First released on the PlayStation 2 in Japan in 2003, the fourth game in the esteemed Growlanser series of tactical role-playing games has finally been made available to the wider world on the PSP. Those who have eagerly awaited the release of Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time will find much to admire; the tale it tells is populated by vivid characters whose struggles play out against the backdrop of a richly developed war-torn continent. But the combat is standard, lacking the depth that makes for satisfying strategy in other, better tactical RPGs. The result is an uneven game that alternates between the epic and the mundane.
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The land is ravaged by conflict. Marquelay and Iglesias, Dulkheim and Valkania; these four nations use military strategy and, occasionally, diplomacy to jockey for power, protect their own citizens, and neutralize their enemies. In terms of its political complexity, the setting for Wayfarer of Time is reminiscent of Westeros, the continent whose conflicts are chronicled in George R.R. Martin's popular A Song of Ice and Fire books. You play as a young man (named Crevanille by default), one of the ruin children. Ruin children are found in stasis in the ruins of an earlier, highly advanced civilization that was destroyed some 2,000 years ago. Now, the appearance of destructive winged angels suggests that the forces that obliterated that civilization might be returning, and Crevanille and his friends set out to investigate ruins around the continent and find a way to prevent history from repeating itself.
It's a stirring setup for your adventures, and periodically, Wayfarer of Time pulls you in to its story. Seeing innocents slaughtered by the ruthless military forces of one nation fills you with rage, and moments when your characters regard the ruins of the previous civilization give the game a melancholy sense of history. Well-written dialogue brings the characters to life; you can't help but admire the wise, battle-hardened mercenary captain Dixon, and the egomaniacal womanizer Christopher is a character you will love to hate. The tone of the writing is smart and serious, befitting a tale of war in which characters often perish, and formal language is used effectively to suggest the divide between nobles and common folk.
But the moments in which Wayfarer of Time moves you with its story and characters are divided by gameplay sections that are often more tedious or frustrating than they are enjoyable. There are no random encounters; monsters are visible in the environment and can usually be avoided, though of course you want to fight a good number of the monsters you see in order to earn experience points and level up your characters. There are also missions--periodic battles that are tied in to the story, and that often have specific victory conditions that differ from the typical aim of simply defeating all enemies. You might need to prevent a certain number of enemy soldiers from escaping, for instance, or ensure that a certain character who isn't in your party stays alive.
Dixon has a philosophical perspective on his work as a mercenary.
Unlike many tactical RPGs in which characters move on a grid, here, your characters move freely about the environment, with the distance they can move and the frequency with which they act determined by their stats. Combat is usually quite easy. The first time you face a certain type of monster, it might take a short while to figure out what types of spells are most effective against it, but for the most part, you don't have to put much thought into what you're doing. And that's too bad; battles are often rote affairs in which you just wait for your party to finish wiping the floor with their enemies.