Grandia HD Collection Review (PS5 / PS4)


Grandia HD Collection bundles together two classic JRPG adventures from the tail-end of the genre’s golden age, a series that has long since fallen by the wayside. Grandia, initially released on the SEGA Saturn, would make its way to PS1 in 1999, and its narratively unconnected but mechanically superior sequel, Grandia II, first came to Dreamcast before arriving on PS2 in 2002.

Both games remain constrained by the limitations of decades-old design philosophy and can sometimes be maddeningly obtuse. Functionally, the Grandia HD Collection is the same release that came to Nintendo Switch in 2019, but without the performance issues. There’s also very little in the way of extras or the modern conveniences we’ve come to expect from collections of this kind (Grandia II does get a Hard Mode). Still, the series is one even seasoned RPG fans might have missed, and it can be incredibly charming, provided you’re willing to suffer a little bit.

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Lesser known than storied (and still running) contemporaries like Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy, the Grandia series was nevertheless profoundly influential, thanks to a refreshing turn-based combat system that can be automated to a reasonable level of competency. Developed by the now-defunct Japanese developer Game Arts (perhaps better known for its Lunar franchise), the Grandia series spanned a surprising three mainline entries, a remix of the first game, a combat-focused spin-off, and even a short-lived MMO. Still, the series peaked with Grandia II, and for that alone, the Grandia HD Collection is worth investigating for genre enthusiasts.

Like Final Fantasy, individual entries in the Grandia series are unrelated, and the first game is rough. The mechanics being worked out in the original would solidify in the sequel, with critical elements like characters being able to counter or disrupt enemy attacks already present. Graphically, Grandia is in an awkward place, a product of that strange time when games would use character sprites in a 3D game world. Polygonal character models arrive in the sequel, but visually, it’s reminiscent of games like Breath of Fire IV, Dragon Quest VII, or the early Trails series.

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Grandia tells a simple enough story and follows Justin, a young boy who dreams of becoming a great adventurer. Justin remains as unlikeable as ever, something that hasn’t changed with the passing of all these years, but the cast does get better as things progress. Tonally, it’s all over the place, and players will have to contend with the aggressive Garlyle Forces repeatedly throughout, which are commanded by the game’s genuinely compelling antagonist, General Baal, and his second-in-command (and son), Colonel Mullen. For example, moments of somewhat compelling politicking are undercut by Mullen’s three female squadron commanders, who constantly compete for his attention and are driven into a jealous rage by Liutenenant Leen, Mullen’s love interest and capable aide-de-camp. Like we said, it’s a strange game, but worth checking out in its own right.

The sequel is a considerable upgrade, and Grandia II holds up much better. Protagonist Ryudo is a Geohound (which is nothing like a SOLDIER), a mercenary willing to take on dangerous jobs for the right price. Sarcastic, annoying, and abrasive, Ryudo is a lot but eventually learns to mellow out over the course of an expansive adventure.

As is sometimes the case with parallel projects, the worlds of Grandia II and Final Fantasy X bear strange similarities, like Deep Impact and Armageddon. The ominous Church of Granas hires Ryudo to escort Elena, a Songstress, on a religious pilgrimage that turns out to be of world-shaking importance. The much more fun Millenia occasionally possesses Elena, and Ryudo must contend with a mysterious, demonic swordsman from his past, not to mention an evil Pope. Along the way, they’ll gather an eclectic crew of companions and uncover the Church’s dark secret.

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Grandia II feels like a big step forward, from the writing to the music to the combat, and it’s the better game to our mind. Like the first, combat is turn-based but feels refreshingly fluid, not unlike FF7’s ATB, called the IP gauge here. Characters take turns according to a running timeline, activating attacks on a specific part of the ‘track’. Standard attacks can be combo or critical; combo is better for dealing consistent damage, but landing a critical attack while an enemy is still in its action phase will “cancel” it. The attack still goes off but is significantly delayed on the IP gauge, and this added layer of strategy does a surprising amount of heavy lifting, keeping combat engaging over the course of the game’s 30+ hour runtime.

Eventually, combat gets to the point where each of your four party members can have up to four hits in a combo, and fights become pretty hectic. Your companions can equip Mana Eggs, which allow access to magic and special abilities, and investing in them is essentially your long-term character development. There are shades of Final Fantasy VIII’s GF system to it, or, again, Trails and its Orbments, but it remains unique in execution.

At full price, however, £32 or $40, that’s a pretty tough sell, even for enthusiasts. With no quality-of-life features to speak of, like the ability to speed up gameplay or create save states, you’re getting the same old games with widescreen support, visual updates, and Hard Mode for Grandia II.


Grandia HD Collection makes two classic, influential RPGs more readily available to a modern audience. But with little in the way of extras and quite a steep asking price, it is unlikely to appeal to anyone other than the most hardcore genre enthusiasts.

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