Developer: Career Soft / Publisher: Atlus / Played on: PSP / Price: $29.99 / ESRB: Teen (Suggestive Themes, Blood, Mild Language, Fantasy Violence)
Hold on tight PSP fans, another tactical RPG is upon us. Published by Atlus, Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is the fourth chapter in the Growlanser series, but only the third time Americans have been able to get their hands on the franchise. Touting hours upon hours of gameplay and 40 unique endings, Wayfarer of Time promised to be one of the last great PSP strategy games to be released. That’s why it’s disappointing the game is just mediocre.
Wayfarer of Time has a very familiar setting for RPG fans: a war torn land must put aside differences and unite to conquer an incoming annihilation. You play as Crevanille, a young man found in the ruins of a past civilization and raised by a band of mercenaries. Life is dandy until one day when an angel appears in the sky and obliterates an entire battlefield. Before long you make the connection that the population of humans killed 2,000 years ago were terminated by angels, and come to the realization that history may be repeating itself. Good thing then that you, Crevanille, the oddly named boy found in a dilapidated ruin, is the prophesized hero who will save all mankind from absolute doom. I felt the story was sort of cheesy and predictable, namely because it follows a lot of what has already been seen and done in other RPGs, but the characters and storytelling are still top notch. NPCs, enemies, and friends alike all have great personalities, oftentimes emitting genuine emotion that makes it all the more difficult to see them die (spoilers be damned). Wayfarer of Time incorporates player choice in many dialogue situations, prompting you to choose from a handful of responses. Depending on what you choose, characters will like or dislike you, resulting in one of 40 possible endings. At one moment you may be really pumped and eager to get to the next part of the story, but the slow and sometimes dry gameplay sections bring you down from that high fast. The story is the best part of the game, and while it too can drag on when talking about politics and diplomacy between nations, it hits its stride when time gets intense and the land’s destruction is literally flying overhead.
Not quite an RPG, not quite a tactical game, Wayfarer of Time can best be described as a RPG/RTS hybrid. You form a party of up to five characters, and these characters can equip a variety of weapons and armor. Entering a fight brings up the battle menu where you can input commands for your party members to execute, like attacking, casting spells, using an item, or simply moving to another part of the battlefield. Grinding out levels to become strong enough to beat the newest evil denizen of the land is sometimes necessary. All standard stuff for RPG buffs.
But there is also a tactical side to each battle. Your party moves and attacks in real time, meaning after you assign a command they will move into position and do whatever it is you told them. Instead of being bound to a grid like in other tactical RPGs, characters are free to roam about the entire map, taking advantage of cover and escaping from the enemy’s reach. Each party member will continue to do what it is you told them to do until either their target is dead or you issue them a new command. In this sense your party members feel more like units from a tactics game than player characters from an RPG. This tactical approach to combat combined with the RPG elements listed above make for an interesting mix of strategy and brute strength.
Unfortunately, battles are the weakest part of the entire game. Most scuffles can be overcome by simple melee attacks. Though you may spend time upgrading your spells, you’ll most likely just swing swords and fire arrows to win. The game throws a curve at you periodically with missions which present you with specific win conditions, like escape before time runs out or protect innocent civilians. These instances offer some variety to the formula, but they don’t fix the problem of repetitive battles and boring gameplay. With the game clocking in at several dozen hours, and many more than that if you want to see multiple endings, it is a chore to play through the game’s dryer portions.
Wayfarer of Time is also one of the more difficult tactical games I’ve played. Expect to die over and over again. What is likely to happen is you will be presented with a special win condition, you’ll lose for X, Y, or Z reason, and then you’ll go back into the battle with the knowledge you just gained from the loss and inch closer to victory. With save points only being available on the world map and at Inns, you can also expect to restart many missions from the beginning, losing all unsaved progress. Casual gamers need not apply, but then again these types of games cater directly to fans of the series, and if you are a fan of these types of RPGs, Wayfarer of Time will be a welcome title to play.
One of the first things I thought of when I started the game was, “Wow, this looks like it came straight from the PS2.” Little did I know that the game actually did come from the PS2. Wayfarer of Time is a port of the PS2 game previously only released in Japan. As such, the in-game animations are a bit on the pixilated side. Objects often blend in with the background, and it can be hard to determine what is a door and what is just a decoration. This is particularly a problem when trying to find a certain house in a town or when hunting for a small object in a dungeon. Fortunately the anime-inspired character portraits and cutscenes save the game from being a total letdown visually. The expressive demeanor on each rugged warrior or ridiculously disproportional woman is *ahem* a pleasure on the eyes. As far as handhelds go Wayfarer of Time looks decent, but the old looking visuals are just that: dated.
A unique blend of turn based and real time battles is squandered on bland battles and a pacing that is far too slow. The visuals are both pretty and retro, with the beautiful anime-styled character portraits and cutscenes foiled by the pixilated gameplay visuals. Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is a game made with a target audience in mind. If you are a fan of tactical RPGs and like to be beat up by a game’s difficulty, then Wayfarer of Time is perfect for you. For everyone else though, the game does nothing that hasn’t already been done and can be passed by for better games in the genre.