The Grandia series is one of the most underrated RPG franchises so allow me to take you back to its roots and see which game is better.
Spoiler warning: do not read the Story and Characters sections if you haven't already played these games as they contain heavy spoilers.
Grandia stars an aspiring adventurer named Justin who stumbles upon a messenger who informs him that he holds a sacred Spirit Stone and must travel to the New World so he can learn of its power. After making it there, he scales a giant wall known as The End of the World only to discover a whole new land on the other side. Meanwhile, General Baal is searching for treasures left by an ancient civilization and performing devious experiments. Once his soldiers capture Justin, it's revealed that Baal wants to use his Spirit Stone to revive an entity named Gaia and reform the world in his own vision. So, Justin and gang take on and defeat a Baal / Gaia hybrid thus bringing peace to the world and a delightful epilogue ensues. Overall, it's a somewhat stereotypical yet engaging tale that's fun to watch unfold.
Meanwhile, Grandia II follows a mercenary named Ryudo whose job is to protect a church songstress named Elena. Soon into the story, an incident occurs where she unknowingly transforms into a demon named Millennia and kills a room full of people. The party then destroys enemies who represent the pieces of an ancient demon god named Valmar then Millenia absorbs their power. While travelling to new locales, it's gradually revealed that Valmar and Millenia aren't all that bad and Elena begins to question the church's intentions. She was correct to do so as the pope actually sent her on the mission to gather the pieces of Valmar so he can become him and, obviously, reshape the world as he sees fits. Of course, Ryudo and gang defeat the pope and Valmar and the world finds peace yet again.
Although both of these stories are rather similar, I actually prefer Grandia II's story as it illustrates that forces which are universally seen as good may be corrupt sources of evil. It's interesting stuff and full of enough twists to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Aside from the actual plot points, characters are important, too. Grandia's Justin is one of my favourite RPG protagonists as he's full of positivity and determination while his friend Sue is a delightful companion. Also, Justin's adventurer idol Feena is a fantastic character as well as the noble Gadwin, the hilarious and misunderstood Rapp, the wild Milda, the adorable Guido, and the mysterious Liete. There are also charming antagonists which is pretty cool, especially the trio of military commanders Saki, Nana, and Mio who are all envious of Leen and her relationship with Colonel Mullen. It's a wonderfully memorable collection of characters for sure.
Grandia II's Ryudo is the opposite of Justin as he's sarcastic, reluctant, and a bit of a jerk in the early goings. Elena is a fairly blank slate of a character but her naivety can be quite annoying at times while Millenia's hot-blooded nature makes her entertaining to watch. The young prince Roan is probably my favourite character and the contrast between the unpredictable Mareg and the robot Tio is a welcome dynamic. Ryudo's bird Skye is pretty funny and often insightful while Ryudo's evil brother Melfice adds an interesting wrinkle to the plot. However, the villains are fairly generic and uninteresting so I'll award this category to Grandia as it features a much livelier cast.
Considering the battle systems in Grandia and Grandia II are nearly identical, I figured I'd focus on character progression instead. For starters, Grandia awards you points for using certain weapon types and magic elements. Upon levelling up with these points, you'll learn new skills and magic spells and after using abilities enough, they'll actually power up. In simple terms, the more you use various spells and skills, the more you're rewarded. It's simple stuff yet watching your party's capabilities grow is very satisfying.
Grandia II has a less automatic system as it uses coins that you can redeem for new spells and skills. As a result, you won't find yourself feeling like you have to use certain abilities simply to level up. Plus, you can equip mana eggs so being able to swap them between party members is very cool as it adds a lot of depth to utilizing magic. In addition to that, there are books that you can learn combat skills from which can make your characters much stronger. Spending time to use your Special and Magic coins wisely while setting up your mana eggs and equipping appropriate skills makes party management a supremely rewarding endeavour so Grandia II wins here.
Grandia features 3D environments with 2D sprites which is similar to Xenogears while Grandia II is almost fully rendered in 3D although the character models are pretty generic. I always thought that Grandia's battle screen environments are hard to look at and they definitely haven't aged well and the enemy sprites are very weird, too. On the other side of the equation, Grandia II's battles are detailed, sharp, and come to life with an awesome cinematic camera. Even though I usually prefer retro visuals, Grandia II clearly has better graphics.
Noriyuki Iwadare composed the soundtracks for both of these games and he also provided the music for the Lunar series as well as the highly underrated Radiata Stories. I actually own the Grandia II soundtrack yet don't have Grandia's but I'll try not to let that cloud my judgement. Anyway, Grandia is full of memorable music such as the incredible opening theme, the lighthearted Parm town track, and the epic acoustic guitar-fueled battle with Gadwin song. Grandia II's soundtrack is a lot more serious which matches the story's tone well but there definitely isn't as many memorable tracks. There are still some wonderful songs, though, and even a few with vocals that can be quite enchanting. Plus, the battle music is great. That being said, Grandia's music still stands as unforgettable and it wins here.
This is definitely a more difficult decision than I originally thought it would be but the overall winner is...
Although I prefer Grandia II's graphics, party progression systems, and plot; Grandia's cast of characters and legendary soundtrack make it a much more memorable experience that's still a joy to play through decades after it debuted. With that said, I find both games to be incredible so if you're interested in either of them then do yourself a favour and play both.
That's just my opinion. Agree? Disagree? Vote now!