Review by WishingTikal

"Poor man's Skies of Arcadia"

To me, Grandia III feels like a poor man's Skies of Arcadia, the latter which happens to be one of the best RPGs, and one of my favorite games. I have not had the chance to play the other Grandia games in the series, but from what I understand, they are much, much better than this latest entry. Grandia III tries to aim so high with production values that it just ends up falling flat on its nose, and that's a fairly accurate comparison, considering the game introduces you to a boy and its plane.

The protagonist is a young man, Yuki, who works in a garage with the dream of one day being a true sky pilot. Like most RPG protagonists, Yuki comes from a small and peaceful village where he lives with his mother. Where's the father? We are never told. This is one of the many mysterious plot holes in the game. The difference with this RPG is that our (soon to be) hero travels with his mom. Yes, his mom. Miranda is your first party member besides Yuki, and thankfully, she is young and cheerful. I even first thought she was Yuki's girlfriend. My bad. The idea sounds strange, but Miranda is actually one of the most likeable characters in the game.

Unfortunately, the second party member to join you is a boring RPG cliche. Alfina is a sweet and kind girl from a mysterious place who incidentally crosses path with the hero as he sets out of his homeland... Wait, I've seen that before, haven't I? Alfina is incredibly reminiscent of Fina from Skies of Arcadia, except that she is extremely uninteresting as a character. She is just too nice and perfect. Doesn't she have any flaws besides the fact that she can't cook? Cliche, cliche. The rest of the plot is just as typical; first there's the bad guy, then you learn there's much more evil forces at hand behind him, and Yuki decides to help Alfina return to her home by traveling with her, only to get caught up in an adventure he would have never thought of, becoming the only one to be able to save the world. Other party members join you along the way, but they have zero character development, and to make it worse, your best party members leave the team at some point, and never come back -- a real shame.

The first few hours of the game, before it turns into a generic quest of saving the world, are awesome. The pace of the storyline is spot-on, the characters are engaging, the quest is fun and inspiring... Everything just falls into place, promising a great RPG. But somehow, it manages to fall apart at some point; when Yuki and Alfina decide to start their own adventure, the game just turns around and changes for the worst by leaving two great characters behind, replacing them with two static ones. I don't want to give anything away, but let's just say that suddenly the quest becomes dull and very stale for the rest of the journey. Even the game's many FMVs couldn't save it from feeling dreary.

Grandia III has interesting elements, but it doesn't do anything with them. For one, Yuki and the group travel by air in a plane you can use to fly over the world map and land at the desired location. Problem is, this would be awesome in a huge world, but Grandia III has a tiny world map with very few locations to visit. While flying over the land, you can press L1 to check out some spots like ruins, natural wonders, etc. -- and a description of the place pops up, but you cannot visit those spots, which is extremely disappointing. Skies of Arcadia, which also had us travel by air in a skyship, had the same thing with its "Discoveries", but at least they had a sidequest purpose and collectible aspect. In Grandia III, it's just there. For nothing. You can fly all around the game's world, but there's nothing to find. Actually, you only use the plane about four or five times to reach the next destination, so really, without any exploration to do, there's no point to the plane except being a copycat.

Grandia III's recurring flaw is that the whole package is boring. The characters are boring, the storyline is boring, the quest is boring, and the gameplay is boring, with the exception of the battle system, which is more upbeat. I know fans of the series really love the battle system, and although I can see why, I totally loathed it. It's not bad, far from it, but it's very difficult to get the hang of. Your characters and enemies' turns rotate around a sphere indicating who will attack next depending on its speed. When enemies enter the command zone of the circle, it's possible to use a skill to cancel their attack and send them back to the waiting zone. Enemies can do the same to your party members, so they may cancel your spells while you're casting them, if you don't plan ahead correctly. Timing is essential to the battle system, which could be considered active turn-based.

The battle system would be fun if the game wasn't so hard. The enemies are always faster than your characters, so they will attack at least twice before you get to attack. To survive a fight, you'll often need to cancel the enemies' attacks while still attacking, which is tremendously tough since you won't really deal any damage if you just focus on canceling attacks. It's very hard to predict attacks, and your characters are way too slow, so bosses are a real pain as they will attack several times before it's finally your turn to attack. It's technically a really well-thought battle system, very fresh and original, but I find it way too frustrating to be enjoyable. The enemies are so long to defeat sometimes it's better to just avoid them and run away from the fights. But then without the battles, the game has nothing left.

There is not a single side quest in the whole game. All you do is traverse straightforward areas following a set path with enemies and chests, beat a boss here and there, watch a cutscene, look around some towns, and keep it up until you reach the end of the game. There is never anything exciting to the adventure Yuki and friends are on, no moments that make you think this is a great game. Everything about the game is bleak. There are some other points that are worth mentioning, like the egg fusing, which allows you to obtain powerful spells by fusing eggs together, and there's a lot of optimization to do on your characters to make them stronger, like equipping the right skills and magic, but it's just such a minimal part of the gameplay that it gets lost to the game's tediousness.

Grandia III has truly gorgeous landscapes, a lot of outside environments, from plains, valleys, forests to jungles, mountains and beaches... When you actually stop to take a look around, you'll see the beauty of nature depicted in the game with such realism that it's almost breathtaking. Unfortunately, it's depicted in its boring form. Sure, it IS beautiful, but the game's straightforward, one-way paths offer no freedom. All you can do is stare hopelessly at the wondrous backgrounds as you pass by, unable to reach out to them. You cannot stray off the linear paths, but the landscapes beyond call out to you. The graphics in outside spots truly are gorgeous as still pictures, but they look pale and a bit bland, especially in towns and inside dungeons. Had the game had just a little more color to it, it would have looked a lot more vibrant and alive.

As it is, Grandia III just looks and feels bare. Even the towns, which should be lively, appear dead and empty. The whole game emits a feeling of desolation and loneliness, in a similar way to Shadow of the Colossus. It is beautiful, yet Grandia III's world seems sad and desolate. This sentiment of dismal grows on you throughout the quest, making it hard to feel compelled to finish the adventure. After each play, the game left me with a strange feeling of loneliness and emptiness. The boring characters, the sad and flat storyline with no cheery moments, and the linear paths going through empty and dull landscapes did nothing to make the experience more enjoyable. Aside from some upbeat battle themes, the calm musical scores that play while you walk around aren't of any help either, still with that same beatiful, but sad tone. This game is just depressingly blank.

Grandia III is not a bad game in itself, but it's just so insipid and undistinguished that it's not worth the price it can be found for, since it's pretty hard to find now. The only good things the game does were taken from other games and are not pulled off that well at all. Everything else about the game is just irksome. I liked to walk through the game's nice environments, but it needs more than that. Just battling enemies over and over again does not do it. Neither does watching countless of tiresome FMVs that only show you how one-dimensional your party members are. Grandia III could have been pretty good if only there was more to it, or even just a little breath of life to it. The game spawns through two discs because of the many FMVs, but it's not all that long (about 30 hours). It feels long though, but that's probably because the quest is tiring and some boss battles you'll have to start over ten times. I really can't recommend this RPG seeing how there are many better ones, even among the mediocre ones.

6/10

Pros
-Beautiful outside landscapes
-Great musical score
-Many FMVs and well voiced
-First few hours of the game are fun

Cons
-Looks and feels lifeless, dreary
-Gameplay is boring and unoriginal
-The storyline and characters are cliche
-Enemies are too hard and bosses frustrating


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 02/10/09, Updated 06/17/09

Game Release: Grandia III (US, 02/14/06)


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