Review: Growlanser: Heritage of War (PS2)

Growlanser: Heritage of War
Publisher: Atlus USA
Developer: Atlus Japan
Genre: RTS
Release Date: 9/19/2007

Bit of a meander here folks. First a bit of trivia. The actual name of Growlanser: Heritage of War in Japan in Growlanser Generations. However, that name was used by Working Designs when they published Growlanser II and III together as a compilation. This meant Atlus had to rename the game for its North American release.

Another interesting fact: Growlanser Generations was the last game ever published by Working Designs before the went under. In a strange bit of homage to the sometimes lamented publisher that brought over Dragon Force and the Lunar series, Atlus USA has packaged this fifth installment of Growlanser with a ton of extra crap ranging from a key chain to a CD soundtrack. Very nice and Atlus has been doing this sort of thing for a while now, going back to Digital Devil Saga and its controller armour.

One last little fact before we get into this real time strategy series (And yes, it’s not an RPG people. It’s not turn-based. It’s not an action RPG. Growlanser has always had far more in common with Warcraft, Goblin Commander, or Dragon Force than Dungeons and Dragons or Final Fantasy): Only II, III, and V in the Growlanser series has ever hit the West. I and IV still have yet to be ported.

There, I’ve cut my original three page essay about Atlus USA following in the footsteps of Working Designs and the irony of that considering Atlus Japan made the series in the first place down to three paragraphs. God bless my newfound ability to be brief and concise. On with the show.

Let’s Review

1. Story

Once upon a time there was a game called Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom You might have heard of it. It’s a decent little game that was beautiful graphics-wise in its day, but it was heavily overshadowed by the far superior PSII and IV. This was a game about two kingdoms. One was named Orakio and the other was called Laya. These two kingdoms fight over petty human squabbling type issues. You play as the main character and gather a team of characters to play through a complete story line, in this case bringing peace to the two nations.

That’s not the end though! As soon as you put an end to a bitter war full of innocent casualties, it’s mating time! You then continue playing the game with all new characters, primarily the descendant of your original main character. You had a choice of two different women to marry with each generation, the result of which gives you very different characters and four specific endings depending on who your third generation main character is.

Sounds fun, right? Well, if you could get past the fact it wasn’t much like the previous Phantasy Star games, it was! The branching plots and multiple outcomes was pretty intense and highly innovative for 1990. It still holds up pretty well and even though the Genesis ended a full 6 or so years later (depending on the region we are talking about), the graphics and gameplay remained pretty impressive.

Now, let’s go forward seventeen years into the future. Let’s take the same plot, but then get rid of the multiple partners with which to mate and multiple main characters. Then let’s add not three generations, but FIVE (although not generatons in the same sense as PS3 – rather it follows the pattern of mini sceanrios with different main characters and allies until you hit the final all important storyline), ensuring that you will be playing for each 20+ hours before you actually start playing the MAIN STORYLINE, which consists of 42 different main battles and some assorted optional quests. This might sound like very little, but for an RTS or SRPG, that is a lot of fighting and killing things dead.

Growlanser: Heritage of War is Phantasy Star III with the aspects people universally liked about that game and then gutted it so it was a third rate version. Then these shallow pale imitations are shoved down your throat for half the length of most RPG with more backtracking quests than you would find in a Tomb Raider or Soul Reaver and a game length approaching Dragon Warrior VII in length. Yes gaming fans, welcome to hell.

As for the bits of story that aren’t plagiarized from the first chapter of a 16 bit video game, it’s your typical Growlanser fare. The game is heavy on politics and international relations. Unlike the previous Growlansers that were released stateside, these games are light on substance and character development. Every character is pretty two dimensional and trite. The problem here is figuring out whether this is just a bad game plot-wise, or if all Growlansers are this weak, but Working Designs just did a magnificent job with Grownlanser Generations and basically rewrote the characters from the ground up to make you care about them. That would explain the 2 year or so delay on the game.

The game does give you multiple endings, each based on your level of friendship that you’ve achieved with the other characters. However, the ends are a bit of a disappointment and the game is continued on to Growlanser VI, which came out in Japan back in July of this year, but the game, nor Atlus, tells you this. Trust me gang, it’s not worth going on to G6 if it’s anything like this one way story wise. Hell, the plot was so drive and the first few generations were so long and dull I barely made it to the Haschen storyline.

