It’s all about pedigree…when faced with the decision of purchasing either Grandia III or Kingdom Hearts 2 a few weeks ago, the choice was easy and simple to make. Kingdom Hearts ( I have yet to write the review) in my book rates as a 8.5 game, which is not bad in fact its pretty good, but not a game that I would place among all time greats. The Grandia Series on the other hand have never received a score below a 9.0 in my book, and that would stand true even if you count the two REAL Lunar games by Game Arts, as part of the Grandia Lineage.
So sorry KH2, but Grandia 3 won out, and I gladly pulled out of my pocket a hard earned 50 bucks for it. Unfortunately I was left a bit disappointed…or more like disillusioned by the entire experience after the credits rolled. Game Arts is the one developer out there that can probably claim they have matched RPG giant Squaresoft in pushing the RPG genre forward with innovations. Both to Gameplay and Story.
With the two Lunars, Game Arts paved the way for future RPGs to actually have good dialog and epic story, if you don’t believe this play Lunar 1 and 2 and play all the FF games from 1-6. The Pre PS1 Era FFs have aged poorly in terms of story and dialog, and the Lunars have only gotten better (the older I get, the funnier the dialog gets.) With Grandia, Game Arts introduced, a new and improved turn based system that actually felt real time, and interconnected areas, which effectively killed the real time world maps that most games in the NES- PS1 era used.
Any one who reads my reviews regularly can tell you that I am not a big fan of interconnected areas, since I prefer the sense of freedom that a world map provides, but even then, it seems the interconnected feature has been stolen by most PS2 era RPGs (starting with FFX!) so for good or for bad when the Game Arts makes an RPG (which is not often 5 games in what? 14 years!? *pretends Grandia Xtreme never happened*) the entire RPG world watches, and then steals!
You might be asking yourself why the heck am I bothering with giving you RPG buffs a history lesson here, but all that rambling leads to this: Grandia 3 does nothing to push the RPG genre forward in fact it manages to regress some from the advancements made in the series by Grandia 2. To me that title, while not the one with the legendary rep ( in part thanks to the widely available awful PS2 port that looks like garbage), as that rep belongs to the first Grandia, Grandia 2 is the prime example of great easy to learn gameplay, and great character development in sync with a great translation. It was to me the game where the flaws of the great first title were corrected, or improved, which is why it is frustrating to see that Grandia 3 goes backwards and actually adds a few new flaws, in terms of both gameplay and specially in story telling.
IF IT AINT BROKE, DON’T FIX IT!
Grandia’s battle system was the definition of perfect, in fact it has been my favorite battle system in a traditional RPG since its birth in 1997. Now that is a whooping nine years! And while FFX tried something similar, by showing when the enemies are about to have their turn, no one quite pulls the realtime/Turn based hybrid system as well as the Grandia series does, which is why, instead of complete over hauling the system, Game Arts decided to add a few little “fixes” here and there.
To start let’s mention what Game Arts did right, the IP gauge is no longer a horizontal bar at the bottom right corner of your screen, the IP gauge has been redesigned , and its now a circular gauge at the top left corner of your screen (I know Grandia Xtreme used a circumference too, but lets pretend that side attraction never existed.). The improvement here is purely cosmetic, as getting rid of that big horizontal bar allows for a better view of the battle field, but nonetheless it is a welcome improvement.
The IP gauge still works the same way it did in previous entries, meaning that all of the characters including the enemies must travel through the WAIT section of the gauge, into the COM section, and finally in to the ACT section of the bar in which, whatever command the player chose the corresponding character in the party will carry out.
The choices of attack are the same as in the last two entries except for a minor (which turned out to be major in some boss battles) addition. You can do the standard Combo attack, the Critical attack, Magical Attack , an SP attack, defend, item command, flee and the NEW orb attack. The only commands I will go into explaining here are the SP, the Critical and the Orb (only because it’s a new addition).
The entire system is based on strategy and timing, most of the times you know, before hand what attacks the enemies will use, its very hard to cancel normal enemy attacks because like your combo attacks and critical, the interval between the COM and ACT sections of the bar, are a fraction of a second, so it is almost impossible to manage a cancel in due time, but once in a while you will be able to do so, with timing and luck. However most enemy normal attacks don’t do much harm, but they are annoying.
