Review by nintendosega
"Seems to do everything in its power to make you regret purchasing it"
It's so rare to have an experience like Grandia III when playing a video game. Video games are, in theory, created for the primary purpose of inspiring a feeling of "fun" in the user, and when a game's as painful to play as Grandia III, it easily crosses the line between what makes a game fun and a complete chore.
Grandia III's a pretty excruciating experience: both tedious and boring, it does almost nothing new. It has the worst cast of characters I've ever seen in an RPG, it has the worst plot I've ever seen in an RPG, the dialogue is uninspired and often poorly written, the world lacks any sort of development, there's no sense of adventure.....I'm sorry to start this review off on a rant, but this just might be the worst RPG I've ever played. It's at least in the bottom 5.
I'll start with the graphics, which are among the game's few redeeming qualities. Vibrant and colorful, amazingly so in places, the visual style makes many locations into visual marvels. Textures are kind of lacking in some areas, but overall, the graphics are just.....amazing. The limiting top-down view from Grandia II has been completely ditched in this installment, and now we have a camera that follows the character around through the environments, and it's controllable. Many important cutscenes are done in CG. Created by the studio Robot, (who did the amazing intro to Baten Kaitos on the GC,) cutscenes are often impressive, and there are so many of them that Grandia III is on 2 DVDs despite only being a 35-hour game with amazingly little to explore. (More on that later.) At any rate, the graphics here are truly impressive and its obvious that more work went into them than into the game itself.
Plot; What's sad is that Grandia III actually gets off to an excellent start. The opening scenes, featuring Yuki and his friend hiding from Yuki's mother while building his plane in their tiny, quiet village of Anfog, are excellent. Almost instantly, these characters seem likable. The voice acting's great for many characters, and the music in the game's opening scenes is very good. This lasts for the first 10 hours of the game. Grandia III's first 10 hours seem to take inspiration from Final Fantasy 10 and Skies of Arcadia and I admit, I was fooled into thinking that it would be this excellent all the way through. Yuki, his mother Miranda, Alfina the Communicator, and a gambling sailor, Alonso, all start their journey from this small island to the city of Mendi in order to bring the communicator (who ends up on your island at the start of the game. What she was doing there to begin with....is never explained) to a temple on the mainland so she can participate in an important ceremony.
...Sound familiar? It should if you've played any Japanese RPG in the past 10 years, including Grandia II. Still, I was at first able to get past it because at first, this seemed like it would be a fun ride. Yuki and his mother have a great dynamic, and Alonso brings a real sense of "Skies of Arcadia"-like adventure to the storyline. Yuki's desire to be a pilot and fly the skies is also a fun character trait. Yeah, it's been done before in RPGs, but I don't think with planes, exactly. Maybe airships. So it worked for me.
Once you reach the city of Mendi, Grandia III begins a very noticeable spiral downward as the game's great setup crumbles right before your eyes. Some of the best characters leave your party for no reason whatsoever...literally never to return. A couple hours after Mendi, the flight concept and sense of discovery is almost entirely lost as well, to be replaced by a plot so by the numbers that I'm amazed the developers even had the energy to write the text bubbles. What was so charming about the game early on, its characters, lose all their personality, and in fact, Alfina the Communicator becomes unbearable to watch, literally crying in almost every cutscene. But, of course, she loves her brother, even though he's threatening to destroy the world.
Yes, like Grandia II, we have, (again) another evil, sword-wielding brother who threatens to destroy the world. The main characters journey around to the various temples and visit the spirits to collect orbs containing their power before Emelious, her brother, kills the spirits. What follows is a series of predictable and under-developed story sequences and dungeons, so boring and formulaic as to be sleep-inducing. At one point, a "hidden realm" is discovered, and the possibilities are endless, but almost nothing is done with this new world. I'm still trying to figure out what the point of it was. In fact, what is the point to anything? Why does Emelious want to do what he does? Why were he and Alfina chosen as Communicators? Why does Emelious suddenly hate humanity? Who is that new villain who suddenly joins him in the last half hour of the game? What happened to another villain, who literally vanishes without a trace from the game a couple hours before the end of it, with no mention ever made of his absence? What happened to the two characters who leave your party forever? Why was Yuki's mother so young? What happened to Yuki's father? What was the point of the roots coming out of the sky other than "looking evil"? How does Yuki manage to survive at least 6 plane crashes over the course of the game that nobody could have possibly survived? What were those two pilots doing in that town in the alps? Why did a certain pilot leave his plane up there for years in perfect form when he never intended to fly again? What exactly is Xorn? Why does he hate humanity? What's the deal with Raven, and why does he look and act so sinister? What happened to the pilot near the end of the game? Why did none of the characters ever mention it afterwards? And that's barely scratching the surface; there's even more. You can drive a truck through the holes in this storyline. Never before have I played an RPG with such a lazy, badly put together plot.
