Review: Grandia 3 (PS2)


Grandia 3
Genre: RPG
Developer: Game Arts
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 2/14/06

I’ll be the first to admit that I like Game Arts as a company more than a lot of others. Why shouldn’t I? They’ve made three of my favorite RPG’s of all time (Lunar Silver Star, Lunar Eternal Blue, and Lunar Advance), and several others that I highly enjoyed (Grandia 2, Silpheed, Vay, etc.). That’s a larger amount of games than some companies have amused me with, and taken against a ratio of what games they’ve made that have been brought stateside, it’s practically a record. Only Blizzard and Bungee rank higher (the former because the only game they made I disliked was Rock and Roll Racing; the latter because they’ve made, what, two games that weren’t named Myth, Halo, or Marathon?) on my scale of games I played and didn’t hate to total products made. So when I heard that they were making another Grandia, an actual sequel this time, I was pretty interested.

I say “an actual sequel” in the same context that I’d say this thing about Lunar: Dragon Song: this is said because by and large, actual sequels aren’t Game Arts’ strong suit. They’ve been dumping out the same two Lunar games for, what, over a decade now? The last Grandia game to come out wasn’t even a numbered title, and was more of a “fight monsters” game than an actual RPG. And, by the way, both that and Dragon Song have something in common: they were universally reviled for being lame. So, skepticism is merited ever so slightly, considering the circumstances.

So that brings to the here and now, and Grandia 3. Is this a triumphant return for Game Arts? A shining example of why so many fans hold GA in their hearts as a developer? A good RPG with mainstream appeal in a sea of indy appeal RPG’s and craptastic adventure? Or is it a disappointment in every way imaginable? And why do I ask so many rhetorical questions? Who knows? And more importantly, who cares?

Anyway, on with the show.


1. STORY


Please, allow me to sum the story of Grandia 3 up in the simplest way I possibly can: take the story of Lunar Silver Star Story, combine it with the story of Lunar Eternal Blue, and viola! Grandia 3. In essence, your main character, Yuki (isn’t that a girls name?), is on a journey to achieve his dream of flying across the ocean to the other continent (and ultimately, around the world). Unfortunately, due to the interference of his mother, Miranda, he fails spectacularly in his quest, and ends up running into a mysterious girl, Alfina, who desires to travel to the other continent (or, more specifically, to a town named Arcriff) for partially unspecified reasons. During the travels, your party will run across interesting characters, have all sorts of awesome adventures, and eventually end up fighting for the fate of the whole world blah blah blah. If you’ve played an RPG in the past ten years, you know the drill. There’s nothing in Grandia 3 to set it apart from its contemporaries in regard to the story, largely due to the fact that the writing is just incredibly bland. All of the characters are painfully one dimensional and stereotyped, and you’ll be able to see pretty much every plot twist coming from the first bit of foreshadowing. The Verse Realm is having problems? Big shock. Yuki crashed his plane again? The hell you say. Miranda is scared Yuki is growing up too fast? Welcome to the after-school special. We must visit the Guardians of the world to gain power to beat back the evil forces? Change “Guardians” to “Dragons” and you’ve got Lunar all over again. Lun-er, Alfina gets captured by the ultimate big-bad? What a surprise. You just know these things are going to happen long before they do, because you’ve seen them all before, and all of it’s telegraphed long before it happens.

Part of the problem is the frequency of the story exposition. In, say, Skies of Arcadia, plot points popped up semi-frequently, but you were given plenty of time in combat or navigation in-between the earth-shaking revelations, so it wasn’t so painfully boring. Not so here; every fifteen minutes your characters have some sort of storyline crap they just HAVE to share RIGHT THEN that means spending ten minutes watching cinematics or reading text. There will, literally, be times where you will spend OVER AN HOUR negotiating from one story scene to the next with no notable interaction in-between. Even with a good storyline, there’s such a thing as TOO MUCH STORY, and Grandia 3 doesn’t even have a good story attached to it in the first place. The exposition is ham-fisted and basically screams “LOOK AT OUR CUTE ANIME CHARACTERS ON A QUEST TO SAVE THE WORLD WHETHER THEY KNOW IT YET OR NOT!” every twenty minutes. Once you get to the obligatory “saving the world” dynamics, you’ll be long past the point of caring about the plot or the characters that inhabit it, and you’ll just want the game to end. In RPG’s, story is (usually) king, and comparing the story of something like Digital Devil Saga or Final Fantasy 6 to that of Grandia 3 would be like comparing King Arthur to King Ralph; it’s not even a contest.

