Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.
The latest installment of the Grandia series has arrived, and it’s great… but alas, it’s not “GameArts” great. Read on, brave adventurer, for more information.
Storyline and Character Development
Grandia III’s main storyline involves Alfina, the heroine, and her search for Emelious. Emelious is her older brother; the two were raised together in the Shrine of Arcliff. Emelious was training in order to become the next “Commute,” a man with the ability to communicate with the Holy Beasts. However, as he grew older, he began to question this destiny; the foundations of their religion no longer made sense, and he desired to break free from the confines of the “fate” which others had imposed upon him. He disappeared one morning, and no one ever saw him again. In his place, Alfina became the next Commute, but she never forgot about her brother, for whom she was deeply concerned. Three years later, Emelious appeared again, but wasn’t the man that anyone remembered. Rumors spread that he had a cold, distant demeanor, and had become involved in something sinister. Desperate for more information, Alfina was determined to seek information at the Shrine of Arcliff. Meanwhile…
Yuuki, our hero, was raised in the Village of Anfog. Since childhood, his hero was the “Flight King Schmidt,” a famous man whose aerial adventures inspired him to build his own airplane. On his very first flight, Yuuki soared above the Anfog Forest and noticed a young girl being chased down on the road below. As luck would have it, the “flight unit” on Yuuki’s plane went out, sending him crashing to the earth below and taking out Alfina’s carriage in the process. Concerned about the girl, Yuuki searched for her, and after all the necessary introductions, he carried her back to the Village of Anfog.
As promising as it sounds, Grandia III’s storyline is unfortunately rushed and full of holes. Early in the game, Alfina’s brooch, a treasured item from her brother, is stolen and lost by a character named Alonso. Although this item is eventually reclaimed, it serves no other purpose in the storyline. It makes the player question why it was such a big deal in the first place. Emelious has four “henchmen,” all of whom have the character development of a rock. Throughout the entirety of the game, we learn absolutely nothing about these characters, aside from the (blatantly obvious) fact that they serve Emelious. Their backgrounds, motivations, and so forth are not implied in any manner whatsoever. In fact, one of these four characters has little more than two lines of dialogue in the entire game. For a 16-Bit SNES RPG, fighting an evil character “just because he’s evil, and that’s that” would be acceptable, but certainly not by today’s standards.
Ironically, the best-developed character in the game is the “Flight King Schmidt.” He’s a distant, moody man, and the player cannot understand why until the latter scenes in the game, where his traumatic past is revealed. The relationship between Dahna and Dunkel is also developed nicely, and the two of them share several dramatic scenes together. Grandia III’s writing and dialogue are excellent; the direction of focus, however, is not. I truly would have preferred Grandia III’s storyline to have focused on these three characters, rather than Alfina and Emelious’ completely clichéd, melodramatic whining which comprises the main storyline.
Grandia III’s gameplay is similar to previous installments. There are no random encounters; enemies can be seen on-screen and avoided, if desired. Despite their frantic and dynamic appearance, battles are a turn-based affair; player characters and enemies move around a circle at varying speeds, based upon their attributes. When they reach the “Act Phase,” they are allowed to input a command. This command may or may not execute immediately; with spells/techniques which require a casting time, performing a critical hit on that particular character results in a “cancel,” knocking the character backward on the circular gauge. Unlike previous Grandia games, however, Grandia III introduces air combos. Upon performing a cancel, the enemy is knocked into the air. If another character attacks the enemy while it is in the air, the screen cuts to a wide-screen animation of a special combination attack. It is possible to continue chaining the enemy higher and higher, which delivers additional damage and increases the odds of receiving rare items in the after-battle spoils. This particular innovation served to keep battles fresh and rewarding throughout the entirety of the game, as well as expanded upon the “theme of flight” permeating throughout the storyline.
