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Grandia III [PlayStation 2] – Review

Finally, I've gotten around to playing Grandia III.
Finally, I’ve gotten around to playing Grandia III.

Wow! I just went back and read the reviews I wrote for the previous games I’ve played in the Grandia series – Grandia, II, and Xtreme. The grammatical errors and poor consideration for the paragraphs is awfully humbling. I completed Grandia III this week so hopefully I can construct a better review this time around. It sounds like I generally enjoyed the lot, and made mention of their narratives, characters, and gameplay. I’ll attempt to do the same here, albeit, better. Like its predecessors, it was developed by Game Arts, although it was published for the PlayStation 2 by Square Enix in 2006.

Magic was broke up into four elemental affinities.
Magic was broke up into four elemental affinities.

Yuki, a teenager with a passion for flying airplanes is the primary protagonist, and the element of flight plays a large part in the narrative, at least early on. Before too long though, the greater narrative kicks in. This, after Yuki and his mother Miranda encounter Alfina, another teenager, although one who’s able to communicate with the guardians of their world. Emellious, her twin brother shares this ability but, disillusioned, he seeks to destroy the guardians and revive Xorn, an evil guardian who he believes will bring about a world of crystalline harmony. As a result, Alfina is on the run from his henchmen.

As the narrative unfolded over the forty hours I spent with the game, the element of love kept appearing. Indeed, love no matter what the circumstance was the moral of Grandia III. It was illustrated in many instances, but no more powerful than the love Alfina had for Emellious, despite his actions. Up to their final confrontation, Alfina’s unyielding love for Emellious was the key to the protagonists’ eventual success. In the final cutscenes and battle, this aspect grew cheesy and I wouldn’t have been surprised if “All You Need Is Love” began playing over the credits.

There was a world map, but it was barely seen.
There was a world map, but it was barely seen.

What drew me to the series originally was the fast-paced battle system, and this game has the best in the series.  The battle system is turn-based at its core but the leverage I was given in my actions and the quick pace do much to make it entertaining. In regards to the previous games, the only addition is the aerial combo. They didn’t amount to much extra damage, but were fun to strive for. Like in previous games, I used all of the magic and special attacks that were available to me; this, because they improved through their use, or improved correlating stats of the characters. Even having to grind levels for a few hours wasn’t so bad. In fact, I could trust the CPU-controlled characters enough to play a few Game Boy games during battles.

On-field enemies are still the route to battles.
On-field enemies are still the route to battles.

Grandia III is an expertly crafted JRPG. The narrative was entertaining enough to keep me interested, although it contained plenty of genre clichés. Some of the characters were cardboard cutouts from other games in the genre, heck even from earlier entries in the series. And the presentation of the struggle between good and evil was very simple. But the battle system is one of the genre’s best. The fast-paced nature made it feel more like a real-time battle system and I can’t get enough of those. Coupled with the continual stat and gear improvements that the genre is known for, it proved to be a worthwhile journey.

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Grandia Xtreme – Review

The manual for this game is thick! It's high quality and really informative.

Developed by Game Arts and published by Enix, Grandia Xtreme was the third game in the series to be released in the United States. It came out in 2002 for the PlayStation 2 and is notable for being a departure from Grandia and Grandia II. Instead of playing like a traditional Japanese role-playing game where players follow a town-dungeon-town format, Grandia Xtreme focuses on dungeon crawling. The dungeons are plentiful and they are challenging. But Grandia Xtreme has an identity crisis. Game Arts tried to get the best of both genres and came up short.

I assumed the role of Evann, a young Ranger who has distaste for the military, especially for one of its commanding officers, Colonel Kroitz. However, they come seeking his skills. After refusing to assist the army, they kidnap him. Once he wakes up he is briefed by the military and eventually agrees to lend them a hand, begrudgingly.

There have been a number of environmental disorders and the military thinks it might have something to do with ancient ruins located nearby, go figure. So Evann, along with a ragtag group of fellow warriors quell the disorders by removing ancient slabs from the heart of these ruins. After the disorders have been taken care of, Kroitz takes these slabs and opens a fifth ruin and it’s apparent he’s up to no good. While this was immediately clear from the first time he spoke, it took the gang forever to figure out he simply wanted to harness Quanlee, the ultimate power.

There are plenty of brutal attacks to witness in Grandia Xtreme.

Remember how I said Grandia Xtreme differs from Grandia and Grandia II? Well, the biggest difference between these three is their format. Grandia and Grandia II stuck with a familiar town-dungeon-town format, and generally speaking the dungeons in these two games weren’t that tough.