Story Rating: 3/10


2. GRAPHICS


The graphics in Grandia 3 are quite pretty for the most part. The game worlds are nice to look at, and while most of them don’t really stand out, they are appropriately designed and not visually offensive in the least. Character models, while somewhat generic in appearance, animate quite nicely and without any notable issues. The game is fairly vibrant and bright, and maintains this sort of atmosphere throughout the experience. Lighting and spell effects are also quite solid, and while they’re not usually overly flashy (and by this I mean fifteen seconds of pyrotechnics for one stupid cure spell), they’re nice to look at. The cinematics are also of the utmost quality; characters retain their anime style in cutscenes, and while the scenes that are rendered in the game engine aren’t especially spectacular, the fully rendered cutscenes are as gorgeous as you’d expect from anything with the Squenix name on the box. The style of the game is fairly generic, unfortunately, as it’s a touch too “hyper cute anime” for my tastes, but fans of said anime style will absolutely love the look and presentation of Grandia 3, and as that’s most likely who the game was made for, I can’t really take issue with that. Ultimately, you’ve seen better looking games on the PS2, whether stylistically, artistically, or in terms of pure power, but what Grandia 3 does is neither bad nor offensive, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Graphics Rating: 7/10


3. SOUND

The music is your standard RPG adventure score, and is neither great nor terrible. Most of the scores are appropriate to their setting, and sound quite good in context, but none of the music really transcends the product, and probably won’t stick with you. That’s not as bad as one might think, though; while not overly special, none of the music overpowers the events they’re scored to, so everything tends to work well enough together.

The voice acting is pretty good too, though occasionally actors (Yuki in particular) sound more like they’re acting than actually DOING. None of the voice actors are bad, by any means, but most of them aren’t terribly great either (though I liked Miranda’s voice actress quite a bit). Voice acting for cutscenes tends to be fairly solid, but the voice clips that play in battle tend to get monotonous after a while.

And, rounding it this all out, the sound effects are about what you’d expect. Monster noises are appropriate for the monsters they’re used to represent, battle sounds are consistent and solid, and the magic sound effects are appropriate both elementally and generally. All in all, the game is aurally pleasing, if not exciting, and you’ll find what’s here is complimentary to the product, if not stand-alone wonderful.

Sound Rating: 6/10


4. CONTROL/GAMEPLAY


Let’s get everything else out of the way before we get to where Grandia 3 really shines. Menu navigation is a snap, and the various and sundry menus are easy to follow. Overworld controls are quite solid, and the camera, while it doesn’t always respond perfectly, is easily adjusted, and isn’t as big of a deal considering the type of game. Collision detection is solid, and the various game environments are well-designed and rarely confusing. There’s also a button you can press to highlight important items in your immediate vicinity in dungeons, which is good for those hard to spot treasure chests and items.

Got all that? Good. Now let’s talk combat.

The first thing you need to understand is that skills and spells are generalized and not character dependant. Rather than having various characters learn spells and skills over the course of the game, you can purchase these things from their related stores (or find them scattered about the countryside) and equip them to anyone. Each character has a certain amount of points worth of spells and skills they can equip, and each of these things has a different value associated with it, dependant on effect and power. Thus, you can customize your character’s skills and spells as you desire, though you’re limited in how many of them you can equip. There are also items which can boost your affinity for certain types of spells/skills, eggs for spells and books for skills. Each book/egg boosts one or more affinities to various skill/spell types, thus increasing their effectiveness. In short, you can customize your character’s specialization to specific elements, and thus build characters that are extremely good at casting healing spells and can dodge really well, for example. You can also combine and break down these eggs to either make stronger eggs or take spells from them and equip them (skill books can only be broken down, not combined into more powerful books, which makes sense). This is an interesting way of doing things, and even though Grandia 2 had a similar mechanic, it’s still pretty cool even now.


