As with Sting’s satisfactory Gungnir, Career Soft’s Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is Atlus yet again taking a pair of defibrillators to the presently flat-lining PSP in a valiant attempt to restore some contemporary vivacity into the outmoded handheld. Other than that comparison, though, the Growlanser canon is quite a different set of tactical specimens than Sting’s latest entry in their Dept. Heaven series. Whereas Gungnir is cut from the same strategy-woven, grid-field cloth as Final Fantasy Tactics, Wayfarer of Time, essentially a port of a 2003 Japan-only PlayStation 2 title, shares more in common with PS1-era touchstones Grandia and Xenogears. Featuring an intricate, busy narrative with plenty of overly dramatic characters and a battle system that is ultimately more about planning in the moment with slightly intensive preparation than absolute chess-like warfare, Wayfarer of Time isn’t quite as addictive as a Tactics-type game, but it packs enough interesting content into its limited framework to warrant a recommendation to those who can’t get enough old-school JRPG action.
Wayfarer of Time’s often needlessly knotty storyline places you in the middle of a warring continent, Noievarl, with four independent nations whose hostility toward each other knows no bounds (think Game of Thrones). Noievarl was once a thriving, technologically advanced mecca full of angels and light, but soon every land sprouted power-hungry rulers, popping up like insatiable weeds, decimating much of the original population. You play as a silent protagonist named Crevanille, who believes the ancient beings may soon be returning to take back what’s rightfully theirs, and so he sets out to investigate and finally counter whatever problem might arise from this premonition. The initial narrative composition is mildly appealing, being largely well-written but occasionally loosing focus, becoming cluttered due to excessively heavy-handed dialogue and far too many less engaging characters to keep track of. If Wayfarer of Time’s tall tale does one thing admirably, it’s that it recalls a generation when the quantitative purity of JRPGs was unmatched. Reading the endless text boxes and baring witness to the few cutscenes, with their anime-style Satoshi Urushihara artwork, I couldn’t help be reminded of the likes of Tales of Phantasia, Star Ocean, and Suikoden, gaming milestones I hold near and dear, ones that rely just as much on a thickset allegory as they do intriguing gameplay.
Real-time activated battles are Wayfarer of Time’s weapon of choice, with enemies appearing on the screen prior to entering fighting sequences. As for the actual combat-driven missions, some are as simple as eliminating wave after wave of low-level foes, but there’s the preordained big-boss skirmishes, which begin to boast a difficulty spike about halfway through the game, as well as particular sub-task driven bouts that require the flipping of levers to unseal gates or other multiple character chain events in order to prevail. All of Wayfarer of Time’s dungeons are fixed, meaning that the term “random encounters” is thrown right out the window (a relief for many); the same arrangement of adversaries will always appear as it did the first time you breached a new map. This is beneficial for players who love to grind, but can border on annoying for those who pine for a peppering of variety in this specific area of critique. Similarly, Wayfarer of Time’s inventory/ability layout caters to the patient rather than the easily agitated, give-me-a-strong-sword-and-I’m-swell set. Characters are equipped with rings, and it’s your responsibility to figure out which powers to infuse into each unit. This can frequently turn tiresome, but eventually the whole ring blueprint reveals itself as simply an ornamented variation on the traditional blade/shield/magic staff structure. In essence, like much of Wayfarer of Time (and its over 40 unlockable conclusions), it grows on you.
Once again, Atlus has proven that the best kind of localization is the one you least saw coming. Yes, the opening hours suffer from onset lethargy, the spread out save-point scheme (pray for an inn) abets nervousness during lengthy quests, and the graphics are light years away from cutting edge, but Wayfarer of Time does such a solid job of sticking to its classical roots that its general unremarkablility can be casually overlooked. In the end, the game further proves that vehement nostalgia rarely fails to mask a lack of precise innovation.