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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 – 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

Grandia: Day One

Similar to what I did with Seaman, which you can find here, I’m going to do a journal of my time playing Grandia. They won’t be that similar though; the nature of Seaman allowed each player to add a lot and ruminate on what was happening whereas Grandia is telling a story and I expect to add less and communicate more like an actual blog.

The game opened up in what I consider to be quite cinematic for the time. The intro cutscenes didn’t explain much but showed that the game had good production values. After the beginning cutscenes I got to control Justin and Sue, the main character and his cousin. They are early teens and most of the intro consists of me looking for objects to show up a bully/rival. The game looks pretty good, it’s in 3D and it isn’t a fixed camera game; it looks very good. The controls feel good; movement feels loose and fast, how I like it.

I explored Parm, the starting city, and learned a lot about the game and my surroundings. Justin’s family is full of explorers and that’s what he wants to do, coincidentally many ruins nearby have recently been found. The game appears to be pretty traditional story wise; this’ll be another RPG where I play as a young adventurer, following in his families footsteps. I played for a little more than an hour and was just getting ready to leave the town; haven’t fought a battle yet, which is why I’m playing Grandia. I love action RPGs and I loved Grandia II.

TOTAL TIME PLAYED: 01:13:26