Review by HYD

"It's just the damn story."

The Grandia series created by Game Arts have come a long way. It first appeared on the Sega Saturn, then made its way to the Dreamcast and finally made its appearance to the Playstation 2 while being published by the famed Square Enix. While making its move from console to console, it retains its trump card - the dynamic battle system that ensures that every single battle will be a different one from the last. This is already a solid point to behold, and to add on to that, Grandia III is also graphically stunning and has pretty good audio to boot. Despite all that, the storyline of Grandia III just fails to impress and attract the player, but it is still a good choice for a casual gamer to pick this game up just for the uniqueness it contains.

You control Yuki, a boy that has his dreams high up in the skies, quite literally. Yuki dreams of becoming an outstanding pilot just like the world-renowned pilot, Sky Captain Schmidt. After messing around with his massive amounts of prototype and different models of engines and wings, he finally decides on the airplane that's "going to make it". With help from his buddy, he finally takes off that night, cemented in his mind was the thought that he is finally going to leave his native hometown on his plane for the first time. But as we all know in all RPGs, things just don't go so smoothly as one would expect it to be. It appears that Miranda, his mother, has hidden herself on the plane and that consequently pushed the plane over its ideal weight, resulting in the airplane crashing somewhere in the woods. Meanwhile, an elf-eared delirious young lady was being pursued by dangerously dressed men, and her chariot just so happens to crash as well. Being a self-righteous male protagonist of the game, Yuki decides that he should take matters into his own hands and rushes to help the elf lady, whose name is Alfina, in whatever way that he can.

Throughout the game, you will gain control of many different party members in your team that come and go due to storyline purposes. Like all its predecessors, Grandia has a unique conversation scene sequence just before you break off for the night. This allows you to interact with the different characters of the game by initiating conversations that usually tie in with what you are supposed to do next. Whilst doing these, you will come to know and develop a good sense of their character and personality, and sometimes wish that you are just right next to them, enjoying a hearty meal and conversing with them. While all these sound great, sometimes the dialogues in Grandia can get a little bit too cheesy. I suppose it ties in with the story, which is seriously the major dampening part of this game. Sometimes I wish I can just skip the cut scenes because it's all too dramatic AND predictable.

The battle system in the Grandia series is really the heart of the game. While seemingly complicated at first, you will come to love it. When a random encounter is, well, encountered, you will have to go through that mandatory cinematic rotation of the environment and be presented with an odd circular meter in the upper-left corner of your screen. That is known as the IP gauge, and it is what you will be learning to exploit to your fullest advantage throughout the game. The IP gauge has little icons representing your character and the enemies floating above it, rotating around the gauge. While passing through it, there are three main phases that it undergoes.

As it passes through the first phase, it allows you to enter the command for that character, for which the game will pause. From here, it is possible to do the normal commands that most RPGs offer: attack, cast spell, escape and all the likes. Of course, if it passes through the enemy, the command-entry phase for that will be done automatically by the AI. The second phase is known as the execution phase, where the floating head will move accordingly to the speed that it is supposed to move across. For example, a direct attack will probably go through very quickly, but a fiery spell will probably take a longer time. As it hits the end, the command gets executed, and even so it's not as simple as it is.

For example, a direct attack would still require your character to walk up to the target and give it a good whack, between which it is possible to be intercepted by attacks that might probably cancel your execution, to which that command is voided. It is also possible for your character to tire out after a while of chasing your enemy around the battlefield, which effectively results in you wasting a turn. While casting a spell, it can be even more catastrophic. A stationary participant that is passing the execution phase is the perfect target for a good ol' cancellation attack, to which it kicks back the user's floating head icon to way before the command-entry phase. This is absolutely vital in winning some battles that may seem impossible at first. Of course, this works both ways as well, and sometimes it might not be so interesting if you're the one getting pounded and not getting any turns. If you get lucky and cancel an opponent, chances are he would be whacked high up in the sky. During this free-falling phase of the enemy, it is possible to gang up on him for some combo attacks. These are just regular attacks pounded on the enemy, but with the added animation and a chance to chuck up your records on either damage, or air-time. After all the commotion, the floating head icon will move on to its third phase, which is just simply the waiting phase before the cycle repeats again when you hit the command-entry phase.

Throughout the game, your characters will continue to refine and learn new special moves that are exclusive for the character. These can get increasingly more powerful over time as your character supposedly improves the skill over time by itself. There is also a summoning Guardian function that can be obtained halfway throughout the game, which simply summons a powerful Guardian as the name suggests, to wreck havoc on the field for one turn. After which, it will require charging again that will automatically take place as time passes by. While this sounds seemingly familiar to other games of the same genre, Grandia does it prettily and should be forgiven. Other spells such as the magic spells can be learnt through the purchasing of mana eggs and customising them to your liking, which is probably by fusion of two eggs into a more powerful one. Besides mana eggs, there's also the possibility of purchasing skill books that adds passive skills to your character. A powerful combination of a skill book that complements the character, along with a damaging mana egg is usually the key to victory.

Grandia usually takes around 20-30 hours to complete, and when you're done with it, it's really the end of the story. There's nothing worthy to work for after the game ends, and you probably won't find yourself playing through it again. Throughout your journey, you will feast on the impressive graphics and audio Grandia has to offer. While the character models aren't really perfect, their animations and movements are well varied and entertaining. The audio voice-over is decent, but coupled with the cheesy dialogues and story it can get kind of stale after a while. The environment in which you will transverse on is beautiful, to say the least. While the terrain might seem normal with simple landscapes of grass, sand, mountains, it still remains gorgeous to your eyes. Towns are also lively and refreshing to visit, even though you probably won't be staying in there for long. All in all, the technical standpoint of Grandia is commendable, and would have tied in very nicely with a solid storyline, but this is not to be so.

In conclusion, Grandia is just simply, another typical RPG but with an interesting and dynamic battling system. The versatile battle system is seriously something to look forward to, and coupled with the game's top-notch graphics and audio presentation, the journey around the world might not seem to be such a bad thing after all. If you can overlook the seemingly strange quest that your characters are embarking upon, you might appreciate the rest of the things Grandia has to offer for you. It is definitely a game worth playing though, and definitely you should definitely give it a chance if you're into RPGs and have enjoyed the previous Grandia games.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 09/21/06

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