Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time
Developer: Career Soft Release Date: July 31, 2012
Publisher: Atlus ESRB Rating: T
Platforms: PSP MSRP: US$29.99

Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time certainly lives up to its name, taking almost 10 years to come to North America. The game first saw life as Growlanser IV on Japanese PlayStation 2s in December 2003. The game has been revamped with some gameplay additions and new songs, but how does this decade-old strategy RPG hold up as we approach the end of the PSP’s life cycle?

In Wayfarer of Time, you follow the protagonist Crevanille, who was orphaned (Surprise!) and ends up a mercenary. Dixon, leader of the band of mercenaries, made sure that Crevanille got plenty of combat training growing up, but always kept him safe because he was told that Crevanille is the key to saving the world. After an encounter with a mysterious Angel, whose destructive tendencies are reminiscent of their Old Testament namesakes, Crevanille and his compatriot Remus must set off to find out why the Angels have resurfaced after 2000 years and determine how they can stop them before they destroy the entire human race. After what seems to be a rather slow start out of the gate, the rest of the game allows you to explore much of Noyeval’s warring nations and offers a branching storyline with a decent number of plot twists along the way. You’ll find a plethora of dialogue tree options which will determine your fate and your relationships with other characters. Combine that with what is said to be over 40 endings in all, and you get a game that offers plenty of replay value from a story standpoint. Considering that the game offers 50 or more hours of gameplay, the ability to skip through dialogue definitely comes in handy after a few playthroughs, too.

You meet Crevanille and Remus right at the start, and you can eventually recruit a total of 11 characters into your party. You’ll only use four characters at a time in battle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t develop relationships with the rest of the party. Through a combination of in-story dialogue and the furlough system, you can flesh out all the characters’ backstories. In between major events, you’ll be able to take time with your allies, improving their relationships and eventually unlocking special endings and items. It’s impossible to win over everyone’s hearts and see all the story points in one fell swoop, but these furloughs will go a long way. As a result of these relationship mechanics, Wayfarer of Time does a decent job developing most of the character relationships in a fairly natural way, though some of the characters are a little stranger than others.

Real-time strategy battles keep things interesting.

Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time also features a system where you gain and raise a familiar. Based on certain questions you’re asked, you’ll be given a familiar, a small sprite-like creature that can boost abilities as well as search for treasure, detect friendship levels, give the main character a psychic-like remote viewing ability and more. There are four types of familiar available,  each having variations in stat boosts, personality and looks. In order to strengthen your familiar and teach it new skills, you place it in a “Dollhouse.” You can then upgrade the familiar’s abilities through energy gained from battle and various crystals, which then helps your main character get better in the long run.

It should be noted that making your character better can be both a little simpler and a little more complex than normal. There are the classic RPG stats which control magic, physical strength,  and defense, but there is also a movement stat which controls your speed in battle. In addition, instead of having to search out weapons for each character, they can all use interchangeable rings which then turn into their weapon of choice, be it a sword, bow or otherwise. These rings have slots associated with them for spells, skills and passive boosts, and these slots level up as you fight, allowing for stronger skillstones and spellstones to be inserted. The complexity comes from figuring out if one character is best suited for a ring with a 10 HP boost and 3 skill slots or a 6 HP boost, two skill slots and a passive slot, etc., as you’ll have no shortage of rings looted from enemies sitting around to equip. Instead of having a clear progression from one weapon to the next like many RPGs, you’ll find that sometimes upgrading weapons takes a little more forethought and time. Other than the rings and their slots, there is only one general armor slot, making shopping and upgrading your armor much simpler than most other games, and you’ll need to keep yourself up to date or you’ll get thrashed in some of the story battles.

The battle system in Wayfarer of Time is an mix of strategy and traditional RPG elements. You control individual characters on a gridless map where they must walk up to enemies to perform melee attacks and spells take a given amount of time to cast, giving it much more of a real-time strategy feel. This also means that you can use the terrain to your advantage, which will be necessary when you’re facing off against foes who will outclass you unless you are an insane experience grinder. There are times where running over to a switch and bringing up a barrier is a far better use of resources than fighting head on. You can also set all of your allies to auto-battle or you can select each person’s action individually. These can include attacking, casting a spell, using a skill or setting a movement plan. The nice thing about setting a path in Wayfarer of Time is that you can pick multiple destination points, so if you need to move in a wide arc around an obstacle or strong enemy you can set a path that keeps your character out of harm’s way. You can also alter tactics at the push of a button, so if a surprise enemy joins the battle, you can immediately order your team to change their battle plans. When you let the AI have control of your allies, it does a decent job of letting them fight, but there are times you’ll find yourself wishing that it would just hurry up. That’s perhaps the biggest complaint against the battle system: even though it has been sped up over the PS2 version, it still feels a little slow at times. It doesn’t lag, the game just takes its sweet time getting the job done sometimes, which can get a little annoying if you’re impatient.

One thing that can help during long waits is the music, but the soundtrack to Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is solid at best. As with almost every game, there will be one or two pieces that will grate on you after 50 hours, but overall it’s pretty mediocre; there just won’t be any tracks that you’ll find yourself humming after you get done playing. The animated scenes feature some voice acting, but the rest of the dialogue is text-based, which further conveys the old-school feel of the game. Overall, while the audio is not horrible it does leave a little something to be desired.

The stark contrast between sprites and portraits, plus the lack of appropriate military attire.

Unfortunately, since this was a port of a 2003 PS2 game, the graphics are a little dated, too, especially when the sprites are compared against the character portraits during dialog and the animated scenes. The game features an isometric view with 2-D sprites, which may be a turn-off to those who prize graphical perfection as there are times where the character sprites and backgrounds are just too pixellated to ignore. The portraits and animations, on the other hand, look great, but some of the clothing designs suffer from being too out there. Once you get over members of the army wearing overly revealing and gaudy outfits, you’ll appreciate the quality of the art used for the portraits and animations.

If you can look past the dated graphics and lack of voice acting, Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is a great reason to pick up your dust-collecting PSP. While I haven’t tried personally, the game is also reported to run on the Vita, which is suffering from a lack of RPGs at the moment. Either way, it’s easy to see why many fans of the Growlanser series consider this to be one of their favorites.

Graphics: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
Story: ★★★★★★★★☆☆
Gameplay: ★★★★★★★★☆☆
Audio: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆
Balance/Difficulty: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Intangibles: ★★★★★★★★★☆
Overall: ★★★★★★★½☆☆

So how does our rating system work? Read more here.

Full disclosure: This game was reviewed using a copy provided by Atlus.

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  • Mario Flores

    Ah, Growlancer…. I went to Gamestop and saw it on a shelf. I looked closer at the cover and the back and it seemed kinda fan servicy, which made me assume it was one of those meh-to-average0 RPGs so I left it behind. Now I kinda regret that…

  • tanto

    “Unfortunately, since this was a port of a 2003 PS2 game, the graphics are a little dated, too, ”

    what the fuck does this mean?

    • @tanto,
      By dated, I mean the sprites show their age. The graphics could have been improved to smooth the pixellation, but instead the game looks like it’s 10 years old. If you look at the picture above that line, you can see the contrast between the character portraits and the in-game sprites.

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