Enemy special attacks like the SP attacks and Magic, which are the ones that cause damage, usually take more time to get from COM to ACT, which allows opportunities to cancel their attacks. Also players must keep in mind that just as easily as they are able to cancel the attacks from the enemies, the enemies can cancel the party members attacks the same way. So the battles play out a lot like a game of canceling each other out, especially when facing a boss.
The problem in this installment is that Game Arts decided to add a few tweaks here and there to make the battles tougher than they were in the excellent Grandia 2, which admittedly had battles that were sometimes ridiculously easy. However while the AI is noticeable smarter in this title, the way they did this was by speeding the bosses (and even some normal enemies) IP traveling time, to in some occasions 3 to 4 times greater than the speed of the characters. Which made some boss battles unnecessarily difficult. This wouldn’t be a problem if the boss to boss battles progressed at a more eventful pace.
This happens mostly on disc 2, but you can clean the house with one boss only to get your behind handed to you on a silver platter in the next area, not only by the boss but sometimes by run of the mill enemies. It was in those instances and in the last boss battle no less that the Orb command became a life saver. You can have a total of Four Orbs each given to you by each of the guardians the party of characters visit throughout the game. Each Orb has a special skill, that depending on the circumstances you are in you must use, but since they can only be used once in every battle, it is imperative that the RIGHT orb is used at the RIGHT time, for maximum effect, which in a way serves as a check to the imbalance problems that the game has, even then expect to do some annoying stretches of battling in order to level up.
Other than a few issues, the battle system is as polished as ever, even with the cheapness of some bosses. However one thing the developers shouldn’t have tried to fix was the Skill book and Mana egg System from Grandia 2 which was in my opinion great. What we have now in it’s place is a mess, that in turn makes the battles more difficult. In previous games you would equip a book or an egg to learn skills and Magic from them, and depending on how often you used the skills and spells learned, they would power up. This was a great system that actually rewarded the usage of such skills, but now, it has been replaced by system that is similar in theory, but when put to the test is very different, and yields some frustrating results.
As in previous entries you can equip books and Eggs, unfortunately you can’t learn anything from them that way, the eggs are used to boost your elemental strengths, for example a Volcano Egg boosts the Fire stats of the character, making Fire Spells already equipped more powerful. In Grandia 3 Characters don’t learn spells, they buy them from a magic shop or extract them from the eggs in a magic shop, and then equip such spells at a save point or at the magic shop itself. The same applies for Skill books, you can equip as many as 15 of each skill (and eggs) or so I have heard, but the most slots any of my characters had was 10, that was probably because I was only at level 44 when I beat the last boss. Some Skills take up more than 1 slot each of course depending on what level of skill it is.
The problem here is that, the most powerful eggs are the best for upping up your stats, but the most powerful eggs also yield the most powerful spells. Unfortunately you will have to make a decision, of whether to equip the egg, or in the other hand destroy the egg to acquire the spells, this became cumbersome for me as I played through the game. Especially because you can only obtain the spells in a magic shop, so in the last dungeon for example, I had acquired some new eggs that were never put to use because it was impossible to return to a town.
The Save points have also suffered some changes for the worst in this game. Once upon a time every save point meant a place to restore your heath and save, now most of the time, the Restore option has been eliminated, unless the save point is right before a boss battle.
One last complaint about the battles is the fact that even when you surprise an enemy (you can see enemies on your screen and you can smack them with the sword in order to surprise them.) you don’t get any real advantage over them in the IP gauge which is ridiculous to say the least, even though you get a considerable field advantage for a few seconds.
It seems that while the developers out did themselves in Grandia 2 to make the game more enjoyable in the hands of players, in Grandia 3 Games Arts has decided to in a way, undo the advancements made by that game. I guess we all have to thank, the gamers who keep complaining and moaning about games being too easy. Even then, I feel in terms of the magic/skill system this is truly the inferior title out of the trio.
That being said, I am being a bit too harsh, on the game, even with all of the faults I mentioned Grandia 3 is probably one of the best playing RPGs in this generation, perhaps I am just nit picking as I am such a huge fan of the series, those new to the series, perhaps wont even notice any of these complaints and will completely fall in love with the still great battle system.