Combat itself, however, is the real star of the show, and in this aspect, Grandia 3 earns its keep in spades. Fans of the series will be fairly accustomed to most of the game mechanics, but for those that aren’t, you’ve got a surprise in store for you. Everything in battle works in a real time/turn based fashion that’s similar to a lot of other RPG’s you may have played, but different enough that you’ll be interested. Basically, you have a time wheel that various character icons roll around, and the order these icons appear on the wheel indicates when the character will act. There is a section of the wheel between the warm-up phase and the performance of selected actions where the character in question will commit to their action, and at this point, another wheel pops up to allow you to choose your action. You can either choose to use a standard combo attack, a one hit critical attack that can counter opponent actions, a special attack (dependant on the character), spells (dependant on what the character is equipped with), items, or you can defend (either by throwing up the block or by running out of the way). In theory it all sounds simple, but putting everything together can get quite complex, which adds to the enjoyment. The idea is to counter opponents to keep them from attacking, attack them to defeat them, and generally shut out your opponents. With proper management, you can basically run a game up on your various enemies, though with larger groups this can become nigh impossible. On top of this, you can also launch aerial combos either by countering opponents or by using certain spells, and if a character chooses to attack a launched opponent, he or she will instead attack with a multi-hit combo for big damage. And, best of all, these aerial combos can be chained off of one another (mostly; Alonso and Ulf can’t do this) for big damage. If you plan things out in advance and the initiative placement goes your way, you can seriously wreck enemies.

Special attacks work as you would expect them to as well; choose one from your list and watch as your character charges up for the action. Learning new special attacks is as simple as constantly attacking normally, but by performing your various special attacks repeatedly, they will upgrade in performance, thus keeping all of your specials viable throughout the game. And, as a bonus, most damage-dealing special attacks act as a counter attack, so you can cancel with them as easily as you can with a critical. But don’t get too cocky; enemies can cancel you as well, and if you don’t time your cancels right yourself, you may find yourself on the end of a world of hurt.

In battle, characters will point out when they’re being targeted (on easier difficulties, anyway) and such, which act as friendly reminders to cancel or defend, but you need not follow along with these advisements if you desire to do something else. So long as you adhere to the basic ideas of the combat system, you can do quite well in battles, but if you work at it, you’ll find yourself organizing three chain air combos and artistic dodges with no real problem. You should be able to grasp all the tools you’re given with little difficulty, but chaining them together is where the real fun comes in. It’s so amusing, in fact, that I can’t honestly think of a single condemning thing to say about it.

I do have an observation to make, not against the combat system, but against how the combat system relates to its core title. Six years ago, Grandia 2 was fresh and new and different and original and there was very little, if anything, that really compared to it. Today, there are games that have equally interesting combat systems and far superior storylines, characters, and plot developments. Grandia’s combat systems are, quite honestly, about as good as you can get in an RPG, period. Make no mistake, the strategy involved here is awesome, and almost makes the game by itself. But it’s just not enough.

Control/Gameplay Rating: 10/10


5. REPLAYABILITY

Unless the combat system REALLY draws you in, you won’t be back. Most RPG’s are really only a one-time experience to begin with, due in no small part to the fact that they are insanely long and time consuming. To play through an RPG a second time, it needs to do something, anything, to draw your interest and keep it, or else, it needs to offer incentive to play again. Grandia 3 does neither. There are no extras unlocked for beating the product, no alternate endings, just the exact same game you already played. If you’re only interested in combat and leveling, you might enjoy the combat enough to play through a second time, but if you’re one of those sort of people, why are you playing a traditional RPG in the first place?

Replayability Rating: 4/10


6. BALANCE

Unsurprisingly, Grandia 3 is highly balanced. So long as you fight everything you see and upgrade your stuff as needed, you shouldn’t ever need to munchkin/farm/whatever you want to call it just to beat a boss or enter a zone. Nothing is impossibly hard, though some boss battles teeter that line, and you’ll always know where you need to go next with little trouble. Working with the subtle intricacies of the combat system may take a little time, but you’ll find that if you don’t WANT to learn them, you won’t have to; they just make the game more interesting. Unless you’re totally inept at RPG’s, you shouldn’t have any major problems with Grandia 3 at all, and should see a steady increase in difficulty to the end. And hey, if you think things are too easy, go at it on a higher difficulty and watch the challenge jack up.

Balance Rating: 7/10


7. ORIGINALITY

The storyline is a Shake-n-Bake amalgamation of other RPG stories, the characters are stereotypes of the genre more so than actual characters, and we’re on our fourth game in this series, when everything that is a staple of this series has, at most, been updated without being made new and original. Hell, the combat system is great and all, but we’ve seen this in various stages of evolution in Grandia 2 and Grandia Xtreme. There’s not a shred of originality to this product, and the only reason I don’t follow that up with some sort of challenge for others to prove me otherwise is because frankly, I don’t feel like getting into an argument with people who would be wrong.

