Review by DjSkittles

"I believe I can fly."

The trend is similar in most console RPGs. Just when there's an interesting plot development, yet another boring dungeon has to be completed to find out what happens next. The combat is almost always boring and the dungeons grow particularly tiresome after investing 20 long hours into the game. Grandia III is the exact opposite. The plot is standard fluff, but the exciting combat makes the numerous dungeons a delight to play. Well, almost every dungeon. Things eventually slow down to a disappointing crawl by the time the second disc is reached, although it's still a worthy addition to the series.

Instead of the sarcastic hero that made Grandia II so enjoyable, this installment stars an eager kid with the dream of becoming the greatest pilot in the world. In Yuki's world, air travel isn't as established as it is in our world, so he wouldn't even know about passport control and unpleasant customs officers. His enthusiasm for flying doesn't sit well with his mother, Miranda, who puts her foot down when she needs to. As fate would have it, the two manage to embroil themselves in a globe-trotting adventure once they rescue an innocent priestess-type character from some stereotypical dark forces.

Eventually, the swashbuckling sense of adventure from the start of the game is replaced with some standard stuff involving god-like guardians and a shadowy warrior with an unnaturally large sword. Comedic moments become few and far between as the tone changes, partially because of the departure of two major characters. Their replacements are terribly dull. The shift in the mood of the story isn't handled very well and this causes the narrative to slow down for a few stretches. It never quite picks up steam again. At this later stage in the game, things are never dark enough to be engaging, and it's not light-hearted enough to be humorous. The cutscenes, which are fully voiced with competent actors, become uninteresting since there's little emotional resonance with anything happening. Without a convincing tone, the storyline of Grandia III comes off as muddled and confused.

While the plot falters, the gameplay soars as majestically as Yuki in an airplane. Some of his models crash early and often, so maybe this isn't the best simile, so I'll just say that Grandia III has one of the finest RPG battle systems ever. It even beats out it's predecessors due to a few tweaks and excellent graphics. Yuki's four person party all fight in a turn-based manner, although this isn't as boring as it is in other games. Character icons representing each party member and enemy move along a circular gauge, and when they reach a notch, then the fight is paused and an attack can be made. Executing a normal combo attack can be dished out quickly, but magic and special moves take a longer time to charge up, which can prove dangerous.

This wait between choosing the move and executing it makes from some tense moments where the gauge is anxiously watched in order to make sure the attack will get off in time. Attacks from either side can be cancelled at this moment, which adds the need for clever timing to the fast-paced battles. Critical attacks are the most basic way of cancelling an attack, but this option can be too slow. Special attacks that have been used over and over again and leveled up can be completed almost instantaneously. Powerful attacks lift enemies into the air, and if a basic combo attack is chosen at this moment, an awesome special move inflicts plenty of damage into the wretched creature. The original Grandia and its sequel suffered from an easy difficulty level, but the third installment gets things just right. Some regular enemy encounters can prove fatal if they're taken lightly, and despite the occasional difficulty, there's no need for endless level grinding.

Even people who typically don't care for RPGs should get some enjoyment out of the battle system, although the plot is a major turn off. The fights are so entertaining, and best of all, there are still no random encounters. The enemies are displayed on the screen and can be avoided. A great addition to the series is the level of interaction before the fight even happens. Previously, first strikes could be initiated only by walking into an enemy from behind. Now, Yuki's sword can be slashed outside of the battle, which knocks the enemy down. Then, a preemptive strike can be had by walking into the baddie, or Yuki can run away and dodge the fight entirely Some areas even have bombs to ignite, which cripple the enemy and let's Yuki's party choose their attacks instantly at the start of the battle.

Exploring the locales is never a hassle due to a handy map. Some of these places are quite large, and there's no shortage of stunning vistas thanks to a unique art design and some stunning graphics. The special effects in the fights are impressive enough, but seeing a beautiful beach drenched in sunlight makes the world in Grandia III convincing. The camera is fully rotatable, and a useful sonar makes it hard to overlook valuable treasure that would have otherwise been missed if the camera wasn't turned the right way in certain areas.

In the towns, there are plenty of different shops since the skill and magic system is the most advanced seen in the series, although things are never overly convoluted. Now, equipping magic eggs doesn't teach any new spells. All they do is boost the power of some of the four elements of magic. The eggs have to be sacrificed in order for spells to be extracted from them, and then they can be equipped. The magic most stores sell are rather weak, so this is the prime method of obtaining helpful spells. This means that magic eggs that can boost the type of magic that's used might be otherwise better to be sacrificed for the extractable magic they contain. The skill system is similar. All the strongest skills are typically obtained by sacrificing skill books rather than equipping them. Having to get rid of a decent skill book or magic egg can be a tough decision, but the amount of freedom this gives each character is a great addition compared to the lacking options in past games.

Grandia III makes great strides in the magic and skill systems, and the battles are as exciting as ever. It's just that the storyline is so disappointing that at times it is difficult to continue playing through the game. At the start of the second disc is a particularly mind-numbing excursion into another world where not only is everything boring, but the monsters give a pitiful amount of experience points so even the battles seem pointless during this lengthy stretch. The rest of the storyline after this point is so tepid that even though the game is only thirty hours long, I wished it was over at least five or ten hours sooner. It's a shame that some of the finest RPG battles need to hold up such an uninteresting plot.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 05/13/08

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

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