Despite the overpowering fanfare and the accolades of Square Soft's progeny, Game Arts has always maintained a reputation for creating vibrant worlds filled with colorful characters. Their portfolio reads like an RPG fan's wish list, comprised of some of the most beloved role-playing games in history. While the Lunar series is arguably Game Arts' most popular legacy in the States, the Grandia games are wonders in their own right. Grandia was an import media bombshell when released in 1997, showing skeptic gamers that the Saturn was a console RPG contender. Game Arts' token themes of rich cultures, ancient technology and adventurous youth had been meticulously preserved in the original Grandia. Game Arts also introduced a revolutionary battle system that made ordinary turn-based combat seem dull by comparison. With the demise of the Saturn in North America, gamers waited for several years until SCEA decided to localize the PlayStation port. Sadly, their translation attempt was substandard, leaving many fans who had eagerly awaited the chance to play the game very displeased.
With Grandia II, Game Arts had put aside the juvenile antics of the previous game and opted for a more mature, darker tale on the fledgling Dreamcast. The sense of high adventure, distinct cultures and fiendishly addictive gameplay had reached new heights with the second installment; Game Arts had given birth to yet another legend. When Ubi Soft, a company renowned for their quirky platformers, announced that they would be localizing Grandia II for an American release, gamers everywhere collectively cringed. Thankfully Ubi Soft went to great expense to preserve the high standards set by the original Japanese seiyuu (voice actors), employing Kris Zimmerman, of Metal Gear Solid fame, as vocal director. The result was a strong vocal performance for an equally amazing adventure. Grandia II was met with media praise and consumer frenzy when released stateside, eventually earning questionable ports on both the PlayStation 2 and the PC.
Now, two years after Grandia II had reaffirmed Game Arts' reputation as one of the finest RPG makers in the world, their next creation is looming on the horizon. With Enix and Game Arts' recent publishing agreement in Japan, it comes as no surprise that Enix America will be handling the localization of Grandia Xtreme.
Despite the name, Grandia Xtreme is not considered a direct descendant of the series, but exists more as a "gaiden" or side-story. Grandia Xtreme tells the story of the young ranger Evann during an era of strife. The nations of Arcada and Nortis have collided since time immemorial, and now that peace seemed to be within reach, a new threat has emerged. Natural disasters have begun to occur with alarming frequency, affecting both lands. The concurrent surges of spiritual energy from the lands of Locca are suspected to be the cause. During this maelstrom, Evann is drafted into military service under the command of an old rival, and sent to investigate. With a company of brave, yet tenuous allies, Evann must descend into the catacombs of Locca to find and stop the source of the destruction.
The traditional world-spanning adventures of the previous Grandia games have been changed to a more utilitarian approach. Grandia Xtreme will consist of a host of dungeons that gamers will explore, while using the two towns present in Locca as bases of operations for Evann's expeditions. Gamers with a sense of wanderlust may be disappointed but Enix promises that the character depth and diversity synonymous with a Game Arts title will far outweigh the need for trolling a world map.
Grandia Xtreme follows Grandia II's example of a lush, though limited, world rife with rich culture and beautifully modeled architecture crafted entirely in real-time polygons. The game will feature pre-rendered cinemas, real-time character interactions and the occasional FMV spell-effect. With the death of the Dreamcast, Game Arts has built Grandia Xtreme from the ground up on the PlayStation 2. While many questioned the graphical issues of their port of Grandia II for the PS2, there is even more concern for Grandia Xtreme. During my experience with the short playable demo available at this year's E3, I found the game to be attractive, though some of the texture and transparency problems present in the PS2 Grandia II had yet to be resolved on Sony's hardware. The character models haven't been significantly improved over Grandia II, but why mess with a good thing? Manga artist Kamui Fujiwara (Emblem of Roto, Dragon Quest VII manga) lends his talents to the character design of Grandia Xtreme and his creations are filled with personality.
What next generation RPG would be complete without an all-star cast of voice talent to round out the mix. Enix America has spared no expense in recruiting some of the most talented television, film and musical artists for Grandia Xtreme. Dean Cain (Lois & Clark, Ripley's Believe it or Not) will play the role of the hero Evann, accompanied by Mark Hamill (Star Wars: Episodes IV-VI, Batman: The Animated Series) as Colonel Kroitz, his rival turned commanding officer. Nineties pop darling Lisa Loeb will portray Lutina, heroine and officer of an Arcadan elite unit.
The soundtrack for Grandia Xtreme marks the return of Noriyuki Iwadare and TWOFIVE. Renowned for scoring the Langrisser and Lunar series', as well as the previous Grandia games, Iwadare-san's musical diversity will no doubt enrich this latest episode. His uplifting folk tunes and strong orchestral pieces influenced by international music have always delighted fans and newcomers alike.
The lavish combat system pioneered in Grandia and refined in Grandia II will return with full force in Grandia Xtreme. Players will be able to strategize their actions based on a visual timeline of combat order. Evann and company can execute combo actions and even perform maneuvers that can disrupt enemy spell-casting or delay their opponents’ attacks. Gamers who utilize the system efficiently can gain bonuses to damage among other niceties. Spells can be equipped to different characters via interchangeable Mana Eggs, while special abilities are found in Skill Books scattered throughout the game. The level of customization present in Grandia Xtreme is refreshing compared to the rigid character development found in most other RPGs.
Despite its rich heritage, Grandia Xtreme may face an uphill battle. While the game sports attractive visuals, an accomplished voice cast and a fiendishly addictive combat engine, many believe the game lacks enough substance to carry the prestigious name. Console dungeon crawlers have always been met with skepticism and Grandia Xtreme may bear the same stigma. While some games, such as Blizzard's Diablo, have been ridiculously successful despite a fundamental lack of depth, Grandia Xtreme will be held to a higher standard. Enix America has enough faith in GameArt's latest to be pulling out all the stops, though only time will tell just how worthwhile the game will be.