Grandia Xtreme instead has a primary town (Locca) that the group works from, although there was a second town to be fair (Escarre). Instead of adventuring around and exploring new areas, I simply warped to the dungeon I needed to go to; and these were tough! In general they were much larger and held tougher enemies than the previous games. Same goes for the boss battles; these guys were tough, requiring level grinding at the end.

The best thing about the Grandia games has always been the combat, and Grandia Xtreme excels here. The battle system is pretty much directly lifted from Grandia II. Throw in the ability to fight more enemies at once and speed it up a little, and it’s the best of the three. Magic and skills function the same way, although mana eggs have slightly changed. This time around, eggs can be combined to form new eggs, and there are a lot of combinations to figure out.

Okay, so besides the format, there are other qualities of Grandia Xtreme that made me say it has an identity crisis. First off, six of the seven companions that join Evann, join him at the same time; and there is really little exposition for them. Throughout the game, I learned a little more about them individually, but they were really flat characters. In comparison, Grandia and Grandia II featured many characters that grew throughout their adventures. The second major aspect that draws my criticism is the item format. I would’ve preferred randomly dropped loot from enemies instead of acquiring gear as I would in a traditional RPG: buying better gear when it’s available from the store.

I don’t usually do this but there were a lot of minor gripes I had with Grandia Xtreme that I’m going to have a complaint dump. There’s not a lot of voice acting in the game, and what’s present is either overacted or just spoken awkwardly. There wasn’t much depth the characters or overarching storyline. Not including an item that could warp me back to town stunk, as did the infrequent save opportunities. The camera moved slowly in dungeons and I would’ve preferred having the camera controls mapped to the right analog stick rather than L1 and R1. Characters crossed paths too often in battle, canceling their turns. On the bright side, load times were practically nonexistent; much better.

I really want to say I enjoyed Grandia Xtreme. Leveling up characters and equipping them with new gear, just to watch their stats incrementally improve is somehow exciting to me and Grandia Xtreme was very pleasing. The dungeons were challenging and fulfilling, and the battle system is top notch. But, I’m glad to be done with the game, and can’t recommend it over Grandia or Grandia II.

2/5

Obituary: Takeshi Miyaji

He co-founded Game Arts when he was only 19!

Rather sad news here. Takeshi Miyaji passed away July 29, 2011 at the age of 45. Although his name was unfamiliar to me before today, he has played a minor role in my life. He was a co-founder of the Japanese video game developer Game Arts, and had major roles in their games, namely the Grandia series.

It has been a goal of mine to play each Grandia game (at least those release in the United States) to completion. My first experience with the series was through Grandia II. After purchasing a Dreamcast in the early 2000s, it was one of my first games for the system. Years later I picked up the PlayStation version of Grandia which reinvigorated my enthusiasm for the series. Now I have completed Grandia, Grandia II, and am playing Grandia Xtreme currently.

It’s a shame he passed away so young. Regardless, he played an important part in role-playing games.

Grandia II – Review

Ryudo Upfront with the Supporting Cast in the Background.

With Grandia II, Game Arts took the formula they implemented in Grandia, simply iterated upon it, which works with me, I loved Grandia and it creates another fantastic Japanese role-playing game with a fun battle system and compelling story. Grandia II, as with Grandia, is set in a, mostly, bright and colorful world.

If I were to condense the themes presented in Grandia, I’d say it focused on adventure and discovery, of exploring unknown territories and learning about new cultures. Grandia II on the other hand focuses more on our spiritual relationships and the role and impact of religion in the world. Grandia II is the story of Ryudo, a gun-for-hire and Elena, a songstress in the Church of Granas. Ryudo is hired to be her bodyguard, but things go awry early on and they soon learn that Valmar (the evil god and Granas’ opposite) could reawaken and bring destruction to their world, what’s more, Elena is possessed by a piece of Valmar, which manifests itself occasionally, and transforms Elena into Millenia. This shape shifting element is interesting and provides for a character that is the polar opposite of Elena, like Granas to Valmar. Throughout the game they meet new party members who give a taste of the different regions in the game and are generally likeable. This wasn’t the case with Ryudo; at first he was a prick and very ignorant of others; the way he responded to peoples questions and concerns was off-putting, but as the game progressed, he became more comfortable with the people around him and as the on-going situations evolved, he revealed more about himself and became a more likeable character. Like, Grandia, Grandia II is light-hearted for the most part, with plenty of humor and fun gameplay, although the progression appears very formulaic, town, dungeon, town dungeon, etc.

