I've actually not played Growlanser before this title. I am a huge fan of JRPGs in general, especially those with an element of strategy. While this game is not as strategy oriented as Final Fantasy Tactics, Jeanne d'Arc, or Gungnir (which was an amazing game), but it does have a little bit of strategy to the battles beyond the normal ATB style hack-fest battles popularized by Final Fantasy.
So speaking of battles, they are actually quite enjoyable. You have the ability to set your allies on AUTO attack, but you can also give them various commands. What makes the system work is that when an ally executes the commands to the point that command is no longer valid, the queue pops open for you to give the next command or set auto. So if you have someone attacking one specific enemy, and that enemy dies, then it queues you to enter a new command (unless on auto). The same goes for if you are moving and you reach your target. Also, when moving, your ally will automatically attack those in his/her way. Makes battles fluid and fun. There is an ATB style gauge that fills when attacks are executed then winds down, when down to zero the next command is executed. Think a cross between Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy 7 during the Fort Condor battles and you get the rough idea.
The storyline is where this game shines. So many modern RPGs sacrifice story for gameplay (not necessarily a bad thing), but rarely nowadays are there great stories in a game with solid gameplay. Perhaps because this was actually a December 2003 release on PS2 originally? (But the port from PS2 to PSP was well done.) And the story is very interesting and complex: basically the Angles come in to thin out humanity's numbers when they get too powerful. It reminds me of the story of the anime Record of Lodoss War. Also, the game is rumored (though Atlus USA is the source of that 'rumor') to have 40 endings. Yes. FORTY. Add to this all of the additional content and you have a game worth playing multiple times. It's been awhile since a game had this kind of story that wasn't as cinematic and deep as say Final Fantasy X, but was mixed with a lot of intrigue and plot twists, much like Chrono Cross, Star Ocean 3 (the game sucked but the story was pretty awesome), and even hearkening back to the 16 bit days of the golden RPG age.
The only weird aspect of the game is movement on the field. You run really fast and it is hard to get your character pointed at something. The blocking makes it so that the character continues moving around objects. So if you point at a wall, you run into the wall then start sliding left or right. Hard to position in front of something you want to check, like a notice or a sparkle (treasure spot).
Customization is insanely fun. You get ring weapons and jewels and can use them to create attacks and spells to buff up your characters. It's amazingly fun, and though it's complex at first, you really get used to it quickly. The game has plenty of in game tutorials to assist.
Real time anime cut scenes are peppered throughout the game and add a nice little layer. The regular graphics are early PS2 style (they look like crisper, streamlined PS1 graphics for the most part), but there are some nice details. A lot of the background reminded me of Chrono Cross. But graphics aren't the strong point here.
The major gripe I have is that Atlus did not cough up extra dough to license the voice track for the game. Understandably this would have put more pressure on Atlus to make big sales goals, and then we might never have seen this game in the states. So I for one can live without the voice track if that is what it took to get the game localized in the states. Bravo Atlus for taking the risk to release this gem very late in the PSP's life. I have a PS3 but it seems I pick up the PSP or Nintendo DS more often. 'Old School' games like this and the Persona series really made the PSP a memorable system for me. If you are a fan of interesting and deep JRPGs, then pick this up before the price jumps in the secondary market.
Oh, for the record, I think Crevanille is one of the WORST main character names, but luckily you have the option to rename your hero. I would recommend the name I put it, but it's not appropriate for all ages. Just think of the license plate episode from Seinfeld and you have the name. ---man. Or just make one up yourself.
+ Great story
+ Interesting characters
+ Fun battles
+ Ring system customization
+ Great music
+ Many endings possible / diverging story lines
- No voice track
- Average graphics
- Tricky controls in field
- Sometimes too easy