There’s just too much crap that you’re forced to wade through before you get to the (slightly) good stuff. There’s a reason this game was critically panned in Japan, and damn if the plot isn’t one of the biggest reasons. Next we’ll take a look at THE biggest.

Story Rating: 3/10

2. Graphics

Ladies and gentlemen, we have quite possible, the ugliest game of the Playstation 2 here. My friend Vlad watched me play for a bit without knowing what the game was? The words out of his mouth, “Is this Phantasy Star III?” I shit you not. It wasn’t because of the plot. Oh no. It was because the game honestly looks like a 16 bit game. Granted some bits are in 3-D, but then it just looks like a 3-D game made with 16 bit graphics. It’s really bad. Possibly up there with Nightmare of Druaga bad.

Now there is one saving grace. The character portraits and the few anime movies/cut scenes/whatever are very nice indeed. But it’s not hard to make a high quality cartoon or still image for the PS2. I pulled out Growlanser Generations before writing this review and I’m dead serious when the previous games look better than GV. Now that’s an even worse comment to make when you realize that II and III are basically PS1 level graphics. Yes, I know the Growlanser series has never been the prettiest. Indeed, it has a reputation for being quite outdated graphically which each new addition to the series. Heritage of War however, hits a new low that I don’t know if it can be topped. Unless GVI looks like Adventure for the Atari 2600. God I hated that bat!

The only reason this game isn’t getting a 1/10 here is because of the animation and portrait bits. If you are a graphics fan, stay away from this game. If you play RTS’ and RPG’s for story and gameplay, well…um, you should probably stay away too. The fact the official website lacks screenshots should tell you something.

Graphics Rating 2/10

3. Sound

Finally! I can stop making Growlanser V all emo with the nasty things I’ve been saying about it. The score and voice acting in this game is great. It really is. The best thing about HoW is that I never have to play the game again. I can just pop in the soundtrack that comes with the game and enjoy that instead of the mindless horror that this game inflicted upon me. Each track fits perfectly with the high fantasy stylings of HoW and reminds you of the really strong classic RPG soundtracks of other games that looked like ass but sounded wonderfully. Dark Wizard anyone?

The voice acting really helps to bring the game alive. If HoW had just been an animated series with this same acting cast, it would have been a lot better. Each actor struggles to bring their highly shallow characters to life and for the most part, they do succeed in giving them some depth. I’d hate to imagine how much worse this game would be without the acting, but I know in the back of my head it would be. This is one of the strongest casts I’ve seen in either an Atlus game or on the PS2 in some time. Hopefully, this wasn’t an one off with each actor just having a really good moment in the sun. Hopefully Atlus will bring this crew back for other games. There’s some definite chemistry going on and it’d be silly not to keep it going. Just god, not in another game as bad as Growlanser V

Sound Rating: 8/10

4. Control and Gameplay

As I said earlier, don’t make the mistake of thinking Growlanser V is a role-playing game. This is a real time strategy. There are no random battles where your character takes two steps, swings their weapon and takes two steps back until everyone has acted. There is not a Strategy RPG where you are moving guys on a grid based map. This isn’t even an action RPG, as there is a timer between actions for each of your characters meaning you can’t just hack and slash ala the Dark Alliance games.

There are three aspect of the game to look at. The first is the mindless running around and pressing a button to talk to people and examine objects that is inherent with all games of this sort. Then there is the meat of the game which is the battle system and engine. As noted in the phrase “real time strategy,” battles are going on in real time, with the only pauses in the action being when you deliver a new command to a character or switch equipment.

Battles work pretty simply. You click a button to pull up the character menu. You pick a character, pick an action, pick an opponent, and confirm. Then you sit back and watch them go to town. If you need to issue them a different command, just pull the menu back up and have them cast a heal spell or use a different weapon or run away.

The only character you can fully control is your main one, and all that means is you can control their movements in addition to their actions. 95% of the time you won’t need to though. The controls are pretty simple and quick to master, but man is the game ever boring to watch. The hideous graphics don’t help either.

Normally, I wouldn’t call an RTS boring, as there is usually a lot to micromanage and you have more than 4-6 troops on the screen. Not so in Growlanser V. Again, this game is several steps back for the series as the previously released ones in the States let you have larger armies with better graphics and more complicated battles. This is a very simplistic game in which every battle starts to feel the same.