Originality Rating: 1/10


8. ADDICTIVENESS

If you play RPG’s for the story, you’ll be bored with this after about two hours. If you play RPG’s for the combat, you’ll probably make it to the second disc before your interest begins to wane. If you’re looking for a whole, comprehensive package, you’re most likely not going to complete Grandia 3, much less want to. Bottom line, if combat is high on your list of priorities, you’ll find something to keep you going through most, if not all, of the game; otherwise, you’ll get bored pretty quickly.

Addictiveness Rating: 5/10


9. APPEAL FACTOR

Game Arts + RPG + Square Enix + PS2 = oh yeah, there’s appeal here.

RPG’s have been in decline over the past few years (largely due to titles like this), due to lack of originality and public apathy, but there are still plenty of people looking out for this sort of game. Grandia as a franchise has a solid reputation, Game Arts has a great reputation (they gave us Lunar, remember), and Square Enix’s rep speaks for itself. Grandia 3 is quite simple a GH title in the making, and with its colorful appearance and heavily puddled over combat system, it’s quite obviously going to move titles well. Non-RPG fans are going to turn up their noses at it, but most fans of the genre will be interested by the pedigree of the title if nothing else.

Appeal Rating: 7/10


10. MISCELLANEOUS


Let us, for a moment, take the word “Grandia” as it is. Grandia implies “A grand land”, simply based on looking at the word in question (Grand) and the ending suffix (-ia), a common ending suffix for countries and such. I feel, after having played this experience, the series, such as it is, should perhaps undertake a more appropriate name change, maybe to “Blandia” for those that are fans of rhyming.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe after playing the first two Lunar titles and the first two Grandia titles, I had a higher expectation of Game Arts than I should have. Maybe I should have assumed that games like Lunar: Dragon Song and Grandia Xtreme were more indicative of what I should expect. Maybe I shouldn’t have assumed that, after several years without a real Grandia title, THIS one would be worthy of such a name.

I know it’s not my age; I can still pick up Silver Star Story Complete and enjoy it, as I can Skies of Arcadia (another game Grandia 3 wishes it was). Maybe it’s my tastes; I mean, after playing Shadow Hearts 1+2, Persona 1+2, SMT Nocturne, and DDS 1, I’m more comfortable with RPG’s that place storytelling above combat whilst actually having good combat systems. Or maybe I’m just becoming cranky in my age.

Or maybe it’s the fact that, now that I’m not ten years old anymore, I need explanations for things. Things like, “How did this guy kill A GOD in one sword swipe?” or “Why would you even feel the need to try and kill your own sister just because you’re suddenly evil now?” or even “How did Alfina just change out of a complicated outfit that looks like it would take half an hour to put on and back into her regular clothes, or, more importantly, WHY would she do this as the castle crumbles around her?” I mean, I know it’s just lazy programming, but when three questions like this pop up IN ONE TEN MINUTE CUTSCENE and are not satisfactorily resolved at any point, well, you begin to realize that it’s just not going to get any better from here.

Whatever the case, Grandia 3 did absolutely nothing for me. I found it a chore to play, utterly devoid of all substance and not too heavy on style. The ham-fisted, overbearing storytelling combined with the story that is utterly cliched in every imaginable way and the typecast characters wore me on the concept long before I got anywhere in it, and by the time we were getting somewhere, I cared not. The combat system is good, yeah, but how am I supposed to recommend the title if only ONE THING is really good? Would you buy a sandwich with good meats and lousy bread? Would you buy a car that gets great gas mileage, but tends to break every thousand miles? Of course not. So why buy something with a good combat system when you don’t even care about what happens in the game itself?

Answer: you shouldn’t.

Miscellaneous Rating: 1/10

The Scores:
Story: 3/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 6/10
Control/Gameplay: 10/10
Replayability: 4/10
Balance: 7/10
Originality: 1/10
Addictiveness: 5/10
Appeal: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 1/10

Overall Score: 5.1/10
Final Score: 5.0 (AVERAGE).

Short Attention Span Summary
Well, if you’re down for what is admittedly quite a good combat system, you’ll dig what Grandia 3 is trying to do, assuming you’re willing to slog through the rest of the game to get at it. For those looking for the complete package, however, you’re not going to find it here. There are far better RPG’s out there in all possible aspects, which ultimately leaves very little reason for you to own this.