Grandia is an RPG series that started on SEGA’s Saturn. It quickly got its very own, but rather small, fan base. Many didn’t know of Grandia until it was converted to Sony’s PlayStation some years later. Then came Grandia II; first released for Dreamcast, but since that wasn’t the hit console SEGA had hoped for, it was pretty quickly released to the PS2. The early Grandia games have been enjoyed by both reviewers and gamers, much because of the series’ unique battle system. Even so, Grandia Xtreme, that mainly focused game play to battles, was not a hit. And so here is Grandia 3, in an attempt to make disappointed fans, and possibly the entire game world, forget about GX.

Plattform: Playstation 2
Utvecklare: GameArts
Utgivare: Square Enix
Släppdatum: 14 februari 2006 (US)
Köp här: eBay

This time around, Square Enix is publishing the game and maybe hardcore Squenix fans will buy G3 for this fact only. Then there are the hardcore Grandia fans, that I’m sure will buy it with no questions asked and maybe these two groups can do that and live happily ever after. For the rest of the gamers out there, I suggest you find plenty of info on the game before you decide. Let’s start with this review, shall we?

I’m gonna give you my honest opinion on Grandia’s hyped battle system; it’s alright. That’s it. I’m not overly excited about anything, it works well. In battles you can as usual use special moves and critical attacks to cancel an approaching enemy attack. This is of course a nice treat which brings tactical attributes to the fights. But battles can in fact become quite tedious since they tend to take a long time. As I can recall, both G1 and G2 had battles that we more quickly paced and ended sooner as well. Battles work pretty much as in Wild ARMs 3, characters run around on their own and you enter commands when they each get their turn, only in Grandia you can see whose turn is up next. Special moves are learned by executing combo attacks frequently (actually the combo attack is the normal way to attack so don’t be fooled) and the skills have five different levels; the fifth being the ultimate method. The only way to learn these are to use the skills frequently too, but don’t overdo it. Special moves use skill points (SP) and it’s good to have some left in case you would need to cancel an enemy’s attack. Sometimes the critical attack won’t make it in time, even though you’re right next to your foe.

There are no random encounters; all enemies are visible in the field. You can strike an enemy down with your sword, thus stunning it and if you run into it when stunned you will end up doing a surprise attack. Aside from the battles you can fuse mana eggs to create new ones, and if you want, you can extract magic spells from these mana eggs. You can also extract special equipable skills from skill books. Simple enough.

So what about the game’s story? Well, to be honest, I’m somewhat dissatisfied. It starts off with our protagonist Yuki trying to cross the ocean and get to the mainland by plane, apparently a huge achievement in this world. His childhood hero is the legendary pilot Schmidt. In the beginning of Yuki’s journey, as he travels through the clouds, he is accompanied (more like ambushed) by his mother Miranda, who literally looks and acts like an older sister. Not a lot of time passes before they run into Alfina, a communicator who can speak to the guardians of the world (how original) and Yuki decides to help her out, so now the story is more about Alfina and the trials she will be put through. Eventually they run into a sailor called Alonso. He and Yuki’s mother are only with your party for quite a short while and are then replaced with other characters that will stay with you for the rest of the game. I fear Grandia 3 suffers from something I like to call “the Final Fantasy VIII syndrome”. Namely, people make important/romantic bonds quite suddenly, just like Squall and Rinoa did, and you sit there like a big question mark thinking “how did this happen?” There is very little character development in this game and there are characters (mostly your enemies but also NPCs) that you learn almost nothing about, yet you are supposed to accept and feel captured by their role in the game. In any case, I was kind of hoping for something better than this. Grandia 1 and 2 sure didn’t let me down.

This is a bit odd to mention, but I must. Grandia 3 has the sorriest game settings I’ve ever seen. Three adjustments is all there is; mono or stereo sound, camera movements for the right analog stick and scene skip on or off for cut scenes. What happened to screen adjustment, subtitles on or off, volume settings for BGM (background music), voices etc? G3’s cut scenes have no subtitles and sometimes the voices can disappear in the sound effects. There is also no possibility of pausing the cut scenes. And why isn’t it possible to skip long battle scenes? (Reviving a fallen character with full HP for example, takes much longer than I would want it to. It would be nice to be able to press a button and just skip it so you can get on with the fight since they already take so much time.)

I’m also curious to know what’s gotten into Noriyuki Iwadare, our dear Grandia composer, whose music I normally like. There are a few songs (battle themes included) that stand out of the otherwise bland score. The whining noise that “welcomes” you as you enter the Baccula settlement – I’m telling you, cover your ears or you’ll be scarred for life. That is not what game music should sound like. It’s appalling.

The world of Grandia 3 is surprisingly small. You have the plane at your disposal almost right from the start, but you really don’t use it much since you basically fly straight ahead when you’re going to your next destination. And when you are exploring the world, you’re quite disappointed to find there is nothing to discover. (Except a whale in the sky, but don’t ask me what that is about.)

So where does Grandia 3 shine, you ask? It can’t all be so-so or a simple let down? Well no, it can’t, but where Grandia 3 really shows some muscle, is the one place that doesn’t make a game; the graphics. The landscapes in this game are nothing less but breathtaking, thanks to GameArts strive for realism. Be sure to take your time rotating the camera. The towns are still sort of featureless and boring, and in Mendi the houses are just plain ugly. But the nature; the sky, the trees, rivers, sun rays – so beautiful and the characters look pretty nifty too. Voice acting is alright as well. It’s not better or worse than anything else, it’s pretty standard. But in battles, some enemies make noises that are extremely annoying. Then it’s a real pain having the battles last so long.

I finished the first CD of the game in 16 hours and I was afraid Grandia 3 would be way too short in addition to everything else, but it’s ending up around 40 hours. But seriously, the battles are 80% of that time. Remove all the battles and you wouldn’t have a game, not even a short movie because the story is severely flawed. But, despite the battles becoming pretty tiresome, you work through them and you advance forward. They are not even close to being horrific like Magna Carta’s. Still I would really have wanted better story and music. Grandia 3 is an alright game that wants to achieve so much, but doesn’t quite make it.

Skriven: 2006-03-12