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Every once in a while, I’ll talk about a hidden gem; I’ll discuss a game I was fortunate enough to discover as a kid, but sometimes, there are gems among gems. The Granstream Saga is definitely in that category, but this is not a game I played as a kid. Though the game was released for Play Station in North America way back in 1998, which means I was 15-years-old, I did not discover this game until late 2016.
First, I need to state clearly that no one is supposed to download trademarked games to their computers without owning a hard copy of the game, but you can often buy a hard copy of a game on Amazon or Ebay for pennies on the dollar, especially when the game is damaged or doesn’t work properly, but I digress….
I was perusing emuparadise just to search for games of which I had never heard. There was nothing in particular I wanted. I’ve played pretty much every NES and Famicom game, probably most SNES and Super Famicom games, and frankly, I just don’t like Sega games, with very few exceptions from the Dreamcast, so I found myself searching through Play Station titles and came across The Granstream Saga. I did a quick Google search to see what kind of game it was and found out it was as action-role playing, and published in North America by THQ, no less; I like that company.
After a quick download, I “sampled” it to make sure it was worth buying, and after ordering a hard copy, I went ahead and began playing the game. With no real expectations, I came to find one of the most appealing Play Station games ever. It may not be as memorable as Final Fantasy 7; it may not be as versatile as X-Com; it may not be as complex as Front Mission 3, but The Granstream Saga is everything a well crafted game should be.
The game opens with a beautiful, anime style, cut scene. The hero of the story, Eon, and his mentor are preparing to destroy a portion of the hovering island on which they live in order to lighten the load and keep it from falling into the abyss. After a massive chunk of land begins to crack and separate, Eon notices a nest of baby birds are in danger, and he risks his life to save them. Then, the game goes on to relate that the continent of Shilf is of the air elemental, that there are four lands, that whatever is keeping them afloat in the sky is going bad, and eventually it becomes Eon’s business to save the four continents.
The in game graphics are perfect for its time; it has a hint of King’s Field to it. Everything may still be polygonal, but the colors are bight and distinctive, and everything looks like what it’s supposed to look like. The animation is smooth. There are numerous enemies and many of them look different whether they have different weapons, different armor, different claws, or colors.
Perhaps more important than graphics, at least to me, is the music. The composers, Kōhei Tanaka, Masanori Hikichi, Miyoko Takaoka, and Takako Ochiai created quite a few distinct tracks that truly capture the essence of the game, the story, and the world. Bad music can really break a game, I think, more so than bad graphics, but The Granstream Saga is an auditory delight. Moreover, there are ominous points during the story line when the music brings the mood to life, and only a handful of games can boast this quality.
Another facet of this game that I really like is the way in which you grow more powerful. In most rpgs, you kill enemies, gain experience points, receive gold, buy equipment, and so forth. In The Granstream Saga, you gain levels when you reach specified points in the story line; an event occurs, and then “you feel a strange power overcome your body”, and you gain a level, but you can also find items that provide you with more life bars, so search all dungeons thoroughly.
Finally, the story is mostly original. I mean, the idea of four continents based on four elementals—wind, water, fire, and earth—isn’t really original, but the presentation is, and that’s what’s important. Great writing doesn’t have to be original; it just needs to be presented in a unique fashion.
As with many games released in the 90s, it’s a little short. You can plow through the game in about 20 hours, but there are two endings. However, the game diverges very late, so you can presumably create an alternate save point near the end of the game, beat it to achieve one ending, and then play from the alternate save for about five hours and achieve the second ending. It might be even less than five hours depending on how much you wish to accomplish.
The Granstream Saga also lacks a new game plus feature, which is prevalent today. It also lacks online features, but I can’t imagine that would have been helpful. Furthermore, the “hidden items” you can obtain aren’t really very useful.
Once you reach a certain point in the game, you can begin to collect certain items by defeating a certain number of enemies in a row without using magic or taking damage. This is nearly impossible. I’ve never accomplished this feat, and frankly what you can receive for your titanic efforts pales in comparison to what you can receive right at the beginning of the game. There are some special items hidden throughout the game, but the best item can be gotten right away if you know where, and how, to look, so while you might want to be a collector and find every piece of equipment, the toughest pieces to acquire are of very little value.
Despite minor drawbacks, The Granstream Saga remains one of my favorite Play Station games and gets an A from me. The game has a lot of emotion; you’ll chuckle, you’ll smile, you might even get teary eyed.