The third piece of the game is the plate management system. You start off with a few plates related to attacks, spells, statistic gains and so on. Once a plate is placed on the board, you can’t move it. Each plate has an arrow that allows them to interconnect with other plates on the board. You mix and match, creating a sort of flow chart with the plates. As you earn experience, points tunnel into one or more plates (depending on if the root plate is connected to anything else). The more plates are connected, the slower they will all develop, but you’ll be multi-tasking and ensuring your character has a wide range of skills if you do so.

Another catch with the system is that you have to leave a particular flow that you’ve made active if you want to benefit from the skills. Otherwise, if you use them, they are only at half level. For example, if you have Cure up to level4 and you highlight a different set of plates so that you can learn those skills, your active cure ability drops to 2. Even weirder. The max any plate can hit is 5, but the maximum skill you can have is 10. So you need to have two to four of a particular plate to ensure you can use each ability to its maximum effect. This is exceptionally insipid in my opinion. I have no problem with the skills dropping to half their XP value if its not what you’re currently learning, but to have to relearn a skill multiple times? It’s just going to drive the gamer to bordeom and frustration, much like everything else about this game. Also, the plate management system is being done over and over again by Atlus in various forms. The best I find is still Digital Devil Saga 1. Once more, Grow2lanser V just seems to copy things that came before, and in a decidedly crappier fashion.

Decent, solid engine, but it’s also incredibly boring and the skill system is poorly thought out. Just because something plays well, doesn’t make it fun. GV is proof of that.

Control and Gameplay rating: 6/10

5. Replayability

Well, there are multiple endings for each character, which is always a plus. However, the game is so unbearably long, dull, and boring, that only a lunatic would play through it again to finish off everyone’s friendship ratings.

Here’s the thing: if you are going to make a game that rewards you by playing it a second or third time, it should NOT be longer than say, a Persona game. The length of the prologues alone will bore the majority of gamers and have them turn the game off before the real thing starts.

I realize what Atlus was trying to do here. They were trying to make a game feel epic by having it go through many stages. The problem is they forgot to make it both fun and interesting, which kills the desire of anyone to sit through this marathon of a game more than once.

Replayability Rating: 2/10

6. Balance

This is one of the easiest RPG’s you will ever encounter. In fact, the last boss is the easiest final battle I’ve had in years. The computer lacks any sort of A.I. Whatsoever so you should never be presented with a challenge at all. This increases the horror of the game even more. It’s long enough and the lack of any challenge makes it feel all the longer. The earlier Growlansers had really neat scenarios and battle fields. Not so here. Ever played the old PSX Magic: The Gathering: Battlemage? RTS? That is EXACTLY what HoW feel like. And looks worse then. Ouch.

It’s pretty easy to make your characters crazy powerful. Especially Haschen, as in his first battle, your actions dictate how he will grow for the rest of the game. Have him heal his friends and then stab everything else and you have an ass kicking emo albino for the next 41 scenarios. Ye gods.

Oddly enough, even though the game looks like its from 1990, it certainly isn’t balanced like something made in that era of gaming. RPG’s back then were exceptionally difficult. Here you’ve got an ugly mess my rabbits could probably beat.

Balance Rating: 3/10

7. Originality

Well, we’ve already seen that this game is a massive plagarization of Phantasy Star III. It also rests heavily on the laurels of the previous Growlanser games. I appreciate they tried to do something a bit different from the previous four. After all, doing the same thing repeatedly makes you a bastion of predictable suck. Final Fantasy for example, broke their own mold with their last two games, and XII was the most fun I’ve had with the series (playing wise, not story wise) since the first two. Here, I just found myself missing the deep plots and rich characters I encountered in Growlanser II and III (I haven’t played 1 or IV).

The only thing close to new this game brings is the plate system of developing skills and it just doesn’t hold up after playing for a few hours. It’s a bad design from all angels and it still smacks of countless other games we’ve talked about early.

This game is a hodge podge of ideas stripped from half a dozen other beloved games, but without any of the quality or passion. Growlanser: Heritage of War feels like nothing more than a sloppy third rate game that was thrown out there in hopes of a paycheck from a popular series (in Japan it’s popular at least). That’s exactly what it is. Japanese critics panned this game and rightfully so. It’s a box of nifty extras and a DVD containing suck. It gets a half a point for the plate system and another half for including a sack of extras that don’t hold up to what WD gave us with their Growlanser games. Ooh buttons!