The game introduces many questions which it makes no attempts to answer. Everything that happens in Grandia III...it happens without explanation; without purpose. The Grandia Meal Conversations that I liked so much in Grandia II are useless here because the characters are so unbearably annoying. They don't do anything in these conversations except further demonstrate their stereotypical personalities. These conversations attempt to be funny, but it's so forced that it's almost embarrassing to read. Hate to add another complaint to the list, but even reading the text in this game is annoying due to the slow speed with which it scrolls across the box. I'm a fast reader, so I ran out of patience fast. There's no way to adjust the text speed. It also pauses before certain words are displayed, as if to simulate actual speech. If that was their intention, why not just voice these scenes?
Yes, in true Grandia form, relatively little of this game is voiced. Although all big events are acted, plenty of other, equally important scenes are handled with this tedious text crawl. Why's it so hard to voice the entire game? Final Fantasy 10 did this in 2001, Grandia III should be able to do this in 2006. There's no excuse. Oddly, there doesn't seem to be a way to turn on any sort of subtitles in the CG cutscenes, (which is a first) so for those of you who may be hard of hearing...you're out of luck. But then again, maybe you're better off not having to hear this painful dialogue.
...Overall, the plot of this game falls on its face. Terrible, often corny dialogue, lack of consistency between the dialogue in voiced cutscenes and the text-based conversations, and, despite a promising start, a horrible character cast, large, unanswered questions in the awful story, and just lack of development of anything in general. It's unfortunate, because the first ten hours are so promising. Things get bad once you reach Mendi, but they completely fall apart a couple hours from there, when the developers officially stopped trying. Re-using the exact same plot from Grandia II and just changing the names around is mistake #1, as that plot wasn't too great to begin with, and unlike that game, the characters here aren't even likable, and anything else they came up with is ripped from countless other RPGs that have done it better.
Gameplay; Yet another aspect that starts out promising but goes to the dogs after the 1/3 mark. For the first 10-12 hours, again, the great battle system's fun and challenging, but not too tedious. True to Grandia style, this game uses a very fast ATB system. New to this installment is an extremely fun combo system where you knock the enemy into the air, then the other characters attack it. I can't picture a Grandia game without this system now. Battles are fun but they require some thought. It's a great balance. But after the 12-hour mark, (specifically, when you reach Dragon Valley,) the combat becomes nothing but tediousness.
Enemies suddenly become faster....much faster. They begin dishing out special moves that devastate your party over and over again. Battles become slow, because almost every time the enemy has a turn, the ATB meter freezes, the camera zooms in on the enemy, and you must sit through his special move, which often cancels your party, (which means they move back on the ATB meter,) which means you'll have to wait even longer until your next turn. Ah, but you're typically battling at least 6 enemies at a time in Grandia III. So it'll be another's turn before yours. Time to sit through yet another special move that will deal damage to the party. As the party's getting damaged, *yet another* enemy goes, hitting and paralyzing Alfina, your healer. Uh oh. She's now paralyzed, and won't be able to move for a while. Meanwhile, every time you kill an enemy, it doesn't matter, because *another* enemy will go, using their "call allies" move to bring 2 or 3 more into the battle, a move which they use incredibly frequently. One other enemy does a move...paralyzes more in your party. Meanwhile, your health is all running low, and your healer is still paralyzed. You decide to use 1 of your 9 HP recovery items (you know you shouldn't, because you have so few, but you have no choice,) but when you use it, you watch as the ATB meter charges,...then another enemy goes, doing a "cancel" move. Whoops...your character goes way back on the ATB meter, the item move cancelling. Then without warning, another enemy does QUAKE, completely wiping out the party, causing a Game Over screen and losing about 45 minutes of gameplay. Fun.
Enemies are just too powerful and they use special moves much too frequently: not only slowing down the pace of combat, but making things tedious and unnecessarily difficult. Now, you can use special moves too, but your special meter, (unlike the enemies') runs out fairly quickly, and there's no way to recharge it, except hitting the enemy, which slowly recharges it. Nope, save points, (certain ones restore HP and MP) do not restore SP, and neither does sleeping at an inn. Really convenient, isn't it, when you use up all your SP on regular battles and you have none left for a boss and can't really do anything about it? Now, eventually you get a move that recharges SP, but it's only a small amount at a time, and the person who uses this move doesn't get her SP recharged. So she can only use it a couple of times before she runs out. As for gaining new special moves....it's seemingly done at random. During battle, you'll just be told, "you learned a new special move." So what if you're stuck on a boss, and the FAQ's say you "should use this move frequently," and you don't have it....how do you get it? Well, have fun bro, and thank you for purchasing Grandia III.
Though the Grandia battle system in general is fun, (though I find it to be horribly overrated,) it always gives off the illusion of fast speeds and fun combat...yet later on becomes nothing but a magic contest, with the enemies using lengthy spells and skill moves (which slow combat to a halt) almost every turn, and that then forces you, the gamer, to use them as well, completely ruining any sense of speed. It also doesn't help that enemies in Grandia III have the ability to call their friends into the battle seemingly whenever they want, so for every one you seem to kill, two more are called in. It's incredibly frustrating.