Moving on into the improvements, finally the camera angle has been switched from the classic over the top view of the last two games to a 3rd person view that completely mimics the camera of Star Ocean 3, like in that game the camera can be rotated in 360 degrees. Unfortunately, and this is were Skies of Arcadia still beats most RPGs of the PS2 era, you can not zoom in on the environments considering how impressive some of the visuals in this game are, I consider that a waste of sorts. However it is still better than that out dated over the top view that Grandia 2 used.
Also an on screen map has been added to avoid players getting lost and Confused in the environments. This might not have been a needed addition, but it was a welcome one. The last two games had some amazing labyrinth like dungeons that some times had me disoriented and lost looking for the right exit in order to advance in them, in those games an onscreen map was a necessity, but Grandia 3 rarely has any confusing maze, its very linear as the environments are more “rail road” like than open like those in Star Ocean 3 (that game while linear had bigger environments.) Even Grandia 2’s environments offered more running ground than the ones here, which is why the maps weren’t necessary at all.
While exploring the field, you will come across many enemies and treasure chests, by pressing the Square button you can instantly search your surroundings in order to uncover some chests that you might not have seen, again this is a great addition to the series, that made playing more enjoyable.
Last but not least, while the series stays true to its roots by sticking to the interconnected level format, flying airplanes seems to be an important part of the plot, and thus from time to time you will get to fly an airplane over a ridiculously small (but great looking) world map to travel between towns, if only the game had more places to visit and see, this feature would have been fantastic, but I wasn’t impressed by the fact that I could only land on established towns, and some field areas. However the airplane mechanic while interesting at first, after a few hours of play became nothing more than an after thought in my opinion.
Unlike past Grandias, in this title, there is a decent selection of minigames and side quests, nothing too complex or worthy of explanation but if you like to take your take and talk to everyone in towns, you will find them, completing some of them will earn you some decent items. All in all the gameplay was actually pretty decent in this title, even with the minor flaws.
CLICHED TILL THE VERY END
My main gripe with this title is not the gameplay, as it holds up to the Game Arts pedigree, what doesn’t hold up is the story. True, Game Arts has a way of retelling the same Story in its games, Lunar SSS, Lunar Eternal Blue and Grandia 1 all have an awfully similar tale ( While there was a rumored Lunar 3 in the works I consider the first Grandia a spiritual successor of both Sega CD Lunars.) Grandia 2’s tale was more original in some ways which is why I decided to exclude the title from that list. Either way the story is simple. Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love at first sight, boy completely drools over the girl while the girls tries to hide what she feels yada yada yada. The exception to this rule happened in Grandia 2 with the Ryudo, Millenia, and Elena love triangle. The thing that made the Lunars great was the fact that there was an interesting back ground story to it all, and the characters themselves with their individuality and amazing dialog (the latter thanks to the amazing translations done by the now defunct Working Designs.) Even the original Grandia which had one of the worst translations ever (Sony has a strong rep for delivering mediocre translations), the story was gripping, the characters were charming, and the ever present “Grand” sense of adventure was amazing.
Unfortunately, Grandia 3 breaks the tradition of strong story telling that had made Game Arts one of best RPG developers in history. The Strong characters, the compelling story, and the “Grand” sense of adventure are all sadly missing, perhaps the developers left them somewhere in the “Sky”.
The Sky, from the J Pop intro, which was exciting and showed that in terms of production values the game was up there with the best RPGs from Square Enix itself (While Game Arts developed the game Square published it), one thing that became clear was that the Sky would some how become an important part of the story in the game. An indeed the Story starts out unusually strong, with a Teenager in his late teens named Yuki, who with his friend Rotts, is building a plane, Yuki’s dream is to fly to the main continent to meet his hero Schmidt, who presumably is the greatest pilot that ever lived. Of course his ploy to leave the village is soon discover by his MOTHER Miranda, who is unusually hot, and young, young enough that I though something fishy was going on and that she was actually his sister.
Seriously his mom looks and acts like a fifteen year old girl (which really makes her a fifteen year old), which made the game interesting a fun, from there you will go through a series of events that will lead Yuki and Miranda to meet with a beautiful blonde Elf girl that is well… on the run. History repeats itself love AT FIRST SIGHT (what a surprise!), between Yuki and Alfina, and the rest of the story between then is predictable if you played any of the other Lunars or Grandia.
