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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published by: Square Enix
Developed by: Game Arts
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Players: 1
Rated: T (teen)
Release Date: February 14, 2006
Written By: Daniel Sims

The third numbered installment of Game Art's RPG series hits the PS2 with a pretty strong start in terms of visuals, characters, and even gameplay. But how things turn out as the game goes on on has actually led me into a little bit of a revelation about Japanese RPGs.

The first few hours of Granida III give the game a strong impression in more ways than one. As soon as the game begins, players will notice that Grandia III sports some crisp visuals that, along with well-designed environments, make nearly every area of the game a treat to look at with no shortage of breathtaking landscapes. The starting cast of characters in Grandia III is also a likable one. You have the main character - a rookie pilot named Yuki, His mom (possibly one of the coolest moms in RPGs), and of course you quickly meet up with your usual soft-spoken demure caster girl. Not only do the visuals and characters (at first anyway) give off a strong impression, but soon players are introduced to a battle system which quickly becomes the highlight of the game.

The Grandia games are mainly known for their unique battle system which takes different aspects of both real-time and turn-based combat to create what some call one of the best in RPGs. Personally I think it's kinda like Final Fantasy's ATB system... except better. In Grandia a single IP gauge appears on the screen during battle. All characters have an icon representing them on this gauge which moves along it in real time. Once a character's icon reaches a certain point on the gauge they can receive a command, after which their icon will move along the gauge to the end, which is when they can carry out that command. What this does is sets up a system where while the battle itself plays out in real-time, the player still has the same level of control that they would in a turn-based battle.

Grandia III however challenges players to keep a much closer eye on the IP gauge than in previous games. Although the ability to cancel enemy attacks in real-time was present in previous games like Grandia II, the third game puts a much bigger focus on it by presenting the cancel ability to the player as soon as fighting in the game begins. If an enemy is moving from the command point in the IP gauge and is preparing to attack, players can have a character in their party strike that enemy with a certain kind of move. If they can strike that enemy before they attack, the attack is cancelled and the enemy's icon is pushed back on the IP gauge. Furthermore, if another character can strike that enemy right after their attack is canceled; they will go into an aerial combo, which you can chain one after another with each character in your party.

Grandia III's excellent battle system remains one of the highlights throughout the adventure

What this creates is a system that challenges players to organize the sequence of actions from their party members so as to put them in the most advantageous position on the IP gauge to take control of the battle which, when done right, adds a whole new layer of strategy into the battle system. The result is a system that, while relatively fast-paced, still gives players room to think in a turn-based manner while organizing a real-time strategy. Because of this, battles rarely become repetitive and remain challenging throughout the game, especially once players reach the second disk.

Boss battles in Granida III, as infrequently as they occur, are long, hard, drawn-out ordeals, with some even citing the final boss as a 45-60 minute fight. Although I didn't see anything in the entire first disk that I would call a true boss fight, the few that do show up in the second disk are no joke, as they are usually split up into multiple "sections" that can each attack on their own, giving a boos multiple turns to your party's one, which makes them all challenging affairs.

The game's system for learning new magic and abilities is actually quite simple once you get used to it. Magic and Abilities can all be directly equipped onto characters as long as they have the available slots. Characters gain more and more slots as they gain experience. Throughout the game players will find Mana Eggs and Skill Books: Items that you can either equip to increase the effect of spells or abilities in certain elements, or extract new magic spells and abilities from at their own discretion.

One thing about Grandia III that might disappoint the kind of players who like to like to go for every sidequest and unlockable, is that Grandia III, like it's predecessors, is about as linear as RPGs come. You literally start out in one town, walk along a pretty straightforward path, reach another town, and walk along another straight path. You might find some very light (and I mean very light) puzzle-solving elements as you travel in the game, but your still literally walking from point A to point B with no real sense of a world map system. Oh you can find some sidequests in the game, but the few that are there require some serious looking into in order to discover, so most people will probably only be dealing with the game's main quest. Once you do get to travel on a world map in the game though, I have to admit that what Game Arts did with it is pretty cool.

Once you get a plane in Grandia III, you can fly all over the world map to anywhere you've already been before (or to where you need to go next). But what's so cool about it is that thanks to the game's crisp visuals, and a few subtle nuances like talking to NPCs through radio transmission, you really do get the feeling that you are flying thousands of feet in the air. It kinda feels like a cross between Skies of Arcadia and Pilotwings, and even though there aren't really many places to go on the world map, it still feels really cool just flying from point to point.

Unfortunately however, as the game goes on, elements like the game's story and character development don't stay quite as strong as they were in the first few hours. While the opening hours of Grandia III had me very excited with a nice crew of characters, some above average voice acting (some of the best in RPGs really), and even some pretty well-done cutscenes that put more emphasis on the game's realtime engine than on a prerendered one, two of the best characters in the game (including the main character's awesome mom) completely drop out of the game with little notice less than ten hours in, and from there character development pretty much takes a complete nosedive.

Outside of charcter development though, the storyline may or may not keep you interested depending on your tastes. I kinda liked how the game tries to present a sort of war between gods and an antagonist who hunts them down, but other than that, the persisting theme of "the power of love" is probably going to annoy the hell out of most of you.

Alonso, while one of the more likable characters in Grandia III, unfortunately leaves the game far too soon

There are other parts of the story that could have been great, but because of the way they are presented to the player, they loose all weight to them. The main character for instance idolizes a famous pilot who is depicted in the opening sequence of the game. But once you meet this all-famous pilot around 10 hours in, you go through a simple even with him, have him build you a plane, and that's pretty much it. You go about your adventure and you don't really see him again. In the opening hours of Grandia III, the cutscenes and dialogue show a sort of shy tenderness between the main character Yuki and the female lead Alfina, which to most would suggest the possibility of romantic development between the two later on, but that also drops off almost completely only a few hours later as Alfina pretty much stops talking to Yuki.

What's funny about all this is that as the average storyline drags on, most of the other elements of the game: the innovative battle system, the impressive voice acting and cutscene direction, and even the visuals, all stay solid. Good enough even to keep some people playing to the end even if they've lost all interest in the storyline.

This is what brings me to what I find kinda strange about Grandia III. I've seen a lot of people rip on this game because of it's average-at-best storyline and character development, but I'm pretty sure that if Grandia III were any kind of game other than a Japanese RPG, a genre that I feel has started to value cool characters, strong plotlines, and pretty cutscenes over actual gameplay these days, it probably would have received a more positive response for it's excellent battle system and crisp visuals.

Grandia III is a game that starts out strong in nearly every aspect. Pretty visuals, fun characters, and an innovative battle system. Despite how the characters and storyline may become less interesting as the game goes on, If you can continue to appreciate this game for what it continues to do well: it's battle system and it's visuals, then it's still possible to have a good time with Grandia III, even if it's for a different reason than you might enjoy most other RPGs.


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