RPG Review #74: Growlanser III: The Dual Darkness

NuMetalManiak Who's ready for yet another tactical RPG review? I realize that the last three games have been this, although Growlanser, the spiritual successor to Langrisser, had different mechanics from it and everything. Growlanser III is the third of the series, and also the second disc of the English-translated Working Designs version in Growlanser Generations. Good going there. A lot of similarities in game engine here, but quite a few differences. Unfortunately, it turns out this game is another sequel in name only, as it is another one of those games taking place way before the other ones did.

Gameplay: So overall gameplay is a lot like Growlanser II. Read my review for that one (it's #57) if you want the overall gist. On the other hand, there's plenty of notable differences. For one, there is an actual world map to navigate in (and standard random battle rates do apply), and you can even explore in towns as well. The party size goes down from eight to four, possibly for that reason, and it's also possible to arrange characters in any order. LOTS of sidequests are present here, and unlike the previous game, there's not a lot in terms of in-game time limits, so I didn't have to hurry things up this time. Oh yes, and there's dungeons to explore too, They way they work is that they are randomized square rooms in a grid, and then sometimes enemies are around. Either sneak past them, or just fight them. Should be simple. Also there's sometimes treasure chests to find, but enemies can sometimes go for them too. Story battles are still a thing, with several different Mission Complete protocols or Game Over protocols.

One particular area of the game serves as a local hub for characters to hang around in, so you get apartments, a shop, a lab, a detective agency, and an arena to play around in. The apartments are where the characters stay, where you can build relationship values and all that. Overall though, this game is a lot more lenient than The Sense of Justice, maybe for the better. Grade: A

Slayn Wilder: The white-haired protagonist of the game, and also a silent protagonist. Wields a huge sword and is good all around. Oddly, he is a Spirit Messenger, and possesses a soul of someone presumed dead inside him, one of Gray Gilbert. In some cutscenes, his other half, Gray, actually talks.
Annette Burns: Sharp-dressed daughter of a Federation president, apparently a good friend of Gray's. In battle, she's a physical tank without much of magic ability.
Hugh Foster: Here's the comic relief guy. Don't know what's up with him, but at least he's a good guy. Wields a sword and is a lot like Slayn, both gameplay-wise and story-wise.
Monika Allenford: She's the daughter of a human and a Featherian (winged person), and she has a set of wings but doesn't fly. She wields throwing knives, and mechanically is similar to Hans from the previous game. Some magic ability, but low MP.
Viktor Hugo: He speaks in Russian accent, he resembles a real-life Victor Hugo in name and character design. Oh and he's a scientist. He's surprisingly not strong physically, but can shoot from a range and use magic real well.
Yayoi Tachibana: First look at her and I thought it was Rei Hino. She's another Spirit Messenger like Slayn and Hugh, out for vengeance. The highest magical ability plus a bow wielder make her most similar to Charlone from the previous game.
Raimy: She's not playable, but then again, plays roles in the plot as a dark fairy around Slayn. She speaks in third-person, and is only seen by three of the main cast. Also she's one of those familiars that is in every Growlanser game except the second.

And that's just the six main playable characters. There's a number of plot-relevant ones as well, and sometimes a fifth slot is open for a guest character (important for some battles because they need to survive them). Also, it's possible to import any character from Growlanser II except Sereb if they have a clear file from that game. This is done with some space-time thing that Viktor does in the plot, and it's kinda cool, but given the party size is now four instead of eight, there's probably not a whole lot of use. Like always though, Growlanser's characters tend to be decent. Grade: A

Plot: As I said before, this is a prequel game, so things are very much different. Given the name of the title, it's also a pretty dark game, in more ways than one. Several places exist, including the central Schelfengrif empire currently in civil war, the currently deserted Rolandia kingdom (Burnstein and other places are not explored), the Xironia federation where the game starts, and Xironia's main adversary, the Aggressival Empire. Schelfengrif is in a state of war between two factions, the James faction and the Theodora faction, while Aggressival attacks Xironia quite a few times.

Slayn wakes up like a few other RPG protagonists, with amnesia, and in a bed, not by some mother, but by Annette. Not much else can be said now, but he helps out in the fights against Aggressival. In the meantime, there's also this assassin named Randolf, apparently the one responsible for killing Gray (in flashbacks). Along the plot, Hugh joins the group, as does Monika, and we also meet a dashing swordsman Orpheus Liedbulk and his sister Michelle. Michelle deserves special mention as a character, she's got some fatal condition that prevents her from leaving her room, which is integral in the story and her ending. Yes, this game has multiple endings, most of which involve the playable characters with the best relationship values to Slayn, but Michelle is a notable exception, which is why I ended up taking this path.

Monika explains about Featheria Isle, as well as some weird goal of the Featherians to leave the dark world behind. Those people end up never seen again (but then again, they don't die, thankfully). Their progress is briefly halted by a few enemies, notably Barbara, a court magician working with the James faction, the mysterious Clive, as well as Zion, who is more than he seems. In the end, they make it, but the player characters are still on the ground, along with Viktor, who ended up left behind. While heading back to Xironia, we meet Yayoi for the first time, who awakens the spirit of Gray within Slayn along with Hugh. These three characters by the way are the only ones who can see and converse with Raimy, and as it turns out, they are all Spirit Messengers.

The party agrees to help a Theodora sect general, Kenneth Reimon, through the battlefields. Meanwhile, Yayoi is looking for Barbara, who's real name is Simone. Also apparently Theodora gets assassinated in due time, while Aggressival makes a false alliance with the Theodora troops and then takes them hostage. Also a trip to a dark mountain reveals that Slayn is in fact a Dark Lord (no not Voldemort).

Lord Granford, or rather his son, decides to help out the main group against a common goal, against what Zion is attempting to do, which is gather 50000 souls. Everyone will agree to this plan, and soon, several other characters get in on this. Vincent Kreuzweir, a James sect general, joins this group after hearing the truth, and eventually helps out against his old friend Orpheus. Here's where the sidequest involving Michelle pays off. Helping her out and curing her of illness leads to Orpheus's survival, which will end up leading to Barbara...er...Simone's survival as well. At the end, of course, Zion is the last one to fall, and eventually we find out that Slayn needs to die to preserve the soul of Gray inside him. Another possible subplot can occur here, which is if Viktor knew how to create a homunculus, ultimately both Slayn and Gray will survive. Surprisingly, for a Growlanser game, there's no actual branching points in this one, but even if it's linear and even if it takes place well before the previous games timewise, it's not bad. Grade: B+

Music: Generally speaking, good. Nothing completely out of the ordinary though, each track goes well with whatever mood is conveyed. So dungeon track for dungeon atmosphere, town track for town atmosphere. I was hoping for some returns of songs from the previous Growlanser game, and only found one, but either way, at least this one wasn't too bad. Grade: B+

Overall Grade: A-

Well that was a terrible grade. Turns out all of the grades I gave here were the exact same ones I gave for Growlanser II. Whatever, both games were pretty good and I enjoyed them. The game engine's the same, but there's differences, but all in all, both were worth it. Good job Working Designs. Who knows if I'll go play another one in the series. Like Langrisser, not much in translations, but at least this series has moreso.