Grandia III - Staff Review  

Anticipated Move
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

Easy to Moderate
30 to 35 hours


Rating definitions 

   Grandia is a series with rigidly defined parameters. An ATB-style combat system that relies heavily on cancelling attacks, backed up by a highly traditional, often cliche plot are what make Grandia what it is. In that sense, Grandia III is a game set firmly in series tradition. Though its plot attempts to use a slightly more unusual theme, and its combat system is a superbly balanced example of its kind, there isnít much here that hasnít been seen before in any of the previous Grandia games. That being said, the lack of originality and lackluster plot are offset by the exceptionally well-designed combat system, meaning that Grandia III should appeal to both fans of the series and gamers looking for fun, moderately challenging combat.

   As with all Grandia games, Grandia III runs on a combat system similar to the Final Fantasy Active Time Battle system. Players and enemy icons are arranged on a circular meter which shows their progress towards their next turn, determined by the INI stat. Players are allowed a free range of movement on an open field of combat, though AI determines where and how they move. Grandia III makes a rare change to the Grandia combat system with the Aerial Combo, a combat mechanic that fits into the gameís theme of flight. Whenever an opponent is flung into the air, either through a Critical or a special move, the basic attack commands become flashy, highly damaging Aerial Combos. Some Aerial Combos can even be strung together, leading to highly destructive and difficult to perform attacks. However, combat overall is more focused around cancelling enemy moves using instantaneous special attacks and Criticals. While some games in the series have allowed these moves to get somewhat out of control, resulting in exceptionally easy gameplay, their use in Grandia III is balanced by some vicious and truly dangerous enemy attacks. The upshot is that some moves almost have to be cancelled, and failing to do so can result in a much more difficult fight.

   Despite how it may sound, Grandia III is in no way a terribly difficult game. It starts out with some overbearing handholding, teaching players how to open treasure chests and equip items multiple times, but things get better past the first five hours or so. One interesting feature of Grandia III is the idea of in-combat character advice. Simply put, characters will suggest which enemy to attack, which move to cancel, or when to heal. While this may have worked in theory, the game does little but suggest the player cancel every move an enemy takes, even when others need healing or when a simple area attack would wipe the enemy party out. Thankfully, the gameís tutoring is both brief and optional, as character advice can be turned off in the options menu. Once a player gets past the opening hours of the game, Grandia IIIís combat system is wonderfully balanced, offering new challenges in almost every dungeon while giving the player chances to get ahead of the curve without completely destroying it.

Even Alfina's Aerial Combos can be devastating. Even Alfina's Aerial Combos can be devastating.

   Grandia games traditionally follow the path of a young hero through trials and tribulations in the name of love, and Grandia III is no different. The story follows Yuki, a young pilot, as he attempts to build a plane and become the greatest pilot of all time. In the course of the story, he meets and falls in love with a girl named Alfina, and becomes embroiled with a plot to, predictably enough, destroy the world. Grandia III tries to improve this rather basic setup with a theme of freedom, represented by Yukiís desire to fly. This theme is supposedly mirrored in the openness of the gameís sky, allowing the player to fly anywhere they wish once Yuki receives his airplane. However, the linear nature of the game makes it impossible to do much but move on to the next destination dictated by the plot. There are no major sidequests to play through, a total of one minigame, and beyond the occasional radio chatter, little or no reason to remain in the sky longer than necessary. The theme works passably well in the early stages of the game, despite some nagging conflicts with the linear nature of the game, but the sky is left by the wayside as the game brings in dark gods and ancient prophecies. The tale as a whole is rather predictable and not terribly engaging, with loose plot threads and unanswered questions being the order of the day. The characters in particular fall short, presenting little character development and less in the way of resolution in their individual stories. In the end, the story is enough to get players from one dungeon to the next, but it isnít anywhere near compelling.

   The gameís interface is very solid, using bright blues, greens, and silver in a strangely futuristic menu design. Control is sharp and generally intuitive, though the loss of Grandia Xtremeís camera centering is a bit bothersome. The translation is spot on, and although voiced lines do have a problem with unfortunate lip sync aíla Final Fantasy X, the lines themselves work perfectly well.

Pretty, but not much goin' on up here. Pretty, but not much goin' on up here.

   Using a bright, colorful visual style with exaggerated expressions and structures, Grandia III reflects the kind of design that the series has always used. It helps to give the game a lighthearted feel during the early sections of the game, and goes through an interesting change when things become more serious. The surroundings keep the same basic palette of colors, but bright white becomes dingy, fluorescent green becomes putrescent, and bright red becomes blood red. One thing Grandia III does better than its predecessors, at least visually, is to flesh out the gameís surroundings. Though the player is confined to a reasonably linear path through any given area, the game offers some truly beautiful vistas, from tropical forests to snow capped mountains. Itís only a shame that the most beautiful areas are unreachable.

   Noriyuki Iwadare reprises his role as Grandia series composer for Grandia III, creating a soundtrack which is upbeat, cheerful, and entirely characteristic of his work in general. Like most of the games, Mr. Iwadareís soundtrack isnít bad so much as supremely predictable, but the biggest problem to be had with the music isnít the music itself. The game sets the music volume so far below that of the sound effects and voice clips that itís often difficult to hear amongst the shouts and cries. The gameís voice acting is solid, even with some breaks in spoken lines due to poor lip sync.

   The difficulty level of Grandia III is wonderfully balanced, not so easy that a player will breeze through every boss without difficulty, but not so challenging that every fight is a trial by fire. The game is of average length, and given the lack of much to do outside the mainline plot, likely to be a fairly similar experience for most players.

   In the end, perhaps Grandia wasnít the best series to take on the ideal of freedom. With its rigid, series-enforced setup and traditional characters, freedom is the one thing Grandia has always lacked. The gameís other themes of love, friendship, and everything else that makes a traditional RPG plot traditional, are handled in pretty much the same way that they have been since the series began. As far as the plot is concerned, there simply isnít much that hasnít been done before, or seen by anyone who played Grandia or Grandia II. The combat systemís problems are similar enough, but with its finely tuned balance and compelling mechanics, it comes off as a refreshingly skilled implementation of series tradition, rather than a simple rehash. It is a testament to the strength of the Grandia combat system that it is more or less what carries Grandia III, making it an enjoyable game in spite of its predictable nature.

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