Growlanser IV: Wayfarer of Time Review

Growlanser IV: Wayfarer of Time (Available only on PlayStation Portable and PSN)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Strategy RPG
Publisher: ATLUS
Developer: Career Soft
Release Date: July 31st, 2012

Note: This game is playable on PlayStation Vita.

Parent Talk: Growlanser is a complex strategy-based role-playing game. There are mild sexual references and some profanity, but because of the relatively simple graphics, there isn’t any gore or blood to worry about. Some younger players may have a difficult time playing the game because of some of the more difficult battles. You do not have to play previous games in the series to understand or enjoy this game; it is a stand-alone product.

Plays Like: A mix of turn-based strategy games, like Final Fantasy Tactics, and real-time action. Characters do not move on a grid-style chessboard, but instead move freely about the area; movement speed varies between characters.

Review Basis: Played for 60 hours, completed the main adventure, and watched several of the endings.

Growlanser Generations was a pleasant surprise on the PlayStation 2. I imagine many North American gamers are unfamiliar with the series, just as I was when that game arrived. After playing it and enjoying the unique blend of strategy and real-time combat, I came to appreciate the series. Hopefully even more will come to enjoy it considering how excellent Wayfarer of Time is.

The Great: A memorable adventure. Like the PSP-exclusive role-playing game The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, Growlanser IV succeeds not because of significant contribution to the genre or thoughtful innovations, but simply because it is a memorable, well-crafted adventure. Many (unfairly) criticize JRPGs of being stale, repetitive, and linear. WoT is excellent evidence to the contrary, with its excellent characters, great relationship system, non-linear storyline, and branching dialog. How you choose to play the game, how you choose to interact with other characters, and what your preferences are shape the adventure. Characters may live or die based on your choices, characters may enter or leave your party, and you can even fall in love.

Many gamers may be reminded of the Persona series, which is a fair assumption. However, the branching dialog trees are more pronounced here, with more significant changes to the story. In Persona, you are largely tasked with time management; in Growlanser, the game conforms to your preferences. However, unlike most Western RPGs of this ilk, you cannot customize or change the appearance of your characters. I personally prefer the existing designs because of the excellent artwork from Satoshi Urushihara, so I see this as more of a matter of preference.

The Good:

+ An interesting combat system. WoT mixes together elements of turn-based and real-time action. Players choose each character’s actions based on her or her position in the lineup, but characters move and act based on their movement speed and reaction time. These statistics can be improved by leveling up characters and equipping stones, but that’s only scratching the surface. Characters also have magic spells and skills (called knacks), in addition to unique abilities granted by stones.

Many situations do not simply ask for the player to take out all enemies; other times, players must escort a character safely across the battlefield, stop someone from escaping, recapture an area, etc. This adds a definite element of strategy of the game. Furthermore, battles can be completed without fulfilling the primary objectives, which leads to the possibility of multiple outcomes. You can choose to save someone or let that person die.

+ Many events, many possibilities. It’s simply impossible to see every even that the game has to offer the first time through the adventure. Interacting with characters opens up a wide array of options. If you speak carefully and are perceptive of character traits, it’s possible to have many of your teammates open up to you. Doing so not only makes them more prone to like you, but also gives you the chance to unlock unique events. Between major story events, you can take the time to relax and enjoy a nice furlough period. Doing so will give you time to talk to characters, go to an art gallery, take in the sights, enjoy a play, etc.

Sometimes, these bonus events actually open up interesting side quests and special events. Learning about a character’s past gives insight on how to significantly change that character’s fate, hopefully for the better. This is personally one of my favorite parts of the game, because it makes the characters and the adventure more personal and more genuine. Fans of the Persona series should especially enjoy this element of the game.

+ Length and replayability. As stated before, there are 40 possible endings, many alternate story routes, and many options for character interaction. The main scenario is rather straightforward, but each successive play through will provide new insights on many of the game’s characters (of which there are many)! Not only that, but the game will take a significant amount of time to complete even once. It’s easy to spend about 50 hours just to complete the game one time. That’s nothing to scoff at.

+ Excellent characters, character designs, and artwork. Satoshi Urushihara’s artwork is one of the many, many reasons to appreciate this game. Character portraits are intricately detailed and given a wide variety of expressions; the animation is limited, but the character portraits and special scenes are a joy to look at. All of this would be moot of course if the characters were dull and uninteresting in conversation, but thankfully they contribute frequently and I genuinely wanted to talk to the characters.

The So-So:

+ Music is good, but somewhat forgettable.

+ Character sprites are decent. They lack the punch of the remastered Final Fantasy games, but they at least stand out from the blurry backgrounds.

The Bad:

-The game starts slow. As a word of warning to everyone considering playing this game: make sure you stick it through. The beginning of the game is interesting, but the first act does drag a bit (at the academy, for instance).  However, once new characters are introduced and some of the drama unfolds (and some more of the game options open up), everything gets much more interesting. It would be sad to dismiss the game because of a slow start, because at the end of the game, I found myself attached to the game world and the characters in it.

-Some battles can be plagued with slowdown in some of the more hectic battles.

The Ugly:

-The field graphics are a blurry mess. It can be hard to distinguish some pathways because of how crowded the areas can be, especially if there are objects, foliage, etc., in the way. Many times, the areas are just rather bland and uninteresting to look at. The artwork is absolutely fantastic and is certainly one of the game’s selling points, but the same cannot be said for the field graphics.

The Lowdown:

Wayfarer of Time is definitely worth picking up if you need a reason to keep your PSP around or if you’re looking for content on the Vita. The series is one of my cult favorites because of its compelling blend of tactical strategy and simulation gameplay. If you’re a fan of JRPGs, especially the Persona series, this is one worth your time.

Score: 8/10

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