Throughout the game, the story unraveled more and more, finally reaching a crescendo of understanding and going pass that crescendo into a surprising twist in lore. Grandia II is a more succinct adventure than Grandia with the game lacking in extra content. There isn’t any reason to go back and play more when done , there isn’t a new game plus mode, and the way the game ends it’s sort of hard to anyways, which is a shame because as with Grandia, I would still go back and battle more If I could.

The battle system, originating in Grandia takes turn-based battles, and added an element of real-time choice to it, creating a satisfying blend of action, which hit a spot in my psyche that loves being in control. The battle system has changed very little from Grandia. There are only a few things off the top of my head that I can think of that changed from Grandia to Grandia II. Instead of leveling up magic and special skills through use, you now attribute points to the individual moves. I thought it very clever in Grandia that special moves and magic leveled up and became stronger through use, thus, I used stat boosting/reducing spells more than I normally would in another JRPG. Also, instead of learning new magic spells by reaching certain requirements with certain elements of magic, in Grandia II you receive eggs which contain 18 preselected spells. There are more eggs than party members so there is always ample choice.

Noriyuki Iwadare returns as the composer and I enjoy his soundtracks a great deal. They are lighthearted and fun, which matches the general tone of Grandia II. Although there are, darker sections of the game, his compositions match the feeling, often, if not always. Familiar tonal themes are repeated throughout the game, with the actual compositions changing up slightly. I can see many people listening to the soundtrack and thinking it is quite cheesy with his ample use of electrical guitar, but I find it befitting the action and look of the game. The appearance, like in Grandia, is very appealing to me; the game is very bright, set in a, mostly, colorful world, with anime-like character designs–this is from Japan after all. The voice acting is fine, although what bugs me is that it isn’t totally voice-acted, barely any is, and this inconsistency always bothers me. The CG is also infrequent, and in most cases, very poor. The CG for cutscenes is almost laughably bad and strangely grainy, but when it is implemented into the higher level magic and special moves, the blend of normal graphics and CG or animation provides a unique clash that, at first seemed off putting, but quickly grew on me.

Grandia II was initially released on the Dreamcast in 2000, and then later ported to the PlayStation 2 and PC in 2002. I completed the Dreamcast version, played a bit of the PS2 version, and didn’t play the PC version. The Dreamcast version comes with a soundtrack CD that has twelve tracks of Grandia II related music, and I say related only because there are two remixes not present in the game. I enjoyed the selections and thought they provided a good cross section of Noriyuki Iwadare’s work here. The PS2 version included new CG cutscenes which take advantage of the hardware better, but still have the aspect of clashing with other aspects of the game. I played the PS2 version on a PlayStation 3 and due to this the game looked much crisper; this would probably be the way to play it. The PS2 version didn’t come with anything extra although the manual is very detailed. One of the main complaints against the PS2 version at its release was a poor port job, with the game hitching at times, I didn’t play very much of it, but did notice the game slowed down at points, but never when it mattered.

Grandia II is one of the finest games on the Dreamcast, and a fine Japanese role-playing game. With a well paced story and an incredible battle system, it’s worth seeking out if you’re a fan of JRPGs.

Grandia – Review

The title card for Grandia.

That Grandia was released recently on the PlayStation Network is a coincidence to my play through of the game. I had purchased it earlier in the year and finally got around to playing it, coincidentally it was released on the PSN a week or so later so this review is relatively timely. Prior to my play through of Grandia, my only other experience with the series was a play through of Grandia II on the Dreamcast which I remember loving, but I’m unsure if I finished it. Personally I’m a fan of more action-orientated RPGs and Grandia is one of, if not the best.

Grandia opens up in a somewhat bustling port town and quickly introduces the player to Justin and Sue, two young kids who are playful and not very serious. Nevertheless Justin is intent on becoming an adventurer like his father and Sue would follow Justin anywhere so she’s up for it as well. While the initial premise for the game is one that is often used, the game’s story gets deeper as Justin and crew learn of a mysterious ancient civilization that once perished. As they search for this ancient civilization they run into trouble with an army lead by a power monger and go through a few non-permanent party members. The story is very light and comedic, with an overarching sense of seriousness.

Justin and Sue standing next to a save point.

Like I said earlier, Grandia is more action-orientated than a traditional turn-based RPG; however this element of control is kind of a façade as the battles are ultimately a turn-based affair. In a dungeon you can see any enemy before battling, as opposed to random encounters; once you’ve run into an enemy or vice versa, you’re shifted into a battle scene. Along the bottom of the screen is a meter that shows icons representing your party members and all enemies; the icons move from left to right until one hits the command point. Here the battle will pause and you can tell that party member what to do. There is still a bit of time before they enact whatever you told them to do and this allows for strategy and planning as you can delay and cancel enemy moves based on when and what attack you hit them with.

