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Grandia III - Impression

Grandia III
Platform: PS2
Developer: GameArts
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Feb 2006

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All you've got to do is break on through to make your wishes all come true… so states the lyrics of Grandia III's opening theme music. After the spin-off and letdown that was Grandia Xtreme, fans of the series have had much to wish for from the first two games: strong characterizations, an incredible battle system, and a deep intriguing plot. Good news, everyone. Grandia III looks like a return to the solid roots of the series: Xtreme this is not.

In some RPG series the only thing to connect each incarnation is the repetition of the trademarked name in the title. On the opposite extreme are those games which are merely cookie-cutter carbon-copies of each other. And then, there are the few which manage to retain the traditions of the series while presenting them in a new fashion with unique twists. Popping the disc in, playing through the first five hours, fighting some battles, introducing the story leaves one overwhelming impression on the player: Grandia III feels like a Grandia game. And that, RPGamers, is a good thing.

The main protagonist is a sixteen year old boy named Yuki who dreams of being the second person to cross the ocean in an airplane. The opening animation featuring Yuki will likely evoke a number of images for sharp-eyed players. He's a boy with a penchant for fine feathered friends, much like his immediate predecessor in Grandia II. Yuki's idol pulls a stunt during a battle that is a clear homage to a famous battle scene in Star Wars. In the opening scene, Yuki himself holds a giant double-bladed saw in a stance that must be tribute to Final Fantasy VII's Cloud. Finally, there's a plane race sequence that seems a lot like the anime Last Exile, and that imagery is only exacerbated by the first two main characters and the fact that Johnny Yong Bosch voice acts both Yuki and Claus.

"Grandia III feels like a Grandia game. And that, RPGamers, is a good thing."

That same opening sequence goes to great length to show a boy growing up in an idyllic village, a boy whose only worry is whether he can manage to fly across the ocean before being forced into pottery training. This dream will no doubt come crashing to earth as he is swept up by portentous events. Yuki lives alone with his rather youthful mother, a woman who acts much more like a sister than mother. Yuki, unlike Grandia's Justin, will have to contend with having Miranda along for at least part of the journey as she has no intention of staying behind, so much so that she stows away during Yuki's flight.

It is this voyage that introduces the third main character, Alfina, a pointy-eared slip of a girl who has the requisite mysterious secret background. She is on her way to a mainland temple, aiming to become a Communicator - a somewhat bizarre cross between Grandia II's religious emphasis and the ancient Delphic Sibyl. In the classic manner of heroes everywhere, Yuki immediately offers his services as escort and protector against those who are trying to stop this pilgrimage. Miranda comes along both to keep the kids out of trouble and to ply a little match-making.

A few hours into the journey the trio meets Alonso, a self-described sea captain and obvious rogue. He has a most amusing ability to instantly become the perfect Ladies Man, able to make hearts swoon and eyelashes flutter. Of course, his attempt on Miranda is met with a rather stark and humorous reaction. The preview ends with the foursome ready to set sail to the mainland.

Grandia III's introductory sequences are very story oriented, but the preview does provide a good glimpse at the battle system. Veterans of Grandia II will find much that is familiar, as the basic set up in battle is the same. Battles are initiated by touching wandering monsters on the main map; players can attempt to surprise the enemy by whacking them with a sword and touching them while they are stunned. Success results in starting the battle with an initiative advantage; monsters can also turn the tables and surprise the heroes by touching the party when its back is turned.

Every combatant is placed on an initiative circle and must wait until it is their turn to act. Upon reaching the command line, the player issues a command to the character. If the command is instantaneous, such as the normal combo attack, the character immediately moves to the action line and rushes toward the target to attack. But if the command is something like magic or a special move that requires preparation, the character will continue toward the action line and only complete the command when that line is reached. It sounds more complicated than it is, and most players should be able to get the hang of battle quickly.

Of course, there are further complications and strategies to consider. A character can execute a combo attack, which is, for all intents and purposes, the main normal attack. Critical strikes can also be executed, and these will cause the enemy to jump backward on the initiative circle. Furthermore if a critical hit is managed while the enemy is preparing an action, that action will be canceled completely, and the enemy will be reset almost back to the beginning of the circle. If a combo attack is executed by a second character while the enemy is being cancelled, a massively damaging aerial combo is automatically granted; this juggle can be extended beyond two characters, and the game keeps track of various stats associated with it.

Magic spells can be taken off at set up points and reassigned to any character to use at will, but some characters are obviously better casters than others. Special moves are character-specific actions which are learned during battle and generally deal great amounts of damage. Magic uses MP which do not automatically replenish, but special moves use SP which replenish during battle. Characters are also more likely to gain new skills or level up old ones if they constantly use them in battle. Rewards are granted for especially damaging combos and performing well in battle.

The rest is a mix of old and new. Meal sequences that provide both humor and story progression make a return. Yuki has a peculiar sonar-like ability to highlight interesting features on dungeon maps, a very useful tool for making sure that nothing is missed. Mana eggs will increase the character's ability in certain elements and thus increase any associated magic spells. Skill books do likewise for various equipped skills.

Graphically, Grandia III is as attractive as any cutting edge RPG. And unlike many RPGs, cut-scenes are often pre-rendered and not simply within the game engine itself, providing plenty of opportunity to admire the masterful CG work. The game's excellent soundtrack provides a perfect backdrop for the world, and the voice acting for the major characters is solid so far.

Grandia III is set to release next month, so keep an eye on RPGamer for further details and a full review closer to its release.

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