Grandia III (PlayStation 2) review
"He's got this youth, this innocence that reminds me what it's like to have a dream and hold onto it. He's not perfect; he crashes, he fails, things don't go like he plans. Things look bleak, hopeless. But he just keeps going, and even though he's not the first hero with determination, he's one of the best portrayed and most easily identifiable. After all: Who hasn't dreamed of flying? "
I want to fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
Yuki is fighting for his life in the middle of a fierce tempest. Whirlwinds bellow on every side. Lightening crackles all around him, threatening to ignite his plane with a single wayward streak. The rain whips his face, stings, making it harder and harder to focus forward. But he has to keep looking on, he must keep his eyes straight and his mind focused, for if he loses concentration, if he gives into the chaos and lets it send him earthward, he will surely die.
"It was like the sky had a grudge against me…"
And then…peace. He finds himself in the eye of the hurricane, the gentle center. Turbulence everywhere, except for this hallowed spot. The soothing winds whistle. His plane makes a soft hum. And there, on the horizon, lies the setting sun. Majestic and eternal. Then, more than any other time, Yuki understands: He has to fly.
Grandia III's plot doesn't always satisfy me. It rushes things sometimes, doesn't stop to explain as well as it could or should. Most of the villains just appear and act without any real motivation, and you never learn who they are or where they came from. Only the main villain gets any real development, and it comes too late and too forced. For all its sound and fury, Grandia III is another RPG about trying to stop a dark god from rising and ultimately and predictably failing at it. As of February 14 in the year 2006, that plot officially became old.
But I can put up with it this one last time. For Yuki.
He's got this youth, this innocence that reminds me what it's like to have a dream and hold onto it. He's not perfect; he crashes, he fails, things don't go like he plans. Things look bleak, hopeless. But he just keeps going, and even though he's not the first hero with determination, he's one of the best portrayed and most easily identifiable. After all: Who hasn't dreamed of flying?
Yuki realizes his dream and you experience it alongside him; with a sense of freedom I haven't seen in an RPG since Skies of Arcadia, you fly from city to city to dungeon in a working airplane, fully controllable. You can nose-dive, increase speeds, barrel roll, soar through mountains, pick up transmissions, and look on in utter awe at Grandia III’s lavish world. You pass over the Vejas Jungle; see the wild rivers and the lush canopy. You pass over the Baccularn Desert; see the dunes and oases. You pass over the Raflid Alps; see the snow covered peeks and the thick mountain mists. Winds change, rain falls, the sun shines.
Grandia III is a truly gorgeous game, and not just on the large scale; it's a beauty from far and near. The jungle is vibrant and free; you walk down a dirt-ridden path, past trees and rivers, flora all over. The desert is vast and spacious; walking past the occasional rock or tree as a gentle breeze wafts sand your way. The mountains are harsh and unforgiving; climbing upward and onward, fighting through the enemies or hiding in the fog.
Every place you go is as it should be. Even the dungeons don't feel like dungeons; instead of time-consuming puzzle fests, all they force you to do is get from start to finish, run the maze. You don't have to find a bunch of keys and play some stupid guessing game, you don't have to track down a clearance card or listen in on the villains to learn the password, you don't have to ask yourself why an ancient civilization would fill their temple with block puzzles. At the absolute worst, you might have to press one switch to open the dungeon's final door. One.
It's simple, it's straightforward, and it lets you appreciate the game's best feature: The battle system.
Returning Grandia fans need to realize that, while this is essentially the same system you loved and learned to rock with, there are some changes and not all of them are for the better. The difficulty spikes about halfway through the game; enemies get tougher, smarter, cheaper. What you thought was a simple fight against two enemies becomes a struggle against ten, as they use and abuse the ability to call in reinforcements. The advantage you get from surprising an enemy is minimal at best; you only start a little ahead of them, perhaps getting in one or two extra hits before the battle goes as usual. Fortunately, the usual battle is damn good.
Just like the games before, Grandia III uses a not-quite real-time/not-quite turn-based system; taking the best of both styles.
You input commands like it was turn-based, attack order's determined by speed like it was turn-based, the computer decides where the character move like it was turn-based.
