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Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time
Score: 80%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Career Soft
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/ Classic/Retro/ Strategy

Graphics & Sound:
This is going to sound like a Yogi Berra line, but the problem with nostalgia is that itís never quite like you remember it... Playing a game on PSP is surreal enough, considering how far the hardware has taken us, but itís fitting that Sonyís handheld is mostly in the realm of nostalgia these days. Itís also fitting that Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time dates back to the days before the PSP, circa 2003. In that sense, this is a fitting marriage. We certainly wonít complain about having a full-fledged RPG on a mobile platform, and the PSP hardware is more than adequate for displaying the gameís graphics, including some anime cut-scenes that pop up between chapters. For gamers looking to recapture the subtle thrills of classic RPGs that were such staples for PlayStation (as it was called at the time) and PlayStation 2, Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is a great trip down memory lane.

The epic nature of the game means youíll travel far and see lots of territory, reflected in varied backgrounds and colorful NPCs. Some nice features that would have been impressive at the time included an interactive map that zoomed down to show you territory, a la Google Earth. The animation is good, and the character models that pop up to deliver dialogue are drawn in quality manga style. Cut scenes have spoken dialogue, but youíll be reading other dialogue during the game. The volume of discussion and Q&A throughout Wayfarer of Time is impressive. It can hurt pacing, but youíll be hard pressed to remember a game that went into such depth, or offered so much on-screen interaction.


Gameplay:
With some RPGs, thereís just no summarizing the story or making sense of what goes on from the beginning to the end credits. Wayfarer of Time is actually a pretty simple tale, albeit with some fantastic elements. A warrior, inexperienced but passionate about fighting for a cause, finds himself pitted against a group of powerful creatures once responsible for the destruction of humanity. Thrust in the role, youíll play as the hero who emerges to sweep away the seemingly all-powerful threat, by uncovering a power thousands of years old. The mix of old and new reminded us a bit of Xenogears, not to mention the now classic trope of mixing magic with technology. Itís not derivative for a game from 2003, but gamers whoíve lived and played through the progression of RPG titles canít help but find this a bit predictable.

Whether you embrace this emotion will dictate how much you enjoy Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time. Itís an impressive production that combines the best elements of so many RPG titles, including the Final Fantasy series. Unlike the more linear approach to storytelling taken by FF, Wayfarer of Time throws a huge number of meaningful choices at the player. Dialogue, even small talk, adds up to become the relationships between characters in your party. These relationships can influence the flow and ending of the game. All the little nuances make for a more interesting journey, and encourage you to seek out NPC interaction, rather than jet through every town. The combat system has a similar depth to it, although you may end up in fewer battles since they can be avoided. Players who like the tactical approach, with party management and lots of complicated exchange of magic and equipment, will go wild for Wayfarer of Time. The flip side is that this game is a tough nut to crack for the uninitiated.


Difficulty:
Luckily, the combat isnít too difficult, based on a careful approach and smart inventory management. Avoiding battles cuts both ways. It addresses the problemo numero uno that most veteran RPG players find, which is the profusion of endless random battles required to get ahead. Grinding works up to a point, but gamers that have become accustomed to more nuanced balancing of enemies and bosses may be tempted to skip battles. Youíll need to spend time leveling up in order to avoid bottoming out with more advanced enemies. If youíre not careful, you can die quickly and lose party members without careful planning. Stocking up on potions is still a good strategy, at least until you learn your way around the right spells. Other tactics youíll learn are movement around the battlefield and defensive options.

Wayfarer of Time throws battles at you from a top-down perspective, forcing you to think about spacing out your party and more effectively leveraging the layout of each warrior. Escape from battle literally involves running off the screen, compared to the one-click approach taken by RPGs featuring "breakaway" battles. The equipment used by each character can have a pretty profound impact on battle outcomes, considering items level up and can be combined to augment charactersí strengths or make up for weakness. The first few hours of the game are almost entirely exposition and tutorials presented under the guise of another character coaching your character. This lessens the pain, but it does hurt a bit to find out two hours into a game that there are still plenty of things you donít know.


Game Mechanics:
If weíve made Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time sound like a a specialist's hobby, itís partly because of how simple modern RPGs have made things for players. Wayfarer of Time doesnít overcomplicate things, but gives players lots of options for customization. Youíll spend a lot of time clicking through dialogue during the game, but the battles can be fought on autopilot by tapping the Start button. You generally only do this to facilitate a grinding session, but itís an option you have. If you donít use this auto-battle feature, each round of play requires a menu choice. The days of smooth controls that never tear you away from the flow of battle were later than 2003. For this game, youíll be doing a lot of menu management before, during, and after battles.

We really fell for the trip down memory lane that one takes during Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time. Itís a big commitment, but players looking for something meaty and retro will be thrilled. The more casual RPG or tactical gaming fans will have to decide whether the gameís retro visuals are a deterrent. If you can see past the dated graphics, thereís a fantastic game experience in here, complete with some really involved script and story development. Possibly because of all the choices youíre allowed to make in your interactions and relationships with other characters, the sprites you control in Wayfarer of Time seem more lifelike. Youíre invested in them in a way that transcends fancy graphics and new-fangled mechanics. What you get here is a great slice of gaming as it existed in 2003, transposed to a medium that allows you to get out of your living room and play anywhere, at anytime.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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