The Grandia series has gained many accolades and a great deal of fame since its original incarnation on the Sega Saturn in Japan. Technically the third game in the series (though lacking that information in the title), Grandia Xtreme seeks to continue the legacy from the previous games, but ultimately falls short.
The story of Grandia Xtreme begins with Evann; a young man with the ability to control the elemental spirits of the planet. Evann is called upon by the Nortis army with orders to assist them. His mission, should he choose to accept it?
In a nutshell, they want him to save the world. Gamers are provided with a small amount of background: though the Nortis Army waged war with the rival Arcadians for many a year, the sudden emergence of horrible natural disasters caused a cease-fire. These were no simple disasters; people were being killed by the thousands, and it had to be stopped. It came to be known as the Elemental Disorder. The Nortis Army has determined that the only way to end the Disorder lies in four ruins.
Though there is certainly some added spice, the plot stays as simplistic on a whole as described. Previously in Grandia and Grandia II this wasn’t much of a problem; the cast of characters and locales more than made up for the somewhat simplistic story, but this is not the case in Grandia Xtreme. The many other flaws help magnify how mundane the plot really is. The plot strives to be epic, but never reaches that level. Nations at war coming together in order to save the world with a reluctant main character: it certainly isn’t original in any sense of the word, but with the right manner of storytelling and character development it could turn out completely differently. Character development is at a nil; there are several ongoing characteristics that are somewhat built upon, but nothing comes across as intense, interesting, or intellectual. Sadly, the plot is never at the height of keeping the gamer on the edge, and serves as a mere platform: the real element emphasized here is the gameplay.
Unfortunately, what is probably the most focused on aspect of Grandia Xtreme also turns out to be a dismal disappointment. The issues aren’t with the battle system itself, but the repetitious dungeons. The battle system is basically a perfected version of the traditional battle system pioneered in the first Grandia title. Enemies can be seen on-screen and avoided, though this is not endorsed. Once in battle, actions are decided via the IP gauge, which fills up for all characters onscreen, whether friend or foe. Once it’s your character’s turn, a decision must be made – attack, magic, item, etc. – and from there that move must “charge”. That’s where strategy comes into play. Deciding what attack to use may depend on how long it takes to charge, or what spell to cast. It’s even possible to cancel an enemy’s attack once it is charging with a critical hit move. The battles are fun and the elements of distance and IP for the most part eliminates simply choosing the normal attack continuously to breeze through battles.
However, the battle system isn’t the only element of gameplay. While it is entertaining and probably one of the most in depth console RPG battle systems yet conceived, Grandia Xtreme’s dungeons leave much to be desired. In fact, the game’s layout is flat out horrible. There are only four ruins, and not only does this lead to the inevitable blandness and lack of variety, but the best part is when gamers breeze through them and realize they’re at the end of the game, but their characters are nowhere near powerful enough to take on the enemies in the final dungeon. Basically, this is telling gamers to backtrack and visit the completed dungeons to power their characters up more. But what’s this? The enemies have increased in difficulty! It was planned all along! Talk about poor game design; this came off as an extremely tacky and cheap method to increase game time without expanding the world.
Another aspect that really hindered gameplay was the awful camera. Though controlled by using the shoulder buttons, the continual need to adjust the angle became quite a nuisance. Rotating the camera about constantly becomes like a second nature. The one welcome item is the inclusion of a first person mode; though I found myself rarely using it, the ability to do so was at least interesting.
Graphically, one would think that with the PS2’s processor and from seeing what other developers have done with the system, Grandia Xtreme would boast impressive polygonal graphics. Sadly, this is not the case. Though the game has extremely colorful locales and character designs, the rendering itself falls short. Textures are grainy and blurry in most areas. Trees and bushes, when zoomed in upon, demonstrate themselves in 2-D pixelated glory. One positive is the frame rate; in battle it seemingly never drops to a noticeable level, and this consistency is probably the game’s strongest point. Character movement and animation seem to have progressed nothing since Grandia II; this is what irked me most. Coupled with the PS2’s power and the impressive character designs, Game Arts should have been able to create a much more refined graphical look than what was seen on the Dreamcast in Grandia II; this should be light years ahead, not small steps.
Noriyuki Iwadare returns to compose Grandia Xtreme. His distinct flavor is immediately noticeable; heavy on the wind and strings, his classical pieces melded with heavy percussion proved to be wonderful compositions in both Grandia and Grandia II. However, Grandia Xtreme contains a myriad of lackluster pieces, most noticeably the dungeon themes. Though he’s always had issues with repetitive, percussive dungeon themes, Xtreme’s seem even more uninspired and bland. The themes of Grandia do run throughout the game and are welcome. On the whole, however, this is probably the weakest of the three soundtracks.
Grandia II showed gamers some of the best voice acting seen in a console game. Sadly, Grandia Xtreme once again falls short of its predecessor. Though not awful, most of the voice actors prove inconsistent and overbearing (most notably Mark Hamill as Kroitz). It’s tough not to compare, but veterans that have played Grandia II will certainly be disappointed.
Grandia Xtreme had a lot to live up to, considering the success of Grandia II. However, the game falls short in almost every area, and things such as the poor game layout in respect to the dungeons and game length just felt like a rush job. Diehard Grandia fans may find something of interest here, but casual gamers looking for a good RPG to spend their money on might want to buy another game this season.