Review: Growlanser II: The Sense of Justice

As the end credits rolled I realised I wasn’t quite sure what a ‘Growlanser’ was or why the subtitle ‘The Sense of Justice’ was chosen. I looked up the game on Wikipedia – which I hadn’t done before this point – and also saw that there were dating sim elements in the game’s final section that I’d completely missed out on because my ‘friendship’ levels with the female characters wasn’t high enough. The list of unsolved mysteries kept getting longer…

I can only imagine that unravelling the game’s web of branching pathways back in the early 2000s (before the internet got good) was an equally laborious and totally mind-blowing process. Even now the obscurity of the title meant I was trawling through ten year old articles on GameFAQs trying to work out what else had missed/ how much of the game I now needed to replay in order to un-miss it.

2018 may have been my first successful attempt at making it through The Sense of Justice, but it’s not the first time I’ve crossed paths with the title. Back in 2004 I bought an import PlayStation 2 and the Growlanser Generations double pack (which also includes Growlanser III: The Dual Darkness) because I liked its shiny cover (this is the genuine reason). This time I went all out and purchased the Deluxe Edition which comes with a watch.

As the game was only released on a region-locked NTSC disc, and as the poor sales of the region-locked disc not only resulted in the lack of a PAL release but the closing of Working Designs – the American Publisher – I think it’s safe to say that I’m one of only a few people in England who played the game near to its release.

After a ten year absence this also means I have some serious nostalgia for the game. Admittedly this wont be true for most people, but I do think that Growlanser II stands on its own merit. In fact when I loaded up the game I was initially surprised by how it’s graphical and technical quality didn’t quite match up to what I’d remembered. About twenty minutes after this I was hooked thanks to its interesting story and strong tactics mechanics.

Growlanser itself is a spin off from the Langrisser series, which is perhaps even more obscure due to its limited release outside of Japan. Needless to say, by the time developers Career Soft got to this point they were well-verses in the turn based strategy genre. Growlanser II adds some well-conceived RPG components into the mix however remains fundamentally a strategy game – and one that relies heavily on smart tactics.

The main story missions are based around unique objectives that frequently extend beyond the simple goal of killing off all enemies. Each premise is interwoven into the game’s story, ensuring a cohesive experience that continues to feel interesting and challenging.

Meanwhile there’s a small amount of grinding to be done between missions, however the random battles resolve an issue I found in Langrisser IV where my party levelled unevenly and became too reliant on one character. Battles take place when walking around points on the map – here more than anywhere it’s evident that Growlanser II doesn’t fully commit to the RPG genre. Exploring the kingdoms of Rolandia and Burnstein is essentially done through a menu.

Whilst this might be off-putting for anyone who’s played Growlanser III and now has a taste for adventure, for me the focused nature of the game works really well. Outside of battle you’re gearing up for the next battle, which in itself is a satisfying process thanks to the game’s smart ring system. Although deceptively simple, this is a fascinating system that’s made all the more astounding by how easy it is to get to grips with.

Characters are equipped with a ring that provides stat boots. Each ring also has up to three gem slots and each slot a different level. Gems up to that level can be equipped in the slots. The main reason you’ll end up agonising over ring and gem combinations is the drastic effects different gems can have on your character’s abilities. These go far beyond the stat bonuses you’d apply in most games – for instance you may find yourself deciding between a gem the nullifies all magic cast on a character or one that allows the character to attack multiple times per go.

Then there’s the story – a rambling epic about war and a guy called Wein Cruise – yes, that’s his actual name. This is characterised by the zany humour of Working Designs and the story is direct, funny and engrossing in a way that’s so simple it would be easy to take for granted – if not for the fact that so rarely does a game succeed in instantly drawing the player into its world. Further in and the story remains compelling thanks to unsuspecting plot twists and branching pathways that lead to one of multiple endings.

Growlanser II: The Sense of Justics is a fascinating and obscure game and it’s perhaps appropriate that it has an equally obscure title. Somewhere between Career Soft’s smart mechanics, Satoshi Urushihara’s imaginative character design and Victor Ireland’s unique approach to localisation a sweet spot is found. There’s not a single thing I’d change about it.

10/10

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