There are many options when in battle: normal attacks, critical attacks which delay or potentially cancel depending on when landed, special moves, magic and items. One of the more interesting, and addicting, elements of battling is that every special move and magic attack has its own level that increases as you use it. The characters level relatively slowly but having all of these moves that are going up frequently gave a good sense of progression and feeling of accomplishment. Of course with any RPG that has magic there are elements of strengths and weaknesses but I never paid attention to this facet, probably due to my want to just level up everything, and this worked for me. The battles were fast-paced and fun, I looked forward to battling every enemy and leveling up many different things made me not want to skip out on fights.

Justin, Sue and Feena in a battle.

The soundtrack, like the story, was lighthearted; many of the tracks were quirky, with unusual sounds and upbeat tempos, matching the game’s tone. There were a few standout tracks that I really enjoyed listening to and I can’t say there were any I disliked. The voice acting on the other hand was quite poor. The voice acting was infrequent throughout the game and when there was any, what the characters said, would never seem to match the tone of the situation at that moment. Grandia is set a 3D world, with characters, buildings and other objects being made of 2D sprites. This mixture of old and new (at the time) graphics give it a feeling reminiscent of the “golden age” of the JRPG, while still progressing technologically. I’ve already mentioned that the game’s story and soundtrack were lighthearted and fun, and the look of the game matches. Grandia is set in a colorful world with interesting character designs and locales.

Grandia cost me fifteen dollars and I put fifty-plus hours into it, and had fun the majority of the time. If you’re someone like me, who likes owning a physical copy of your games and having the chance to look through the manual, I’d recommend seeking out a copy of Grandia rather than purchasing it off of the PSN, but maybe do that as well to support it! Grandia’s manual is robust, and while much of it is explaining relatively basic mechanics of the game, which if you haven’t played a Grandia title will be very beneficial, I did get stuck on a boss and consulting it did help me.

I loved Grandia. It’s quickly become one of my favorite JRPGs and even after I beat it, I can imagine wanting to play more to level up the rest of my party’s stats. It’s a long game with rare feelings of tediousness and overall, it was a lighthearted, adventurous romp through a colorful world, which is a great escape from the current market of more adult, serious games.

Grandia: Day Three

When I left off yesterday I thought I was getting ready to fight a boss and that’s kind of true. Justin has a Spirit Stone from his father; it’s an ancient artifact and it opened a door that no one else managed to iin the Sult Ruins. Inside were two psychedelic rooms where I met Liete of Alent. She took Justin and Sue into outer space, or perhaps it was just an illusion. She convinced Justin to travel to the new continent to meet her. Upon exiting the area Colonel Mullen tried to capture Justin and Sue but they got away. Colonel Mullen doesn’t seem like a bad person as afterwards he burst into laughter and was happy Justin was so daring.

To get to the new continent I needed a passport; Justin and Sue learned they could get one from a partly crazy, old adventurer. I took a train to the Leck Mines, south of Parm. Once there Java, the adventurer, required they pass a test to get his passport. I traveled into the mines and explored it until I met an orc king who I subsequently defeated. Java gave them the passport and I headed back to Parm. To get to the new continent the group had to travel by ship but Justin thought Sue should stay in Parm. Justin sailed away the next day alone and without telling his mother, but she left him a note saying that she knew. After exploring the ship I found out that Sue had snuck on! Justin and Sue were back together and since she is considered a stow-away, they are required to do some manual labor.

TOTAL TIME PLAYED: 04:41:36

Grandia: Day Two

Today I experienced the battle system for the first time. I left Parm and was heading to the Sult Ruins. Prior to this I received an invitation to visit the ruins from a curator at the Baal Museum whom Justin is friends with. To get to the Sult Ruins I had to pass through Marna Road which was full of a few bug type enemies.

The combat is very fast; most matches seemed to be over with thirty seconds. The hallmark of the Grandia series is its real-time battles. There is a meter that shows everyone in the battle, enemies included. The representative icons progress until the command point when you enter in what you want to do and then it a progresses a little more until the action point. Another staple of the series is the lack of random battles; you can see all enemies on the map.

I found a few items in Marna Road and eventually got to the Sult Ruins. Outside were the army’s equipment and a lot of soldiers, some working and some slacking. I viewed a cutscene with three female leaders who act very childish. I explored the area outside and then set foot into the ruins. I was surrounded by ancient artifacts and enemies. I proceeded two levels in to what appears to be the entrance to a boss and stopped there.

TOTAL TIME PLAYED: 02:18:42