Review by Rad_Mage
"A sublime RPG that deserves more attention than it gets."
Some games are destined to be smash-hits. Even if they had the worst gameplay ever created by mankind, these games would still fly off shelves and make millions upon millions of dollars for the creators of these marketing extravaganzas. A new Final Fantasy, Madden NFL, or Zelda game will be a multi-million seller no matter their quality.
On the other hand, there are games that have no chance at catching mainstream attention, no matter how perfect their gameplay is, no matter how sublime their stories are. These are the Radiata Stories and Disgaeas of the world. They simply don't have famous enough names or enough marketing muscle to get the average Madden gamer to care. Sure, these games have their loyal, hardcore followers. Sure, they make money, but they'll never see the success that Final Fantasy will.
Grandia 3 is most certainly a game that falls into the second category. No matter how good the game is, it just won't get mainstream attention. That makes me very sad, because this game is far more deserving of attention that an updated player roster in Madden or some new city in GTA.
The Grandia series has garnered a very loyal fanbase, and for good reason. These games are some of the most fun and innovative RPG's you'll find.
So, what's going on with this latest Grandia? Well, you're playing a young man named Yuki who dreams of flying. Ever since he heard of the legendary Sky Captain Schmidt, he's wanted to take to the skies in his own airplane. 19 times he has failed to make a plane that could make it to the mainland from the island he lives on. As the game begins, though, he has finally created a plane that he thinks can make it. He takes off and the plane works! As he is flying, however, he sees a girl being pursued by unknown assailants. He swoops down to try and scare off the girl's pursuers. Unfortunately, he crashes. He does manage to save the girl, however. She is, of course, not what she appears to be. Turns out she can actually communicate with the gods. Go figure. In typical RPG fashion, the two of them get swept up in cataclysmic, world altering events.
So, yeah, you've heard this story before. It's a nice, Hiyao Miyazaki-esque plot. As with so many things in life, though, it's more about execution than content. Every game out there rips off the plot of other games. What makes the story good is when the rip-offs are put together nicely so that everything flows well and the characters are believable.
Fortunately for Grandia fans, the story is mostly well done. It's far from original, (most of the plot twists are fairly standard) but it is pulled off with flair and the characters are realistic and nice enough that you'll grow to care about them over the course of the adventure.
For the first ten hours of the game, the story hangs with Final Fantasy in the storyline big-leagues. It starts to break down a little after that, but it will still keep you interested.
While the world created is fairly standard Japanese RPG stuff, you will still be drawn into it by the top-notch presentation. It's obvious Square-Enix funded this project, because the graphics and music are superb. Seriously, these are some of the best environments I've ever seen on the PS2. You'll be compelled to simply stand and marvel at the beautiful sunsets and diverse world.
Strangely, the character models are actually fairly primitive when placed alongside the beautiful environments. By no means are they bad, they just lack detail when they stand in the middle of the lush world. You'll still be left slack-jawed at the graphics, but the models could have been better.
Square-Enix's massive pocket book also shows its effects in the sound and music. The voice acting is pretty good, and the sound effects are quite decent. Swords clash, magic spells make loud bangs, everything sounds like it should.
Noriyuki Iwadare has once again returned to lend his incredible talent to the soundtrack of the Grandia series. He has composed a lighthearted soundtrack with lots of strings and pianos to convey the mood of the story and world. It gives the game a unique flavor to set it apart from all the other RPG's out there. The exploration music is repeated a little too often, but at least it's a good song.
As you should know, all this wonderful presentation doesn't mean a thing unless it is the whipped topping that goes on top of the ice cream of good gameplay. You don't want whip-cream by itself, and ice cream by itself is only okay, but together they make something spectacular. Similarly, mixing the wonderful sights and sounds of this game with good gameplay would make a stellar blend.
Fortunately, Game Arts does not disappoint. The battle system they have created for the Grandia series is one of the most highly acclaimed engines in the genre, and for good reason. It's wicked fun.
Battles take place in semi real-time. Once you encounter an enemy, you go to an area where your characters and all the monsters in the battle can fight it out. Everyone currently alive is represented on a circular meter by an icon. These icons constantly move clockwise at a speed that is determined by the character's stats. Once a character's icon reaches a certain point, they can be issued a command. The icon then continues on its way, and the command is executed when the icon reaches a later point on the meter.
Timing is incredibly important. If you execute a battle plan well, you can go through an entire battle without being hit once. Conversely, doing poorly means you'll take massive amounts of damage and be dealing very little of your own. It takes much more skill than the standard tap X battle system many turn-based RPG's employ.
The real strategy of the battles comes from manipulating the position of characters on the meter. There are two kinds of standard attacks. One does more damage, but the other will move the target's icon backwards on the meter. Every character also has special attacks, some of which will affect the positions of characters. There are just tons of different ways to approach any given battle in Grandia. That's what makes the combat so fun: you're constantly learning new and more effective ways to do battle. You may have a tough time getting the hang of battles at first, but you'll have a blast with it once you figure it out.
I also have to mention the way this game handles exploration. It's a law of RPG's that walking around on the overworld map has to be boring, with tedious random encounters to block your path from point A to point B, right? Nope. Grandia 3 thinks that exploring should be fun. To this end, they have included several new features to spice things up.
First of all, like many RPG's these days, random battles are gone. Rather than just being sucked into combat at random intervals, all the monsters are on the map. If you come into contact with them, you go to the battle screen. It's much more fun to see your enemies and be able to avoid or attack them at your leisure than to just be attacked randomly.
Secondly, you can hit things with your weapon at any time. Scattered throughout the maps are different things that can be hit to cause different effects. If you hit a giant mushroom, it might drop an item. There are all sorts of things scattered around for you to interact with. You can even hit monsters if you want! If you do, they are dazed for a few moments and won't chase you. You can run away at that point, or you can attack. If you attack while they are dazed, their icons start farther back on the meter than they normally would.
Lastly, they have implemented a search feature that makes it easier to find all those little chests and things they've scattered around. By pressing square, you'll send out a wave that will light up any items in its range that you can interact with. It makes exploring less stressful, because you don't have to agonize about missing items. (I know you've woken up in a cold sweat, absolutely sure you missed some powerful item in the last RPG you played. Admit it. No? Okay...)
Whether or not you are a compulsive collector, it's still a nice feature.
I do have to mention one downside to this game, though. Most RPG gamers are accustomed to their games lasting at least 40 hours, sometimes more. Unfortunately, Grandia 3 will only last you around 25-30 hours. Not only that, but there aren't really any sidequests to extend the playtime.
Why does it take up two discs, then? Well, it has a ton of gorgeously rendered cutscenes. They don't quite hit Final Fantasy 10's level of pre-rendered goodness, but they look good nevertheless.
So, should you buy it? Yes. Even if you swore off RPG's years ago because you hated their gameplay, you might still like this. It's closer to an action game sometimes than a typical, turn-based RPG.
A couple of rental periods might be enough to finish it, but I prefer to buy my games, in case I feel the urge to replay.
Final Score: 9/10
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 03/31/06, Updated 04/03/06
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