Originality Rating: 2/10

8. Addictiveness

This is one of the most boring games I’ve played this year, and 2007 has been the year of shitty games forced upon me to review. What’s worse is that the three games that got a 3 or (Hoshigami, Grim Grimoire, and The Sacred Rings) are worse that Growlanser V, and the only thing I’ve had nice to say about this game is it sounds nice. Hmm. Two RTS are making the bottom of the barrel list from me this year. Not good.

I’ll admit I enjoyed the very beginning of the game and it’s plot where three characters band together to try and stop the concept of war. It was a cute idealism and I wanted to see where it was going even with the poorly developed character and hideous graphics. Then they fought the Power Rangers and I stopped caring. Then the game went through four other scenarios and I think I went mad for a time.

Trust me, I wouldn’t have played past the first prologue if I hadn’t HAD TO.

This game is not fun. It is boring. It looks and plays like crap and I wish I could be more positive, but there is nothing to be positive about. Why would Atlus USA release this knowing the first Growlanser collection sold poorly and that this game was hated even by the people who by ANYTHING Growlanser. I had no desire or energy to keep going, but I did. I was thanking Cthulhu when I saw Konami had shipping the Wii DDR game to me and that I could move on to the next game to review. And I SUCK at rhythm games. Except oddly enough for the Deathclock song on Guitar Hero II. I’m giving it a point because it opened nice and made me optimistic. Then let me down horribly.

Addictiveness Rating: 2/10

9. Appeal Factor

The majority of people who buy this game and keep it will not be because they had anything resembling fun with it. It will sell because of the neat crap that comes with the game and the fact you can generally resell Atlus RPG’s for a lot a year later because the print run is often low. That is a horrible reason to buy a game. Buy it to play it, not to sell it or store it. No one will care how big your collection is.

You know it’s a bad sign when one of the biggest “please buy this game!” attempts on the back of the box is, “OVA-quality animated cutscenes.” If you can’t sell the gameplay or actual in game graphics or even the plot, and instead you have to hope some anime obsessed drip or a person who generally will buy anything that’s Japanese will be your core audience…that’s not a good sign.

People will buy the game, but it’ll be for non gaming reasons. That makes my skin crawl. Normally Atlus is above this.

Appeal Factor: 1/10

10. Miscellaneous

Congrats Atlus! By selling the game at a normal retail price for a PS2 game and including a ton of extras, you’ve saved Growlanser V from tying for the worst game of the year from me. It’s still in the bottom five that I’ve sat through and I had to review Secrets of the Arc!

What do you get bonus wise? A lovely art book showing bits from all five games, a few buttons, a metal keychain you could bludgeon someone with and some lenticular cards, along with the aforementioned soundtrack DVD that also contains some other bits on it. The CD and art book are the only real interesting pieces. Let’s compare this huge package with what the previous Growlanser collection game with: a high quality well made watch, a deck of stylized playing cards, A ring and some other jewelry, and a soundtrack. Oh and two better games. I’ll take the watch and deck of cards over an art book and buttons any day. Holy cow, I’m praising Working Designs over Atlus? HAS THE WORLD GONE TOPSY TURVEY?

Other than the extra nifty stuff this game came with, there’s nothing at all this game gives you worth mentioning. And trying to sell a game based on swag, well it’s like a publisher’s PR guy trying to bribe a reviewer with swag rather than producing a high quality game. No one’s going to fall for it. Well, no one of upstanding moral character anyway.

Next time, make a good game that is fun to play instead of an abominably long boor you encourage people to play through twice. Yes, the side quests and optional battles are always a nice option, but this game needs to be streamlined, not padded. Sheesh.

Miscellaneous Rating: 4/10

The Scores
Story: 3/10
Graphics: 2/10
Sound: 8/10
Control & Gameplay: 6/10
Replayability: 2/10
Balance: 3/10
Originality: 2/10
Addictiveness: 2/10
Appeal Factor: 1/10
Miscellaneous: 4/10
Total Score: 33/100

Final Score: 3.5/10 (BAD GAME)

Short Attention Span Summary
Please baby Jesus, tell me there are not still people reading this that considering picking this pile of plop up. Growlanser Heritage of War has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. None. This is a game you will spend weeks punching yourself for having been foolish enough to have PAID MONEY for it. So don’t. If you want to try Growlanser, get the Generations collection. This is an abomination and only serves to show how to do nearly everything wrong.



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