"Leave The Past in The Past"
Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time has quite a bit in common with Gungnir, another recent PSP localization by Atlus. Both are strategy RPGs that involve moving characters across a map like board game pieces while customizing them with experience points. Also, both are uniquely Japanese melodramas that pit a small band of misfit heroes against a struggle between heavenly forces. In addition, both titles feature lots of dialogue with different options for responses that influence the direction of the story. Last, but not least, both are unlikely to appeal to anyone who isn't already a fan of Japanese role-playing games. At least Gungnir is a well-done take on the genre, which is unfortunately more than can be said for the droll flow of Growlanser.
Based on 2003's fourth entry in the Growlanser series, Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time tells the story of Crevanille, a shiny-haired, dour-looking young man that was by a band of mercenaries. Crevanille eventually learns that he's a time-displaced survivor of a 2,000 year old civilization that could harness the power of magic. Such magic wasn't enough to save them from annihilation at the hands of the Angels, and now that those heavenly monsters have returned, it's up to Crevanille to save the current civilization. Of course, he'll have to navigate through a large cast of characters and subplots first, picking different responses from long, winding dialogue trees.
The world of Growlanser is elaborately developed, with a variety of well-defined nations engaged in a complex series of battles amidst the impending Armageddon. The ability to choose Crevanille's dialogue options adds depth to the narrative —or would, if the characters he talked to were particularly compelling. Unfortunately, the dialogue sessions consist of responses to mostly RPG stock characters, with the options limited to binary choices ("be nice" or "be a jerk", "fight monster" or "flee from monster", etc.). The hand-drawn profiles for individual characters only serve to make the feelings of "been there, done that" more prominent. It takes a relatively limited experience with anime and Japanese video games to identify the white-haired pretty boy with limited confidence, the kind-hearted princess in the elaborate cleavage-heavy dress, the grizzled veteran with the single symmetrical scar down one eye, and other overly common species of character.
While this could be forgiven if the gameplay was particularly compelling, even that proves uninspiring. Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time does depart from typical strategy RPGs by putting the battle on an open field with 360-degree movements for your characters, as opposed to tightly structured grids. In theory, this would make gameplay more fluid and offer greater opportunities. In practice, all it does is let you point and click where your pieces will end up, which is particularly awkward when the operation is relegated to a D-Pad and analog stick rather than a mouse. The characters on the field look bland and unanimated, as though they were relics from a 16-bit RPG. Combat isn't particularly difficult, but it gets repetitive, especially since it's initiated through monster encounters on the various maps. At least they aren't random encounters, as that would be yet another RPG cliché pitfall.
Like almost any RPG, Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is a long quest that will provide hours upon hours of gameplay. The problem, however, is the fact that the quest isn't really worth the investment of time. The PSP has no shortage of Japanese RPGs, including strategy RPGs, and even the Vita's digital store has quite a few of these games. Growlanser does what it does okay, but it's not particularly compelling, and Atlus probably shouldn't have bothered to localize it this late in the PSP's life.
GameDynamo's Score for Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time (PS Vita)
Neil Kapit is a freelance writer, cartoonist, and "La Li Lu Le Lo" agent based in Los Angeles. His work can be seen on www.therubynation.com.
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