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It's Not Getting Any Better
The Grandia series has become a legend within the RPG genre, and it rivals even series such as Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior. While the first two games were classic RPG adventures about a small cast of characters travelling through the lands searching for the root of all evil in the world and so forth, Grandia Xtreme is built up in quite a different (and unexpected) way.
In Grandia Xtreme, you play as the very annoying Evann. He is a Ranger, which has the abillity to manipulate the elemental force and create gates to travel through different locations instantly. However, the gates can only be created where the elemental force is strong. Because of his power, the army sends him tons of letters, begging him to join in order to stop the terrible elemental disorder that torments the world. After refusing a couple of the letters, Evann is basically forced to join the army, and thus the story begins. Yes, that's it. Grandia Xtreme isn't, and it probably wasn't meant to be, famous for its amazingly uninteresting story, instead it almost totally concentrates on the battles. So don't expect a touching and tragic plot about hate, love and religion, because there is absolutely nothing like that in this package. The Grandia games has always had very special battle systems, and battles in Grandia Xtreme hasn't changed much if you think about it. When a battle begins, everybody starts running around on the screen, waiting for their turn. Just like in the other Grandia games, it takes a certain amount of time to execute a spell or an attack, which provides a whole lot of tactics to battles. There is quite a lot to choose from; the mana eggs are back again, and so are the skill books. But what's totally new though, is the different techs that the characters can perform together. Up to four different characters can perform a special move together, delivering a massive amount of damage to the enemy. On top of that, each character has their own special moves that get stronger and stronger the more you use them.
The mana eggs and the skill books have also changed quite a lot since Grandia 2. In Grandia Xtreme, you can combine the different eggs and create new ones. Mana eggs now have levels, and to increase it you have to mix them in the right way. There are tons of combinations, and in order to require one of the ultimate eggs (the best eggs), you'll need to stick around for quite a while, searching for more eggs to mix. With this, the eggs play a huge role in Grandia Xtreme, while they weren't really that important in Grandia 2. In Grandia 2 they were almost only used for healing, while the characters performed their personal skills all the time. The skill books are also better in Grandia Xtreme, in my opinion. The books also have levels, just like the eggs. In order to create a skill, you'll have to find a skill note in one of the dungeons. Then, visit the skill shop and equip a skill book to your character. After that, you need to create the actual skill from the note you acquired. When that's done, you can finally equip the skill to the book. However, the skill has to fit in with the book... for example, if you have a level A-skill, it won't fit into a level C-book, and so on. If you want to, you can exchange the skills into bonus points, and when you have enough you can "buy" a rare item from the skillman. No matter how expensive this might sound, it is highly recommended to get some of the items the skillman holds. Seriously though, many of these battles can really be frustrating. While some dungeons might be a breeze, the next might be incredibly dangerous all of a sudden. Also, some of the bosses you encounter are insanely strong when you first meet them, making the game unbalanced and frustrating at times.
The interface is just as lovely in Grandia Xtreme as it was in Grandia 2. If you press X while walking through a dungeon, Evann will walk in 'Ready' mode, which prevents back attacks. If you walk into an enemy before it sees you, you will have the first strike. Menus are fast and without delay, and the colorful style is as good as ever. The same goes for the graphics in cities and battle. It's so very characteristic for the Grandia series, with the only change that the party doesn't follow you on-screen when you're walking through a dungeon or a city. Overall, the graphics could've been a lot better, but still, I think it's better that they put down more time on smoothness and speed than looks.
Then there's the music. As usual, Noriyuki Iwadare is behind it... and it fits in perfectly. The tunes played in conversations between the party members or in the base camp is happy and amusing, while the battle themes are incredibly cool and fast. If there's anything Iwadare can do, it is battle themes. These tunes fit in perfectly within the world of the Grandia games, and you will probably remember most of them for a long, long time.
One other thing that was a lot better in Grandia 2 was the voice-acting. While there weren't loads of spelling errors or stuff like that in the overall text, the voice actors were really strange. I know that the voice of a certain character is supposed to reflect that character's personality. In this case, they went way across the line. For example, Evann is almost SCREAMING when he's talking normally. I was hoping for a more serious party, something like the one we saw in Grandia 2. But instead, we have a bunch of immature annoying persons screaming and yelling at each other, always fighting about stupid things etc. If there's supposed to be any humor in this, I don't really know what to say.
I have never played a Grandia game twice, and I probably won't ever play Grandia Xtreme a second time either. I don't know why, but there's something holding me back. I mean, the games are fun, but it feels like I've had enough of it once I'm done with my first round. Of course, one of the reasons might also be that there is absolutely nothing to return to except the story that you already know everything about. If you want to just level up and enjoy the battle system some more, there is a giant 100 floor bonus dungeon for you to explore.
By reading all this, you probably understand that Grandia Xtreme is quite different from the other Grandia games. It's built up in a totally different way... for example, there are no cities in Grandia Xtreme. Instead, you just return to your base after each mission. There is no real journey, no adventure... it's only about your group, walking through dungeon after dungeon, trying to stop the elemental disorder. Well, there is a little more to it, but nothing special at all. Being just about as long as the other Grandia games, Xtreme can be completed anywhere between 30-40 Hours... a lot more if you want to complete the bonus dungoen though. There are almost no sidequests at all except from that one though, which was a little disappointing.
In the end, I don't really know if Grandia Xtreme was worth the wait. It was fun, and I loved the battles... but there is so much missing in this game. It was ok, but it could've been a lot better. Grandia 2 is still the crown jewel of the series.
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