Video Game Review: Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time
The option of “Bitch Slap” was deleted from the final version.
Attention, Japanese role playing game fans. Just in case you didn’t know, game publisher Atlus loves you. I mean, it really loves you. Atlus’ latest PlayStation Portable release, Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is concrete evidence of this unadulterated adoration for its core audience. First, this is a seemingly obscure RPG series to the average Western gamer. Second, it’s a third-time remix of a PlayStation 2 title originally released in 2003 that never saw a release in the U.S. Lastly, it’s a freakin’ PSP release while its successor, the PlayStation Vita, is hungry for some new games. Despite it all, Atlus insists on delivering gems like these to American shores because it knows you’ll love it as much as it does.
In the long standing tradition of JRPGs, controls for Growlanser are very simple. Navigate your band of soldiers from town to town, engage with NPCs with one sentence chit-chat and whip ass in hours of turn-based, menu-driven battles. When approaching enemies in your quest, you’ll scroll through your list of party members, click on the appropriate commands and watch the fight unfold in a real-time strategy fashion similar to the “Active Time Battle” system seen in older Final Fantasy titles as well as Chrono Trigger.
Basic battles are rather straightforward where simply choosing attack or casting spells will do the trick. However, in objective-driven missions you’ll need to select your characters’ movement path carefully in order to activate switches, collect treasures, protect companion NPCs and other various scenarios. Having not played previous installments in the Growlanser series, I found the ability to move around in the maps during battle to be a nice touch.
That being said, this is pretty old-school stuff here, and it lacks the complexities that have evolved in the genre over the years. This can be a good thing, though, as battles are quick and equipping your characters’ abilities and attributes with clean menu navigation is straightforward. Wayfarer of Time also follows the classic routine of leveling up your party members, selling the old gear for new gear and customizing your skills while playing out an epic storyline. The result is instant gratification for JRPG fanatics that crave nostalgia and will no doubt get bit by the addiction bug.
On the flip side, it takes a few hours for the game to actually test your wits and utilize the strategies available, so the uninitiated may find the typical start of fighting little worms and scorpions to be an instant bore.
Oh, Japan, will we ever tire of your pixely chibi characters, running around making cute little expressions while glossy, gorgeous cel-drawn stills and cut scenes tell us a story of a world turned to ruin by mysterious god-like beings? Considering the JRPG genre has been around for nearly 20 years and continues to generate releases like Wayfarer of Time, I think it’s safe to say the answer is no. While the Western fan base is limited in numbers, they will always be wildly appreciative of this classic visual approach. The artwork is very crisp, the colours certainly pop and the artwork of famed Satoshi Urushihara is fantastic as always. (Look him up. If you’re at work, though, make sure your safe search is on — some of his work is scandalous.)
If shiny anime babes and androgynous boy heroes aren’t your scene, I’ll have to admit that Growlanser doesn’t do much to impress otherwise. The music is adequate enough, but there are some redundant themes that get old fast; plus, the environments are drab and the magic effects are pretty lackluster. However, for a redo of a last-generation title on a last-generation handheld, one can only expect so much flair.
Crevanille is just your everyday orphan-raised-to-be-a-mercenary with the unique characteristic of being a “Ruin Child” — these strange people were found in ancient temples sleeping in cryogenic chambers and are presumably the key to destroying the Angels. Now why would anyone want to go and do that? We love angels, right? Well, in the world of Wayfarer of Time, not so much. You see, these Angels show up every 2,000 years and roast the population of mankind to a crisp for unexplained reasons. And after witnessing their carnage first hand in a time of war and political turmoil, Crevanille and his band of pretty boys and hot chicks aren’t going to take it anymore.
Thus begins a 50-plus-hour-long quest full of active-time battles, character-building situations and dating. That’s right, handsome. Dating. Oh, sure, most of the gameplay revolves around time- and turn-based battles in between equipping and optimizing your party members with magic rings that increase stats, improve spells and level up techniques. But you’ll also have encounters with female counterparts who potentially warm up to you if you play your cards right by answering questions in the appropriate matter. This actually doesn’t just happen with the ladies; all your teammates, along with several key characters throughout the adventure, will pose questions to Crevanille and your answers may sway future alliances. You’ll also be accompanied by little pixie cuties called “Familiars,” whose appearance, assist attributes and skills are molded by your interactions as well.
The result is more than 40 optional endings that are shaped and molded by your choices. Honestly though, this feature isn’t entirely fascinating. Most of the options in the conversation are limited to making Crevanille come off as one of the following: (a) Mr. Nice Guy; (b) incredibly dense; or (c) a dick. And since there aren’t any perks from being a jerk to your comrades aside from the occasional snarky remark, your natural inclination will be to play it cool the whole time. Still, this is apparently a staple in the Growlanser series, so if it’s not entirely broken and the fan base digs it, why fix it?
I suppose that can be said of the entire game. The combat is somewhat of a dated time capsule, but it’s an addictive capsule that players love opening again and again. The characters are the same anime cliches we’ve played as countless times before, yet we want to see how their fates play out, especially since our decisions affect them directly (kind of). I definitely see this old-school routine of menu-driven battles hard to get into for gamers who have grown accustomed to action-oriented RPGs like the Elder Scrolls or Mass Effect. But like a junkie, JRPG fans need their fix and while Wayfarer of Time is a trip that’s all too familiar, it’s certainly worth taking.
The PlayStation Portable has a few goodies in its last days of shelf life and Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is certainly one of them. This anime-flavoured title has a giant quest with multiple endings that’ll keep completionists busy for hours, and as an added bonus it’s even playable on the Vita.