I bought a Dreamcast on a whim the day that I heard that Sega was killing it. A few days later, I picked up Grandia II - one of the Dreamcast's very few RPGs of note.
I spent about a year on Grandia II, and while it didn't grab me in the same way as Final Fantasy did at the time, there were still a few things that jumped out about it. For one, it had a very nice presentation, with the sort of spell effects that I had come to expect from a JRPG of that era. For another, it had a fantastic soundtrack. I'm listening to it right now, and the battle theme does a wonderful job of mixing the distinctive synth of PlayStation-era games with a distinctly '90s anime beat.
But its main virtue is its battle system, which is notable for its distinctive mix of real-time and turn-based mechanics. I talked about it a bit in the episode of Axe of the Blood God where we covered turn-based battle systems, calling it one of my favorite examples of the form. I stand by that statement - it's still really fun.
It's a system that works in large part because of the risk/reward element that is inherent to its mechanics. In Grandia II, both friendly characters and enemies move steadily along a gauge until they reach a specific point where they can select a move. Faster attacks come out quickly but are weaker, while more powerful attacks take time to power up and risk being interrupted. If it's a particularly powerful attack, an interrupt can essentially cancel your whole turn.
As a battle system, it works because it forces you to think on your feet while also giving you breathing room to consider your options. It benefits from the kinetic pace of real-time system, but eschews the button-mashing dial-a-combo nature of games like Project X Zone. It also makes for some ridiculously tense boss battles, particularly as you get to the latter part of the game.
It's mainly because of the battle system that I've retained a certain fondness for Grandia II over the years, even splurging on a copy of Grandia III at launch (which was a mistake). Thus, I find it rather easy to recommend the PC release on Steam and Good Old Games, which just arrived today. In addition to being a solid port of the original Dreamcast game absent the lack of widescreen support, the "anniversary edition" contains the Japanese audio track and a new hard mode plus upgraded visuals, making it arguably the best version of Grandia II released to date.
With this release, Steam surprisingly continues to be one of the best places to find strong Japanese RPGs, featuring among others Tthe Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, Valkyria Chronicles, Ys: The Oath in Felghana, and a host of Final Fantasy games. It's an unexpected but pleasant development for fans of the genre, particularly those who missed out on the Dreamcast the first time around. Here's hoping this trend continues.