Review by lemnlime
"Gather 'round the dinner table for a third helping of Grandia!"
First, some background on me: RPGs are my favorite genre of videogames and I have played a countless number of them. I'd like to think I have a pretty good idea what makes an RPG a good one, and I wholeheartedly give this game my seal of approval, even though it's far from perfect.
Grandia III is a 2-disc spanning game. You may be thinking to yourself that if Square Enix can fit Final Fantasy X all on one disc, then they must really have an epic game here if it requires 2 discs. Not so much, really. As far as I can tell, the majority of the extra disc space was spent on CG cutscenes that look nearly identical to the real-time cutscenes. Square Enix only published the game. Game Arts is actually the proud parent of the Grandia series, and as you should expect, this fourth installment (including Grandia Xtreme) has many things in common with its predecessors. The battle system has remained nearly untouched save for the obvious cosmetic enhancements. Even the names of spells ("Howlnado" anyone?) and their functions have been carried over.
Story - 6/10
The game opens with our protagonist Yuki watching an old black-and-white movie starring his pilot idol Schmidt. Yuki's big ambition to become a pilot as great as Schmidt eventually devolves into your generic save-the-world storyline. Wouldn't you know it, a girl is fleeing from pursuers the night that Yuki crashes his 19th plane smack dab into her horse-drawn wagon (and at the tender age of 16, that's quite an...accomplishment?). After Yuki gets finished gluing himself back together, we find out that his squeeze...I mean, the girl he rescued, is heading to the mainland back to her hometown of Arcriff. Don't get too excited, though, because Yuki's mom (who you will certainly mistake for his sister at first glance) is chaperoning the whole affair. Fast forward to the party's arrival in Arcriff and we learn that the bad guy who revives an even badder guy from the Verse Realm is Alfina's moody brother Emelious. Alfina has to find it in her heart to love her brother even though he's become the kind of guy she wouldn't sit next to on the bus even for the only seat left.
Graphics - 8/10
Being a late-era PS2 game, there's no doubt you'll find the graphics to meet your expectations. Like I said before, FFX-quality CGs you will not find here, but the real-time graphics are more than passable. You'll be doing a lot of camera panning to get a better look at all the details in the environments. Seeing the characters perform their physically-impossible aerial combos is a thrill, but you'll be rolling your eyes. Thirteen meter vertical jumpsWTF? And this probably isn't the first time and likely won't be the last you play an RPG with an elfin-eared lead female, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't cute. The Verse Realm is the most graphically impressive place you will visit, where the motif is glass, glass, glass.
Gameplay - 7/10
One little ray of light in the occasionally dismal world of RPG dungeon-crawling is the interaction with NPCs, and Grandia has by far some of the most amusing dialogs with NPCs you could ever hope for (if you've ever played one of the Lunar games, it's like that). Each NPC has their own little personality which develops further as the game progresses. Don't skip the non-player character dialogit's more entertaining than the main story by far! The game itself is so linear it almost hurts. There's never going to be a time you don't know where to go and what to do. There's a world map for the sole purpose of having a place to fly your plane. You can't go anywhere unless you've been told where to go. And I know it's getting to be pretty standard nowadays, but it's worth noting that Grandia III, like the original, has no "random" battles since you can see enemies in dungeons. Also, there's a difficulty spike on a certain boss a little over halfway through the game that easily beats out the final boss in difficulty (at least in my opinion), but it's nothing that a little leveling up can't fix.
Battle System - 9/10
Every RPG needs a special mention of the battle system, it's just that important! Turn-based might not be the first thing that comes to mind to describe the battle system here, but that's essentially what it is. This is certainly not your average turn-based game, though. It's more organic than FFX since characters don't just stand in a line facing the enemies--they will move around the battlefield as they attack, and the positions of enemies can be exploited using area-effect spells. Some gamers with short attention spans who have gotten a little too used to the frenetic run and gun style of Star Ocean or Kingdom Hearts may think going back to turn-based battles is boring. However, the biggest advantage of turn-based battles is that all the characters are under your control, so you don't have to worry about a dumb AI. Plus, where those games excel in twitch gameplay, they tend to lack in actual strategy. Despite the fact that Grandia III has room for some great power plays (such as canceling enemy attacks with special moves of your own if timed just right), you won't get much chance to use them considering the almost noobish level of difficulty (see below: no sidequests). The character's all have a particular class that they excel at. Yuki's predictably the swordsman, Alfina's a mage, and so forth, but the characters fit their classes well enough that each of them carry their own weight. As is typical with this series, eventually some characters leave the party permanently and new characters will later join to take their place.
Music/Sound - 8/10
The soundtrack comes courtesy of Noriyuki Iwadare, the Grandia series' regular composer and overall game music alum. He is known for excessively peppy character themes and catchy, energetic battle themes, and you can bet that's all in here. Thankfully the game also does a good job of changing up the battle themes so you don't hear the same music all the time. If you're like me, you get nostalgic during the meal sequences which share music in common with the previous games in the series. However, there's a certain town theme that you'll probably find as annoying as I did and want to mute the volume on. I only really notice sound effects when they don't blend in well, and there are some minor issues with Yuki's sword making a noise before you see it hit the enemy. The dub voice actors are pretty good, but I really wish the game makers would finally start to include the original audio as well. I personally think it's pretty disrespectful to only include dubs, even in the realm of video games.
Replay Value - 8/10
No sidequests. Seriously, there are none. What a disappointment considering there could have been some awesome optional bosses to really put your skills to the test. Yet the strength of the battle system is enough to encourage multiple play-throughs of the game.
Overall - 8/10
Grandia III gave me 50 hours of good clean fun. For any newcomers to this series, I would suggest playing Grandia 1 first since the characters and story are more interesting and the battle system is basically the same in Grandia 1-3 anyway. That is, as long as you don't mind PS1-level graphics. But since each Grandia game is self-contained, you could just as easily start with Grandia III. Have fun!
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/20/06, Updated 03/30/12
Game Release: Grandia III (US, 02/14/06)
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