The events of The Granstream Saga are set 100 years after a cataclysmic war which saw the earth literally torn asunder after a terrible and forbidden ancient weapon was used to try to turn the tide. The misuse of the weapon caused damage to the very core of the planet, set off chain reactions that caused the planet’s axis to shift and melt the polar ice caps! And you thought global warming was bad!
Four Wise Men living above the clouds in their mystical floating tower-like fortress called Airlim, used their elemental orbs of power, each imbued with Fire, Water, Wind and Earth, to power Airlim enough to raise up four continents in an effort to save the world and its people from total annihilation. A job well done at the time, however for the next 100 years the four Wise Men would have to periodically recharge Airlim with those orbs of power, choosing successors to carry on their work.
Our story unfolds during a time of uncertainty and fear as the Wise Men of this age have started to disappear and the four continents have begun a slow dreaded decent into the abysmal seas below. As with any good anime-styled RPG, our protagonist is a naïve boy with brightly coloured hair, and a sense of adventure only matched by the fear of failing said adventure. In a beautifully animated cutscene, our hero Eon and his adopted father Valos, welcome us to the continent of Shilf by cutting a large chunk of it right off, using magic, so that the continent can stay afloat for longer. A creative method to delay the inevitable.
Afterwards, Valos learns of a missing boy and after a locating spell, and quest to find him, Eon’s own destiny begins to unfold as he encounters the spirit of one of the Wise Men. The Wise Man asks you to find and help his daughter to perform the necessary steps needed to use the orb, and to safely raise the continents once more. From this point on, you meet various diverse and interesting characters (again with brightly coloured hair in some cases, as you would expect) which vow to aid you on your quest for various reasons, including a cute little bird like creature with horns called Korky, who claims to be a Spirit Beast (guess what you find out later…). Think Navi from The Legend Of Zelda, only slightly less annoying.
We are often introduced to these characters during really smoothly animated anime-style cutscenes, which break up the gameplay at important plot points. The Granstream Saga was one of the very first fully polygon RPG’s to hit the Playstation, however this wasn’t without its consequences as all rendered character models had no faces and the frame rate even suffered from time to time. Combat escapes the traditional RPG turn-based format in favour of an action orientated real-time battle system. When you encounter an enemy, which you can see wondering the map, the camera pans down and you enter a fighting stance.
Using various weapons such as swords, axes and warhammers, along side shields and magic, you have to time your blocks and counters well to succeed, as simply try to hack and slash will just get you killed, rather quickly. Whilst I found combat movement quite clunky (even for its 1997 release) and sidestepping was often slow and infuriating, the combat as a whole felt very rewarding and presented a decent challenge. A perfect example of this was the Mimic; a classic treasure chest type creature that would fool you into thinking you were about to get your next favourite sword, instead to be greeted by insidious rows of razor-sharp teeth.
I personally believe that The Granstream Saga was an ambitious action-rpg, and while I enjoyed the challenge of the combat mechanics, it may have been just a little before its time for some, as the repetitive nature of block and countering was slandered back then (not so much now with the likes of Dark Souls 3 or The Witcher 3, even if it has come a long way). Thanks to the strength of the undeniably impressive and immersive narrative however, the game shone as a beacon of things to come for future action-RPG’s.