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Grandia III

Platform(s): PlayStation 2
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Game Arts


PS2 Review - 'Grandia III'

by Alicia on Feb. 22, 2006 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

Grandia III will use an all-new engine, N3, allowing for larger and more detailed environments. In Grandia III you play as Yuuki, a 16-year-old boy who dreams of being a pilot. When Yuuki meets Alfina, an elven shaman who can talk to holy beasts, he gets involved in a mission to find her brother Emilious, turned evil and wants to conquering the world.

Genre: RPG
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: GameArts
Release Date: February 14, 2006

Buy 'GRANDIA III': PlayStation 2

Grandia III is a standout game in a quarter that's swamped with good RPGs. About the worst thing you can say about it is that it's not as good as Dragon Quest VIII, and that applies to pretty much everything else being released this quarter, too. Some reviewers have come down hard on the game for having a plot that "tanks" after the first twenty hours, but to be honest, I've yet to notice anything like that. Grandia III does have a rather interestingly odd first half, but it's pretty obvious where it's going from early on. It's disappointing, of course, to see the unusual story elements give way to something a bit more cliched, but that's part of what makes it not as good as DQVIII. It's still a great game that's well worth a RPG fan's time. Players who aren't strictly fans of the genre may want to approach it a bit more cautiously, though. Enjoying Grandia III at points requires immense patience for RPG clich├ęs that are served up without a bit of irony or self-conscious polish attached.

The game essentially follows protagonist Yuki's maturation from a kid with a dream into a bold, world-saving hero. More so than in most games, in Grandia III the scope of the conflict and storyline is constantly widening. At first nothing concerns Yuki other than the construction of a plane that can fly over the ocean. Then, he and his mother Miranda decide they're responsible for getting Alfina over the ocean so she can return to Arcriff. Along the way they put some effort into making sure Yuki can meet, and get a plane from, his hero Sky Captain Schmidt. Suddenly Yuki decides he wants to escort Alfina back to Arcriff himself, and so he bids his mother and her new boyfriend Alonso good-bye so he can strike out on his own. Arcriff gets destroyed by the machinations of the villains, so Yuki stays around to help Alfina set things right.

Before long your party is communicating with Guardians, gigantic god-like creatures, traveling around the world in Yuki's plane, and eventually fighting battles in a whole other parallel universe. The transition from phase to phase is surprisingly smooth, although the stuff with the Guardians and Verse Realm is not quite as compelling as the earlier stories about Yuki wanting a plane; they're less human and a bit more generic. There's almost the feeling that Xorn enters the plot largely so there's some sort of final boss to have your party whaling on. Still, by the time you reach that point, there's a good chance you'll want to rush to the end just to see how it all turns out.

The combat system does much to help keep Grandia III interesting over the course of the full game. Even into the second disc, your characters are still getting new customization options, skills, specials, and spells. Playing around with different patterns for Air Combos, trying to cancel enemies before they attack, and trying to unlock new Specials can hold your attention for a very long time. Your customization options aren't as powerful in Grandia III as they are in some other RPGs - FFX's Sphere Grid and Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne come to mind - but there's still enough there to let you use the fighting style you prefer. While there are plenty of dungeons in the game, none of them are terribly long and the lack of random encounters makes exploration go quickly.

There is a slight issue with variety in the enemies you face: each dungeon map tends to only have three or so types of enemies that you'll encounter in that area. Early on there's some good variety in the types of enemies each area has, but toward the end of the first disc the game already begins to repeat the various enemy archetypes: the spellcaster-type, the slow high-HP bruisers, the flying enemies that occur in swarms and summon more of their own kind. Some of the dungeons toward the end of the first disc drag a bit as a result, although fortunately the boss fights stay tense and engaging throughout the game. The transition to the second disc introduces some much-needed variety in the enemy types, but suffers from dungeon maps that feel a bit dull and uninspired compared to the first disc's offerings. This would be a more serious problem if the game was longer, but at roughly 30-50 hours to finish up the main storyline, you're usually passing through an area before you can get very annoyed with it. This is one of the cases where "longer" is not necessarily better when it comes to an RPG.

One of the areas where customization is strong in Grandia III is with Spells and Skills. Every character can equip so many spells from a pool you've acquired either by purchasing spells from shops, or extracting magic from Mana Eggs. Mana Eggs are acquired only by finding them as treasure, or getting them as a random drop after killing an enemy. Once you hit the end of the game's first disc, you can start fusing Mana Eggs together to create more Mana Eggs far more powerful than anything you can easily obtain otherwise. Some of these eggs let you Extract magic that can't otherwise be purchased, or they can be equipped in the manner of normal Mana Eggs. Most Mana Eggs will boost a character's spells of a given elemental type, and all of the game's spells fit into one of four traditional elemental categories.

Some characters, like Ulf and Yuki, have Specials with elemental properties, so you can actually boost effectiveness of their Specials by equipping them with the right Mana Eggs. This does tend to lock them into certain roles as spellcasters, but you have more freedom with your characters that function as your primary spellcasters. Skills work along a system similar to the Mana Egg system for magic, but there are only three types of Skills, and all Skills are either purchased or extracted from Skill books. Likewise, all Skill books are only found as treasure or item drops, and can't be fused. Skills tend to give characters very powerful passive abilities and can make an enormous difference to the way your characters handle in combat, especially when you gain access to the Rank 3 and 4 Skills.

One are where Grandia III unquestionably disappoints is the World Map. After all of the build-up to Yuki obtaining his plane and all of the story elements that build up the wonder and majesty of flight, all you really do with the plane is use it to go in a highly linear fashion from point A to point B. You can use it to backtrack, or go to the next map area, and that's... really about it. There are a few secrets you can unlock by flying at high elevations, but overall, having your plane in Grandia III isn't nearly as interesting as the run-up to obtaining it. The game really would've been better for a more expansive World Map, and more out of the way secrets to find by exploring with your plane. Even a plane-flying mini-game could've been a welcome payoff for all the anticipating you do.

Still, what of the world you do explore in Grandia III is one of the most beautiful the PS2 has to offer. It's not quite as immersive or spectacular as DQVIII's, using flatter, more pixelated shading and making liberal use of invisible walls to rope the player off into the areas they're allowed to explore. Still, the areas you do move through are a feast for the eyes, delivering more detailed textures and higher-quality rendering than the PS2 might've thought possible. The locations and character models seen in the pre-rendered cut-scenes appear genuinely identical to the character models you encounter while exploring dungeons and in combat, and this helps bring a wonderful sense of life to the game.

Enormous attention to detail has also gone into the character movements, the combat effects, and even the direction on the cut-scenes. There's nothing of the stiff, mannequin-like movements in Grandia III that plagued earlier PS2 RPG efforts like Xenosaga. Instead, the characters move with convincing, detailed animations that even include swaying hair and rippling fabric. It's a pleasant feast for the eyes. Likewise, the voice-acting for the game is superb, and the soundtrack is enjoyable with the exception of a few truly ill-advised pieces that appear on the game's second disc. Playing Grandia III feels enough like visiting a living world to grant the feeling of immersion that is key to the RPG experience.

Grandia III could've been a better game, but as it stands it's a very good game that will more than satisfy any RPG cravings a player might somehow manage to have while the genre is so heavily saturated. Playing it may bring back memories of the multi-disc RPG epics the PlayStation often played host to, full of promising storylines and lovable characters. They often felt like they fell a little short of the mark in the end, and Grandia III in some ways shared that feeling. Still, the real fun of a RPG is the journey more so than the destination, and Grandia III is still a very fun ride indeed.

Score: 8.5/10

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