Those familiar with Grandia Xtreme will recognize the Mana Eggs and Skill Books, the main mechanism of character customization. Aside from normal equipment, equipping Mana Eggs and Skill Books increase a character’s proficiency in a particular element of magic, or a particular branch of techniques. These spells and techniques are available to purchase at various shops around the world. For instance, Yuuki could purchase “Vaan,” the basic fire spell, and equip it. If he then equips the “Blaze Egg,” the Vaan spell will be enhanced and do more damage in battle. Mana Eggs can also be synthesized in order to create a more powerful Mana Egg, and both Mana Eggs and Skill Books can be desynthesized in order to extract exclusive spells and abilities which are only obtainable through this process.
Grandia III also introduces a gambling mini-game, “Arrange Dice.” This game involves cards and dice; the player selects seven out of nine cards, the cards being 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11. Each of these cards represents the potential sum of two six-sided dice rolls. “Snake eyes” is an automatic loss, and a 12 serves as a multiplier. After arranging the cards in any order the player chooses, the dice are rolled five times. Whenever the sum of the two dice corresponds to one of the player’s cards, that card slides forward. The player wins money if three or more cards (which must be adjacent to one another) slide forward. It’s not the most exciting, nor the most innovative mini-game I’ve ever seen, but it was mildly entertaining, as well as a necessary evil in order to obtain the best Skill Book in the game.
For curious fans of the series, the “dinner events” make their return. But unfortunately, Grandia III offers little more than that in terms of side quests or other optional undertakings. Grandia III, as an experience, is straight-as-an-arrow; it’s the most linear RPG I’ve played in quite some time, and aside from hunting rare drops towards the end of the game, there’s not much to do at all aside from occasional gambling and progressing through the main storyline.
The graphical presentation of Grandia III is hit-or-miss. On one hand, the characters have fairly low polygon counts; as a result, they don’t look particularly detailed. In fact, they’re only a small step above Dreamcast-quality renderings, in this reviewer’s opinion. On the other hand, the environments in this game are quite possibly the most beautiful environments in any PS2 RPG. From dark forests, to the reflection of the sun shimmering on the water, Grandia III’s environments are extremely well-detailed. It’s obvious that the art directors and artists spent a great deal of time with several of the areas through which Yuuki and his companions traverse.
Animation-wise, Grandia III is quite gorgeous. Battles animate fluidly with dynamic camera direction, which always keeps the action hot. The game features several dozen full motion video sequences, through which the storyline develops. These scenes are equally well-done and demonstrate GameArts’ unique aesthetic style.
Sound and Music
Like the graphics, the music of Grandia III is hit-or-miss. Personally, I feel like Mr. Noriyuki Iwadare is losing his touch; many of Grandia III’s tracks are simply filler. They don’t have the same “heart” which made the Lunar and Grandia soundtracks so highly regarded among fans. In particular, the battle themes are disappointing; in my opinion, the main battle theme is the most important song on the entire soundtrack, because it’s the one the player hears the most throughout the adventure. “Attack With Conviction” is bland and boring, completely inferior to any given battle theme from the Grandia Xtreme OST (which I consider his best work in terms of battle music). The final boss theme, “GREAT ASSIZE,” is simply discordant and strange, featuring a warped combination of the traditional Grandia theme song, bits of piano, and unusual transitions to give the battle a “chaotic” feel. It lacks the epic, climactic energy which should always be present in the final conflict. On the other hand, Iwadare’s “sad themes” are excellent, and Miz’s “In the Sky” is an outstanding vocal track whose melody is interwoven throughout the entire score.
Don’t misunderstand me; Grandia III is an incredibly fun, enjoyable game. I know, however, that GameArts is a much more capable developer than what they demonstrate through their latest release in the series. Perhaps the simultaneous development of Grandia III and Lunar: Genesis (Dragon Song) was overbearing, for both games could not live up to their full potential. Grandia III is a squarely above-average title; it does nothing groundbreaking, but definitely deserves your attention, if for nothing more than the incredible lineage of role-playing games from which it descends.