series for North American shores to the clamors of moderate excitement. But while the previous numbered titles in the series were granted significant critical acclaim (insomuch as we can trust sites like ign.com to be pertinent critical sources), reviews hit Grandia III
rather hard. Though plagued with complaints about its story and characters, it still managed about a quarter million sales in Japan and fewer here in the States. As we see upon closer inspection, Grandia III falls into the category of games which demonstrate the lopsided maturity of the JPRG development process—a brilliant backend with interesting innovations coupled with writers who not only need to be fired, but taken into a dark basement and beaten within an inch of their lives and then once again for good measure.
On a superficial level, Grandia III functions as well as other visually-engaging titles for the PS2, including Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria
and Final Fantasy X
(just imagine: a comparison to a title released some six years ago). The game world is limited but appropriately detailed and since there is no particular relevance which unites the look of the game with its thematic elements I will move quickly away from this topic to discuss its other strong point.
To be specific, its battle system, which has been fine tuned for speed and strategy, makes for both interesting and challenging combat. In a system which will be familiar to Grandia fans, character and enemy icons rotate around a circular gauge which may allow for one to cancel enemy actions if input timing is precise enough to strike as a spell is being cast or an action is in the process of being taken. The effect is fast-paced combat which showcases interesting challenges during the game’s lovingly-crafted boss battles. Combined with further command additives, on-screen encounters, mana egg and skill combination and extraction, and an attack technique system which promises micro-rewards every few battles, the total sum is a unique experience that ousts comparative titles in almost every respect.
There and nowhere else does Grandia III manage to succeed. Its story, a mesh of clichéd nonsense, bears resemblance to the classic Lunar: Silver Star Story
, which was executed immensely better on the Sega Saturn some ten years ago. The main character and pilot wannabe Yuki, who has just crash landed his most recent trial plane, encounters Alfina, a communicator-to-be charged with the task of conversing with the great guardian spirits. Yuki, compelled by his inherent goodness and inability to acquire a functional airplane, charges himself with the task of taking Alfina to her destination so that she might engage in the ancient ritual of communication. Praise be to Yevon. The situation soon spirals into a trite hunt for all of the spirits as Alfina’s brother Emilious appears in a Kefkan rage, ready to frame himself a god by deposing the guardians.
Playable, perhaps, if cardboard characters didn’t populate every nook and crevice of the game. Aside from tossing entire undeveloped characters aside in abruptly-ended story-arcs, the title manages to shirk all manner of sense in a web of disgustingly idealistic dialogue which made me cringe periodically as I jammed furiously on the scene skip button. This Penny Arcade comic strip
sums up my feelings quite nicely, in fact. I would hardly consider myself cynical, but when the word “love” flows out in dialogue like the diarrhea of a lactose intolerant after a nice gallon of Bessie’s finest, my eyes roll to the sky with little inhibition. Considering Grandia III’s linear gameplay and lack of replay value, this kind of writing is completely inexcusable.
To worsen the matter, Noryuki Iwadare, who has composed for the series since its inception, has created a flat score which lacks character and even manages to grate on the ears at times. His only redeeming melodies, appropriately enough, are his battle tracks, which function well in context to create an upbeat and fun atmosphere.
As a whole, Grandia III maintains the strong battle aspect which has always been a staple of the series while disposing almost entirely with any kind of interesting narrative or artistic conventions. Thankfully, the title lasts just around thirty hours, so players who are willing to put up with the nonsense may still have a fun time in combat and take away some sense of dignity after investing their money and time in this dishopeful example of RPG redundancy, pardon the rhyme.
In February of last year Square Enix localized the third installment of the Game Arts-developed