Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.
Fans of the Grandia series have always attributed to the series a presentation of great adventure, memorable characters, original battles and worlds filled with unique styles and ambience. After the end of Grandia 2, fans had waited eagerly for a sequel, wanting something that rivaled the legacy left behind by the first game. Unfortunately, the dungeon crawler Grandia Xtreme was a major letdown.
A few more years passed, and soon an announcement was made that got all Grandia fans in a tizzy: Grandia 3 was coming. Finally, after years of waiting, a game that promised to give the fans what made the first game a legend.
The game begins proper with a young Yuuki witnessing the adventures of the legendary King of Flight Schmidt. Ever since then, Yuuki has dreamt of one day taking to the skies in his very own plane. During one of his maiden flights, he has a chance encounter with Alfina, who was being attacked on the way to Arcliff Sanctuary and soon they get embroiled in an adventure that will span multiple worlds, with the very existence of their world at stake.
Grandia 3’s character customization system has been fine tuned and streamlined to efficiency. Characters have 3 stats that determine the amount of SP, Skill and Magic slots they can have, they are called Expert Levels and will go up as you fight battles, with the max at 15. In addition, Mana Eggs and Skill Books, which are used to boost the power of your equipped skills and magic, can be used at certain Expert levels only; the more powerful, the higher the level needed.
Skills can be bought from Skill shops or made from Skill Books in the shops, generally at max Expert Level; a character has 15 slots for skills, the more powerful the skill, the more slots it takes. Skills are a major factor in customizing your characters, and complemented with the right Skill Books, they can be downright powerful and even lifesaving.
Magic is also bought from stores, but as you progress in the game, you can hatch Mana Eggs to get more powerful magic not available early, or even normally. Further on, you can even combine Mana Eggs to get more powerful variants to use, or to extract magic from. Equipping Mana Eggs is important in boosting your character’s proficiency in the particular elements; each Egg boosts either, Fire, Water, Wind, Earth, a combination or even all of them. Getting as many Eggs as possible to combine and create a more powerful variant plays a huge role in the power of your magic as well as its casting time!
Battle Skills are learned somewhat similar to Square’s Saga Frontier/Romancing Saga games, wherein you keep using Combo Attack (your regular attack) until the character suddenly learns the move and executes it. Powering up learned Battle Skills is done through regular use, and when it levels up, the character will execute it instantly without SP cost. Each battle Skill can reach a Max Level of 5, and powering them up is crucial to reduce cast time and increases power and overall effectiveness.
Battles in Grandia 3 are somewhat slower, following strictly to the character’s Agility and pacing of the IP bar, which is represented in a circular fashion this time. When a character reached the COM part of the bar, he/she has his turn to input commands and then it’s a wait until he/she hits the ACT bar, where the action is performed. The same rule applies to enemies, and if hit by a Critical Blow or a strong Battle Skill with Cancel effect, the target’s action is cancelled and he/she/it is thrown back in the IP bar to await the turn again.
With the general gist of the IP bar in mind, and the fact that it hasn’t really changed much over the series, what’s so unique about battles now? For one thing, there is a chance to knock an enemy into the air with a Critical Blow – a higher chance if it was used to cancel an action – and if another of your allies is near the COM or is on its turn, selecting its Combo attack command will instead result in an Aerial Combo, which hits many more times and a lot harder. Some may say Aerial Combos are there just to make things look flashier, but honestly, I can safely tell all of you it’s extremely crucial in a lot of battles.
Speaking of battles, lets talk about the enemy AI and overall difficulty. Grandia 3 is hard — in fact it starts out harder then the first game — but as you progress, the difficulty reaches levels far exceeding those in even Grandia Xtreme! Regular enemies never want to hold back, taking every chance to hit you with spells and skills, they are smart enough to take down your support characters, make it a point to cancel your moves, and hit as many of your characters as possible. For those who have played Grandia 2 over and over, the sudden spike in difficulty will be daunting. Bosses come with multiple parts performing individual actions, sometimes you will find yourself facing of a tag team of bosses with multiple parts, raining crippling attacks on you and making battles brutal unless you have leveled considerably and know exactly what the hell you’re doing and what to do next (and even then, prepare to have a contingency plan if enemies foil your strategies with their own!)
The world of Grandia 3 is vast and rendered in breathtaking detail; water ripples and waves are done realistically, fog is shown mingling with the light, and flora and fauna can be seen at most times acting independently. I would have honestly given the game 100% if it were not for the fact that the graphics team didn’t seem to render shadows properly; every time you climb a ladder, you’ll get to watch your shadow ‘fly’. Also, footprints don’t show as well when you run across a sandy beach.
If you are the type that is not used to long dungeon crawls or heck, long field crawls, be mentally prepared for the fields and dungeons in Grandia 3 as they are as vast as they are breathtaking! Towns are few and far between and you’ll find yourself in them for a large part of your time. Fortunately events occur fairly often to break the certain level of monotony and there are the usual meal time talks made classic since the first game, albeit not as many, and chances to do them are spaced fairly far apart throughout the game.
Once Yuuki gets a plane, he can take flight and fly all over the world, visiting places he has been before as well as going to the next objective. Flight control is simple, however the World Field is fairly limited in size. As an added gimmick, while flying around, Yuuki can pick up transmissions to listen in on some news or some random tidbits, and when flying in view of certain locations, pressing the R1 button brings up a narrative of that location. Once Yuuki is within range of an accessible area, it will prompt you if you want to land by pressing the O button.
The controls in the game are extremely responsive, and navigating menus is quick and hassle free. The right analog also controls the camera in the field, and personally it’s the better choice for looking around. My main gripe is that often times the camera positions you in a way it’s difficult to readjust in time to see an enemy charging at you. The mini-map is always displayed and is your best friend at navigating towns and dungeons, although optional and secret areas will not be shown.
The music in the game starts out fairly mediocre — it seems Iwadare remixed some tunes from the first game and put them into Grandia 3. There is no denying the music matches the ambience of the locale, however, and eventually all the more catchy and notable music will come in as the game enters its later half. Miz’s In the Sky is also really matching (and catchy) for the initial setting of the story, as well as Yuuki’s ceaseless fascination of flight. It’s nice to note that both the English and Japanese versions of the song are in together with 2 others, one of which is sung by the character Dana during the game.
Sound effects in Grandia 3 are pretty well executed; you can hear ambient sounds from wildlife when wandering around a jungle, the seagulls when near the sea or a port, and the crashing of waves on the shorelines. Sounds in battles come in a huge assortment; monster growls, spell sounds, clashing of weapons and falling of characters are all audible and will work your sound system into overtime!
The next major factor is voices, and I’m pleased to say the voice acting is top notch, and the variations in tone according to the situation and a character’s personality is near perfect. Good voice acting is a good thing, since A LOT of events in Grandia 3 are voiced and they do not have subtitles, so crisp clear voices goes a long way!
Finally, what more can I add other then the fact that Grandia 3 has almost perfectly quenched the thirst for another hit game in the series? Grandia 3 has met many expectations, offers a challenging level of difficulty and a sense of adventure like no other. Import this game if you want or wait for a localized release, either way, Grandia 3 is a must buy for Grandia fans and RPG lovers in need of a breathtaking experience of a lifetime and beyond!