Even with the predictability of the Yuki/Alfina love saga, the game still remained interesting, Miranda, and Alonso, themselves had an interesting love story going on, and I was always intrigued by the fact that I wanted to meet Yuki’s real father. Unfortunately, after reaching Mendi City the plot will auto destroy itself.
Lets put it like this Miranda was the only character I truly cared about in the whole game, and she leaves the party in the first 5 hours, which was a bummer, I wont spoil anything else, but be aware that this tale is as predictable and as mind numbingly boring as it gets.
Ubisoft did a magnificent job translating Grandia 2, Square Enix, did a merely ok Job with Grandia 3, the characters are flat our boring and perhaps Game Arts is to blame for this, I mean there is only so much SquareEnix could do. Yuki has to be one of the worst protagonists ever in the history of RPG gaming, of course the blame doesn’t fall solely on him, the story that surrounds him is a silly and as predictable as RPG stories can get which is a shame.
The party of Heroes, was not inspiring or diverse enough for me, not only that the interaction between is not a plentiful as it was in previous entries, which doesn’t allow for proper character development.
The Villains don’t fare much better, especially the main Villain never seems to me as a threat to the main party, there aren’t really many shockers in the game, in fact I will be honest with you here, and tell you that seasoned vets probably will find no twists and turns in the game.
The only saving grace in the plot might be Raven, who doesn’t get much screen time but when he shows up, he usually does something meaningful.
Not only does Grandia 3’s story pale in comparison to its successor’s but it also throws away general themes and conventions of the previous titles. In the first two Grandia’s both worlds were split into two, by “The End of the World” In the first game, and in Grandia 2 by the Granacliffs. In Grandia 3 that is no longer the case, yeah there is a verse realm which is sort of a parallel world to the “real world” but you never really do anything meaning full in the verse realm so scratch that option. Also a theme of the series has also been that Humanity is good, this was no longer present here, at the very least not as strongly as it was presented in the last two games.
Last but not least, Game Arts has to stop making stories about resurrecting dead Evil Gods, really they have already done every thing they can with that theme in the last two entries, and the lack of creativity in this title’s story implies to me, that they have reached the end of the line with that particular topic so please for Grandia 4, I hope that they change subjects.
And what about the Sky you ask? Well nothing at all, yeah Yuki flies a plane, but so did Cid in FFVII, and pretty much any RPG character that ever had to traverse a world map! One would think the sky hid a mystery and what not, by the way the game was being advertised, but the sky theme is never really played with at its fullest…pointless really.
In the end Grandia 3’ s plot starts with a lot of promise, but little by little it losses all of the ingredients it once had to make a great tale and instead the entire thing ends up being stale. A predictable love story surrounded by an even more predictable and blatant plot, puts this tale along the mediocre stories of the RPG world, which is a terrible thing when you consider that it once upon a time it was Game Arts who was the king of Story telling in RPG games. Perhaps I should have gone with Kingdom Hearts 2 instead….
One thing that one can’t deny is that Grandia 3 is a great looking game, perhaps the best looking RPG game in the PS2, never before have such magnificent vistas been seen in an RPG game on the system, and a lot of it is the artwork in the environments, as texture wise the game doesn’t really improve much upon other titles like SO3. Anfog Village is the first place you ever see in the game, and I must say that it is also the best looking place in the whole game, in terms of design, by this I am not saying that the game’s other wonderful looking locales are bad, but they are more of the standard kind of thing you would expect from a top notch RPG, Anfog really had an unique feel, and it was just a beautiful place.
It is clear here that the quality of the artistry in Game Arts is as good as ever, even if there isn’t a big variety of locales in the game. The character animation is flawless especially in the well done cut scenes, but their designs seems some what uninspired, Yuki looks dumb, Alfina looks too much like Elena but with pointy ears, and the rest of the cast is generic as well, Emelious and Raven might be the strongest two designs in the game. For a company that has made as strong a rep as Square in what character designs are concerned, Grandia 3’s designs left much to be desired, in appearance and creativity.
Other than that the Water effects are flat, the texturing is as good as is gets in a PS2 RPG, and the over world map that appears when flying the airplane, is impressive looking, so all in all this is probably the best looking RPG in the PS2 along with KH 2, that’s until the inevitable release of FFXII, which surely will look better than anything else in the market.