I've barely even gotten into bosses yet. This game is hard. Really hard. Bosses on disc 2, especially towards the end of the game, are almost insanely brutal. If I had trouble with them, I don't even want to think about causal gamers and casual RPG fans, who, I can say with full confidence, will not be able to beat this game. It's that simple. The difficulty ramps up so quickly and impossibly at the end that I couldn't complete it on my own. I had to go out and purchase a Gameshark and use it to get past the last 4-5 hours. As I watched with my unlimited HP, MP, and SP, these brutal late-game bosses dished out moves that would have practically eliminated my party in one shot. They do these over and over and over again. I wondered, "what did I do wrong?" Grandia II was a little too easy, but developers; It's better if it's too easy than if it's too hard, because if it's too easy, it may be slightly disappointing, but at least the average gamer will be able to *finish* the game they paid for. And again...I never use devices like Gamesharks. I hate the idea of cheat codes. But I was up against a brick wall here. I could not complete this game. I wasn't under-leveled, I thought my characters had plenty of skills and magic (apparently not) and I thought I had a grasp of the combat system. But this game was, as far as I'm concerned, impossible. And I'm not new to the genre; I've completed many RPGs that have been deemed "challenging" (such as Xenosaga Episode 1) without breaking a sweat. Grandia III, though, was something I just could not complete. The ridiculously high difficulty is yet another nail in the game's coffin. The combat system and the gameplay in general become tedious and monotonous from about 12-hours on....and Grandia III never again becomes fun.
And unfortunately, that's all this game is; fighting battle after battle after battle. You basically walk on seemingly endless paths, getting in battle after battle after battle after battle. And you're typically traveling to, well, nothing. The characters will say, (or, rather, Yuki and Alfina will; the other two characters rarely ever say anything,) that they need to visit this spirit, and you'll travel across this endless path, or explore an endless dungeon, finally reaching your destination...and nothing really happens. You talk to this spirit, it gives you something, and that's it. "Well, off to the next one." This game, plot-wise and gameplay-wise, is a disaster. Hardcore RPG fans who like to fully explore all the various skill systems, magic systems, etc. in every RPG they play, will likely have fun with the gameplay throughout Grandia III, but everyone else won't.
...but then again, they may not like Grandia III either, since there are no sidequests in the entire game. None. Now, as a gamer who never does sidequests, I wasn't too bothered by this, and unlike Grandia II, Grandia III at least allows you to travel wherever you want at some points. But hardcore RPG gamers will be disappointed at how linear and "sidequest-free" this game is. So...who was Grandia III meant for? It's too difficult for casual RPG gamers and casual gamers in general, and way too linear, predictable, and sidequest-free for hardcore RPG gamers....so who was this game made for? Even basic game design concepts seem to have escaped the grasp of the developers. You can only carry 9 of a given item (which doesn't exactly ease the pain of a tough boss, let me put it that way,) and yet the game has no problem depriving you of item shops. Once you leave the first village, when's the next item shop? 10 hours later. I really wish I were kidding.
Sound; like the graphics, the sound effects fully bring you into the environments. Great job here. The music is completely a mixed bag, though. Series composer Noriyuki Iwadare once again returns, and once again, the music is only so-so. Some is amazing, don't get me wrong. Lots of the event music (particularly the emotional events) I'd go as far as to call excellent, as are the battle themes. And for the first 10-12 hours, the ambient music that plays when you explore the environments is relaxing. Unfortunately, (again) this doesn't last past 10-12 hours. See, this environment music plays in every single environment during the entire game, with maybe 1 or 2 exceptions. Every time you walk along a path, they cue this exact same music. The dungeon music, (which starts playing in every dungeon starting with...Dragon Valley) is boring and makes dungeon exploration even more tedious. Music when in towns ranges from the great, (Anfog Village) to the terrible (Baccula Settlement, which sounds like Iwadare composed it during a crack binge,) and the term "mixed bag" never applied better to a game's audio. Needless to say, I'm not a huge fan of this guy's music. On another note, the voice acting is great in most cases, which bodes well for the dubbing of Final Fantasy XII.
Despite some great production values, Grandia III is a complete disaster. From a horrible, hole-filled story with really bad, under-developed characters to an extremely tedious, overly-difficult combat system and repetitive gameplay, Grandia III seems to do everything in its power to make you regret purchasing it. While the recent Tales of Legendia, for example, seemed to try its best to allow you to have fun while playing it, the developers of Grandia III seemed to want nothing more than to punish you for buying their game. The battle system's designed to be extremely tedious, and they clearly put no effort whatsoever into the storyline. Excellent graphics and a great opening 10 hours save this game from getting a 1/10 or 2/10 score, but it comes close. Very close. Grandia III is among the worst gameplay experiences I've ever had. If you really want to experience the great (but vastly overrated) Grandia battle system, you should probably pick up a copy of Grandia II instead, (the Dreamcast version, not the technical disaster that was the PS2 port,) but even Grandia II wasn't great, (although it was better than this,) and there are much better RPG's out there than this series.
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 04/10/06, Updated 02/22/11
Game Release: Grandia III (US, 02/14/06)
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