the gameplay is unusually good. Of course, "gameplay" in an RPG mainly consists of fighting.
Dungeon navigation is as in ChronoTrigger (but in 3D and with slightly more dungeon interaction); the player can see enemies on the dungeon map, and if any of the people in the party contact any of the enemies in the monster party, combat begins. Combat doesn't take place in the dungeon maps - rather, once combat begins, the party and the enemies are moved to large open plains - but that's not a huge loss. Depending on how combat occurs, either or neither side may have the initiative. For example, if the first person in your party runs into the reap of the enemy party, you get a surprise attack. This grants you a bonus to initiative, as well as giving you a better formation in battle (typically surrounding the enemy forces). Of course, you can be surprised as well, but typically an alert player can keep that from happening too often (with the exception of those damned birds, and possibly the giant ants). Keep in mind, of course, that if the enemy sees you, it will try to attack you. It's possible to sneak past a significant number of the enemies in the game, and since if they aren't, the game becomes fairly easy, it's probably worth avoiding at least some of the monsters, so as to reduce the player's overall power level.
Anyway, the combat arena looks about like the ones in VagrantStory - an open plain with party members and enemies. Each character and enemy is represented on an action bar with three phases - waiting, preparing, and acting. During the waiting phase, the character or enemy waits (obviously). Once the preparing phase is reached, the player gets to decide what his characters will do - attack, cast a spell, use a technique, use a "cancel" attack, use an item, defend, reposition themselves on the battlefield, or run away (taking the rest of the party with them if they succeed). Also, once a monster has reached the preparation phase, the player can see what it is planning to do by selecting it. Anyway, an action having been chosen, the character's icon on the action bar progresses towards the action phase, at which point the command is executed. Some actions take longer to perform than others; defense is instantaneous, while techniques and spells can be quite slow. Attacks take no time to reach the action phase, but then the character must run up to his target and perform an attack animation, which takes time. What really makes the system interesting is that the player has access to abilities that move enemies back along the action bar (e.g. the "cancel" attack mentioned earlier, as well as special techniques and some items). These abilities have more of an affect if the enemy is closer to acting. As you may have gathered, timing is crucial to doing well in the Grandia II battle system; with good timing and a good entry into battle, it's quite possible to take no damage in the ensuing combat.
Spells and techniques are handled in a somewhat unusual way. Spells come from Mana Eggs, which roughly equate to the green materia in FinalFantasySeven - each egg holds a selection of 40 (?) spells, and anyone equipping the egg gets access to the spells. Only one egg can be equipped at a time, and some characters are better spellcasters than others. The spells are highly diversified in effect, though they are classified by "element" - fire, ice, lightning, and air, as well as explosion, healing, and "forest". Spells may be single-target, affect everyone, or affect a certain area - a zone around an enemy or player, or a ray extending from a player to an enemy. Most spells are standard RPG mainstays, though there are a few interesting effects - most notably, the Gravity spell pulls enemies together so that they may be more easily hit by other area spells. For the most part, spell animations are not too long, though they certainly aren't all short, either. A few of them should be rather more apocalyptic than merely hurting the enemy for a few thousand damage, but enh.
Eggs can be improved by spending "Magic Coins" on them; these coins are earned in battle along with normal money and Skill Coins. By spending coins to level up the spells in the egg, new spells can be unlocked. Leveled-up spells cast faster and do more damage. Similarly, each character has unique techniques that can be improved by spending Skill Coins on them. One of the more clever choices made in the design of the game was to make the first technique instantaneous at its highest level; since the first technique also always has a cancel effect, this means that near the end of the game, you can choose to cancel an enemy no matter what it is doing, so long as you have a character ready to act. Sadly, there is no "delay" option to allow characters to hold their initiatives.
The graphics are decent; unambitious though not unpleasant to look at. The music is quite good, covering a wide range of styles from Portugese traditionals to techno. Some of the tracks feature an excellent singer; overall the soundtrack CDs are disturbingly tempting, though it would cost over $70 to get both of them.
Overall, Grandia II is a good ConsoleRPG with an excellent battle system. The biggest problem it has is that it can be too easy if you don't know better than to kill everything you see. Maybe SeleneTan should try it out... Well, as of today I have a PS2, and a copy of GrandiaIi, but I spent most of today fiddling around with Romance OfTheThreeKingdomsVII? instead. --SeleneTan