The characters run around and dodge attacks like it was real-time, take time to charge up spells like it was real-time, can have their moves interrupted or interrupt the enemies like it was real-time.
Everything's decided by the command wheel at the top of the screen. Each character in the battle, friends and foes, has an icon that scrolls around, moving at different speeds. When you reach the COMMAND section of the wheel, time…completely…stops, letting you choose which attack to execute. Do you go for a spell and deal some elemental damage? Do you go for a critical and knock one the enemies further back on the wheel, delaying them? Do you drain away your SP and deliver a crushing special attack, ending the battle in all consuming blow? It's half strategy, half anticipation; it makes you think ahead and think on your feet.
Do that, and you’ll reap rewards, namely one of the sick new aerial combos that Grandia III offers. Dig this:
Alfina (the cute elf chick. People call her human, but…elf), Ulf (the tough half-human half…furry thing), and Yuki all reach the COMMAND point at about the same time, so you input three attacks for them. The enemy's nothing special, just an ugly-ass giant shellfish thing, so you have Alfina do a Crackle spell, have Yuki and Ulf do regular strikes. Shouldn't be much, right?
Alfina does her Crackle first, sending a volley of ice shards up from below the enemy, knocking the shellfish skyward. But Yuki doesn't wait for it to land before he attacks, he jumps up with it, executing slash after slash after slash in a rising combo.
He knocks the enemy high, but it's not over, because Ulf still has to get his licks in. He appears above Yuki, balls his fists, and lands a double-fist right into whatever counts for the shellfish's chest, sending it crashing down from twenty meters high. Overkill.
Even if you don't have the timing or the patience to set up those deadly aerial combos, the special moves and spells have all the style you could ask for. They start out simple, just regular things like burning and freezing and earthquakes. But the spells get bigger. They get better. You'll be throwing fire spells that look like localized nukes, you'll be summoning meteors from the depths of space, you'll be calling up tempest and tornados and hurling your enemies through the air, amazing effects without the slightest hint of slowdown.
And Grandia III gives you full reign over the attacks, too; there's a level of customization here that even shames its predecessors. The skill books and Mana Eggs from before return, and you can equip them for status boosts. But now you've got more choices, now you can extract spells and skills from them, destroying the item but getting the power up. Now you can fuse Mana Eggs, creating newer and more powerful types that you'd never find on the field, with powerful attacks that you can't come across any other way. You've got a wide range of both skills and magic to choose from, and you can graft them onto any character for any situation; virtual control over each and every stat. Their speed, their strength, their magic, their defense…it's all up to you.
Sometimes you may find yourself daunted, put in a fight that you just can't win. It happens; Grandia III has some of the most punishing bosses in the series, the kind that loves to unleash their best attacks at the worst possible moment, the kind that loves to center on a single character and crush him in two turns. Your back may hit the wall, with no way to win. What to do?
You could do some leveling up, that wouldn't hurt. But your best bet would be to unleash the trump cards: the Guardian Orbs. You pick them up as the story goes along, and each one gives you an insane advantage. Unleashing a volcano for destruction, calling on the essence of life for complete healing, even stopping the flow of time so you can dish out big pain without taking any. The effects are temporary, lasting only ten or so turns. The Orb meter resets every time you use one, making you wait about twenty fights before it's available again. But that's the trick, really: Knowing when and where to pull them out, when a situation is dire enough that you've got no choice. The orbs are powerful enough to be helpful and limited enough not to be cheap, adding more strategy and more options to a game that already has plenty.
There are no routine battles in Grandia III.
Now that I think about it, the freedom theme that Yuki embodies applies to almost every other aspect of this game. The atmosphere feels so boundless, so inviting, like a breathing world. The combat system doesn’t just encourage experimentation, it rewards. I’ll be honest, I liked Grandia I & II slightly…slightly…more than I liked III; they had better stories, more intriguing heroes, well-crafted villains. But, while Grandia III may not be as good, it’s still good, and it’s peerless in terms of a fluid, fresh world. It’s not the RPG of the decade, it’s not even the RPG of the year (that’d go to Wild Arms 4) but it is a worthy buy, guaranteed.
Staff review by Zack Little (March 29, 2006)
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