Growlanser III: The Dual Darkness - Playstation 2 review

Growlanser III: The Dual Darkness is like a striptease act in which the stripper starts off attractive and interesting but grows steadily revolting and boring as the clothing is shed and the same dance moves are used over and over.

Growlanser III is closely connected to the two previous Growlanser games and renders a pre-history backdrop for the future events of Growlanser I and II. This prequel shares many of the same traits as its immediate predecessor, with which it is bundled in the US release. Unfortunately, the changes made are often for the worse.

The main character, Slayn, suffers from both amnesia and silent hero syndrome. Therefore he wanders around confusedly not saying much. Of course, his past is teasingly revealed, but the astute gamer can easily deduce the storyline direction from the first quarter of the game. However tried-and-true, this storyline is the strongest point of Growlanser III, and it is enjoyable to see it played out through well thought-out character interactions.

The story does not have major branches, but players can influence Slayn’s character by choosing conversational responses. Each response adds/subtracts to Slayn’s invisible characteristic marks and ultimately will limit the methods of response; eg, it is not unusual to have five different conversation options in a given dialogue, but Slayn is only able to actually use three of them due to his previous responses. While a nice attempt at customization and showing the importance of consistent characterization, ultimately it becomes somewhat tripe to see conversation options that cannot be selected.

Veterans of Growlanser II will immediately appreciate the same basic battle system of free-moving strategy. Rings, gems, magic, and techniques all serve in their former capacity, which is nice since Growlanser II featured an excellent SRPG battle-style.

Growlanser III does make a few notable changes though. First, characters now have the option of using healing items in battle, which almost eliminates the need for healing spells since items are used much more quickly and are cheaply available. In conjunction, characters also no longer recover hit points between battles, making long-term strategy more important.

Second, the number of playable characters has been halved to four. While this does simplify battles by reducing the number of characters to keep track of, it also diminishes the joyful complexity of battle seen in Growlanser II. Third, characters can now cast magic outside of battle, in effect allowing players to beef up all party members with stat-boosting spells just prior to battle.

Fourth, characters can now perform cooperation magic - combining spells to form a more powerful spell. Oddly, these more powerful spells could be performed by a single character in Growlanser II. This further reduces the overall options for any given situation as any powerful spell requires half of the total characters and eats mana points wholesale.

Growlanser III newly features an explorable overworld map and random dungeons. The former is a nice addition, the latter is a heaping pile of dragon dung. Of special note during the overworld exploration are random battles in which there is an objective - to save an innocent creature, snatch a chest from monsters, or protect a merchant train. Each of these feature different outcomes depending on success or failure.

Dungeons consist of square rooms on a square grid, the simplest being 3×3 and ranging up to 6×6 with battles activated randomly by entering a new room. Exciting this is not. Though the auto-battle feature will save much frustration, a better design would have made dungeon exploration something more than a chore.

In overall difficulty, Growlanser III is about the same as the previous, but it is far easier to exploit. Spend a few hours in the arena, fighting the right battles, and the characters will easily become godlike and thus able to steamroll through the latter half of the game. Even without powerleveling, the difficulty is fairly easy and few battles will end in defeat.

Visually, Growlanser III is adequate, but not stunning. Anime-style characters are abundantly evident, but these characters are slightly bishonen and may not appeal to all gamers. Battle visuals are sprite based, but well-rendered.

The soundtrack is decent and serves its purpose well. Many of the same voice actors return from Growlanser II and provide mixed performances; some characterizations are spot-on, but others are weepingly terrible.

As an added bonus to those who completed Growlanser II, some characters from that game may be imported to be playable in Growlanser III. The downside to this is that it occurs so late in the game that the added characters are mostly a novelty. If character numbers had been maintained at eight playable, then this might have led to some interesting strategic options, but since there are only four slots available at any given time, it would require a significant time investment to utilize the majority of the Growlanser II characters.

Growlanser III does feature multiple endings, but they are simply variations on a single theme. Sidequests are practically nonexistent, and the replayability factor is negligible. Fans of Growlanser II are sure to want to play through to experience the storyline, but ultimately Growlanser II is a better game and since the two are packaged together, it is highly recommended to play Growlanser II first.

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