In terms of Art work however, I still prefer the first Grandia over any of the titles in the series.
NORIYUKI IWADARE NOW ON TOP CLASS
Having composed the stirring soundtracks for the Lunars , the Grandia Series, and Radiata stories, it is safe to say that Iwadare has reached the Uematsu, Mitsuda plateau, as he has done more than they have lately on the RPG scene. What we have here in this game music wise is an excellent soundtrack that is a little stronger than the one he composed for Radiata. While excellent, he has stuck too much to tradition and there are only a few truly original tracks I would like him to take more risks more often in order to create more original stuff.
The music here is pretty much the same music that was played in the last two games, with the exception of some new tracks and some Lunar inspired songs, in particular the song that plays when you are on a shop or an inn was a composition taken from the Lunars. Which is not a bad thing considering, that we might never see a Lunar 3 on the market (It was on the works but apparently was canned in 2001), so the spirit of that series lives on at least musically on Grandia 3.
The Acting is merely ok, I couldn’t take Alfina’s voice, it was too high and annoying, Yuki does respectably well, as Emelious and Raven do. Yet the best combination of Actors in this series came in Grandia 2, Grandia 3 is a little better off that Grandia but only a little, shame on SquareEnix for not handling the situation with proper care. The sound effects are standard fare during the battles but the environments have nice aural effects for everything that moves in them.
Now onto that intro song, “In the Sky” by Miz, a song that also plays during some key scenes in the game. I have read in respected magazines negative comments about it, and my answer to those editors is ….DEAL WITH IT! Yeah the Song is too popish, it almost sounds like something Hilary duff would sing, but I have always believed that J Pop is deeply connected with Mexican pop (as they both sound alike), and this song does nothing to change that thought, the track itself sounds like Mexican rock pop, listen to Mexican teenage hottie Belinda’s CD and you will see that the style is impeccably similar.
Personally I like this music, true, this series has never been one to go for the “pop” impulses like the FF series or KH games have, but in an era where the genre has been commercialized to the point that the games are actually being developed for the mainstream gamers rather than for a cult of a select few, I think this was necessary. Or what? Would it have made it better had it been Rap playing instead of J pop? I thought the intro was exciting much in the way, that Utada Hikaru’s song in the first KH was.
A WORTHY GAME FOR NEW PLAYERS
Its hard to recommend this game to the hardcore RPG crowd if only because they have seen this story told so many times and in better ways before, but I am sure that those loyal to the series like me will eventually find their way to the game. The simplistic plot didn’t do it for me, but I definitely recommend this game to new comers that are looking for a great looking and short RPG (It took me 34 hours to finish) to get their feet wet in the genre.
However as I played through Disc 2 of the game I kept telling myself that maybe I should have bought KH 2 instead. As it stands now, this is the FF8 of the Grandia series, a small misstep that would be easily forgiven if it we are treated to a FF9 caliber title, when the inevitable Grandia 4 rolls around the corner, in the next generation of Consoles.
Gameplay: 7.5-This still remains the best Battle System in the market, the exploration aspect of the game has been improved even if the stages are bit too linear. Why did the developers tinkered with the Mana and Skills systems is anyone’s guess. I was annoyed frequently by the load times, and the fact that a game this short and small came in TWO DVDs is mind boggling.
Graphics: 9.5-Could be the best looking RPG on the PS2 today. Sharp textures, well animated environments and characters. The amazing vistas make this a Jaw dropper, if you never played an XBOX game that is.
Music: 8.5- Iwadare shows his class but his songs are getting a bit repetitive these days, I liked “IN the Sky” By Miz unlike some people. The acting was merely ok though.
Story: 5.0-Starts Original and Strong, then it turns into SUPER CLICHED, predictable and weak. Unlike other Game Arts games, the characters and the dialog didn’t even bother to try to save the category, and thus it earns a 5.
Addictiveness: 3.0-Chances are you will play it once and never touch it again. Grandia games were never about replay ability they were about story, and when the story sucks this bad, it’s not worth playing twice, hardly worth playing once actually.
Overall: 7.0-Techinically this is a good solid RPG, very polished fundamentals, but what’s worth an RPG without a great story? Grandia 3 doesn’t ruin the series ( Lets pretend again Grandia Xtreme never happened) but it certainly hurts its good name a bit.