After more than a month or so, I finally finished the original Grandia early this week. It is a game that has a few issue and shows its age, but it is a game that certainly has some great moments. Sadly, most of the moments took place in the first half of the game. While the first half of Grandia was brimming with a unique charm, the second half of the game ended up reducing the plot into a recycled cliche. In many ways, Grandia would have been better off if the developers had tossed out the Gaia plot in favor of focusing the story more strongly on Justin as an adventurer and explorer.
In the first disc of the game, the plot is centered on a very simple concept: Justin's long and difficult journey to discover the truth of the mythical civilization of Angelou and the enigmatic Icarians who were depicted in its art; a journey that is inseparable from Justin's own growth and coming of age. From the outset of the game, the plot sets up these elements: in the very beginning, Justin is just a bratty and energetic kid who dreams of becoming a famous adventurer like his father and grandfather and is fascinated by the myths of the ancient Angelou civilization. When he stumbles upon a device left behind by Angelou in an old ruin that gives him a clue to the existence of the Angelounian city of Alent, he sets out on his journey. The structure of the game from there on does a lot to emphasize the "journey": the first disk is defined by a number of points in the story where Justin makes a crossing into a new land, leaving the old places he has visited behind forever. The most remarkable of these is where Justin and company climb the End of the World, a massive wall dividing a continent no one before had ever successfully crossed on foot.
In the first half of the game, most of the fun comes from this journey and the sense of being the first one to see these things and meet these strange tribes of people. For me, one of the most memorable events in the game is when Justin and Feena (Justin's love interest) are roped into agreeing to be the couple of honor for a festival, only to discover that they just agreed to be sacrificed to a dragon. Justin's dauntless personality drives the spirit of the game early on, since while he is constantly getting the party into trouble with his reckless abandon, he also spurs the other characters on to accomplish things they never felt possible before.
Sadly, the entire mood of the game changes drastically early in the second disk. Instead, the plot begins to revolve around the ancient monster Gaia, a creature that was only vaguely hinted at in two or three scenes in the first disk. Now then, Gaia does fulfill a role: it serves as an explanation for why the Angelou civilization was destroyed and is the big bad evil thing that the heroes have to kill to get the ending credits to roll. Unfortunately, that is all that Gaia ever really is, and it ends up dragging the rest of the game down with it. Apparently, the developers thought that they needed a powerful, world-destroying evil in order to have an appropriate final boss. So, they spent most of the second disk building up Gaia as a threat by showing off towns that have been destroyed by Gaia turning everything into stone.
However, the emphasis on Gaia and the plot-lines surrounding it comes at the expense of the spirit of the game itself. There are no more grand journeys into unknown lands in the second disk: the entire thing takes place in a single area that all of the locals are pretty familiar with. Character development suffers as a whole, since the usually talkative and interesting Feena falls into a quiet, depressed mood for most of the latter half of the game, and Justin himself goes from being the driving force behind the party to being someone who needs other people to constantly be telling him where to go and what to do. The point where it becomes absolutely clear that the plot of the game has become twisted is when a certain character asks Justin why he is going to Angelou. The player has three choices: "I don't know", "To find answers about the secrets of Angelou", and "To save the world"; "To save the world" is the only correct choice. When Justin and his friends finally reach the lost Angelounian city of Alent, what should have been the grand culmination of Justin's entire journey is nothing more than a brief stop-over where the heroes don't learn anything they didn't already know.
I don't think that a "save the world from destruction" plot necessarily adds anything to a game. Grandia would have been a lot better off if had focused on a the more personal story of Justin and his journey to uncover the secrets of Angelou and become a legendary adventurer.