Grandia III
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: GameArts
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Release: US 02/14/06
Japan 08/04/05

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That one looks like a homerun.
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In the heat of battle.
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Isn't this how every quest begins?
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Aw, Crap.
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John McCarroll
Hands-On Preview
John McCarroll

The Grandia series has now spawned its third game with the new PlayStation 2 title, Grandia III. What's that? Grandia Xtreme? Oh, right, the mind block. I forgot that there was that niggling other Grandia game out there. Both of the numbered Grandia games have been loved by fans, and the third should be straight in that vein; the Square Enix publishing and localization should only sweeten the deal for most.

Getting straight down to the bulk of the game, Grandia III keeps the heart of its battle system intact. For those unfamiliar with Grandia's combat, it's a semi-turn based affair. Characters will approach their turn based on their speed, somewhat similar to the ATB system. When a character's turn comes about, they've got several options at their disposal: the standard combo attack, their spells, the special attacks and critical strikes. Both the special attacks and critical strikes have the ability to cancel your opponent's attacks outright. You heard that right, actual timing strategy. When players begin an attack, they may have to charge it for a period of time for magic and special attacks. The same goes for the enemies. If either catches the other with a critical strike while they're charging up for that next attack, it's gone. Poof. You have to wait until your next turn. The interface for the previous games in the series was shown by a bar, but in Grandia III, it's shown by a circle in the upper left hand corner. It's a bit easier to read than the interface in Grandia II.

Totally new to Grandia III are the concepts of Air Combos and Air Finishes. When your characters pull off a critical strike, they'll throw the enemy into the air. If another critical comes along targetting the same enemy while they fly up, an Air Combo will commence, and extra damage will be awarded. If the Air Combo manages to slay the enemy, extra loot is abound. It's not a huge step above previous games in the series, but it's certainly an extra bit of strategy. Even before you hit battle, though, there's a bit of pre-battle surprising to do. You'll be able to swing your sword on the field, as all enemies are visible (that's right: no random encounters). Smack an enemy and you'll surprise them, changing their initial location and slowing them down a bit.

Grandia III provides a bit of customization in its spell system. Characters can buy spells at shops, as well as gaining them from NPCs. They'll be able to equip those along with Mana Eggs and Skill Books. Mana Eggs will boost a player's damage with a certain type of spell, while Skill Books do the same for types of techniques. Players may also synth together Mana Eggs to create more powerful ones, or desynthesize them into their spell components, many of which are only available in this way.

Graphically, Grandia III is a bit of a mixed bag. While animations in combat are extremely smooth and look good, this comes at a loss of overall quality in the models themselves. The fact that faces won't animate in combat much is the biggest strike against Grandia III. In the cutscenes, however, the anime-styled characters receive quite a boost. Characters' faces animate well, emotions are easily read, and it just looks great overall. While they may not be quite as realistic as those in Final Fantasy X or Shadow Hearts: From The New World, they're pretty spiffy in their own right.

Now, all of that's fine and dandy, but without the story, all you've got left is Grandia Xtreme. Players will be happy to know that the story in Grandia III has been buffed up quite a bit compared to its predecessor. The story follows Yuki, a boy who has always wanted to fly, as he begins his dreams in the small town of Anfog. He finally builds a successful plane with his friend Rotts, but on the first test flight, he finds he can't gain altitude. Something's weighing him down. Turns out his mother, Miranda, wasn't quite happy with him going off without taking care of his things and hopped along. Both notice a girl in a carriage being chased by men with horses and crash shortly thereafter. After they find the girl, an elfin girl named Alfina, who is a Communicator: one who can communicate with the Guardians, godlike creatures of their world. They search on for the identities of those who were chasing her as she continues on her journey.

As with most modern RPGs, Grandia III's story sequences are fully voiced. All of the voices thus fit the characters fairly well and dialogue can be very humorous. The songs have their ups and downs, but having listened to the OST of the Japanese version of the game, I can see where they fit quite a bit better, now.

Grandia III should be a safe bet when it hits on February 14. Fans of the first two games shouldn't be disappointed with the title, and fans of Grandia Xtreme will enjoy the revamped combat and improved story. This newest Grandia title will be rated T for Teen by the ESRB and will launch at $49.99 USD.

Chris Winkler
Preview First Look
Chris Winkler

Ever since the release of Grandia Xtreme in 2002, the name GameArts was only mentioned when rumors about a new Lunar game popped up in random RPG-related discussions. While a new installment of the company's second major RPG series, Grandia, was generally considered a given, GameArts and its publishing partner Square Enix took their time before taking the wraps off the highly anticipated fourth coming of Grandia.

Director and series veteran Hidenobu Takahashi and his crew had planned the game from the very beginning of the PlayStation 2 era in Japan, but deliberately took their time and waited until 2005 to bring the game to Japanese retail store shelves. In coming up with the game's concept, Takahashi is joined by scenario writer Takahiro Hasebe who already worked on the original Grandia.

Arguably the best RPG ever to grace Sega's Dreamcast console, Grandia II was also one of the best looking games at the time of its release. Despite moving to another platform, the series will continue this tradition with Grandia III. The huge natural environments of the game and its detailed character models definitely look like they will pose a serious challenge to Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts II and Final Fantasy XII, as well as Level 5's Rogue Galaxy, for title of the best looking RPG on PlayStation 2.

A key theme behind Grandia III's visual style is "nature," hence players can look forward to exploring vast, beautiful landscapes. The character designs are creations of You Yoshinari, who is the best known for his work on tri-Ace's 1999 PlayStation title, Valkyrie Profile. Furthermore, CG specialist Masataka Kurazawa from ROBOT has been hired to supervise the production of the game’s movie sequences.

It is impossible to talk about Grandia, without mentioning Noriyuki Iwadare. One of Japan's leading composers, the native of Matsumoto City in Nagano prefecture has not only been responsible for the music behind Lunar and Grandia, but also the Langrisser series and tri-Ace's action RPG Radiata Stories, among others. To perform Grandia III's main theme "In the Sky," Square Enix has hired Japanese songstress Miz.

In times where many companies are more or less successfully trying to reinvent the wheel and their franchises, the development team at GameArts stuck with the classic formula of fast-paced battles, which was one of the main reasons behind Grandia II's popularity. The half-realtime battle system of Grandia III will again challenge players to pay attention to factors such as timing and distance. To keep track of what is going on during the action-oriented battles, the Initiative Point (IP) Gauge will help players to monitor the status of friends and foes alike. The gauge is a circle displayed in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. And, as in Grandia II, the gauge features two sections: COM (for command) and ACT (for action). When the gauge reaches the COM field, the player is free to input a command. Once the ACT field is reached, the previously selected command is executed. The right timing provided, it is also possible for players to cancel an enemy’s attack and subsequently delay its next turn.

Mana Eggs will also make their return in Grandia III. Those eggs have always been the source of magic through the series’ various installments. By equipping a character with a Mana Egg that fits his or her affinity, the respective character's magic power will increase significantly. In Grandia III, Mana Eggs can also be synthesized to create more powerful eggs. Merging two eggs will have one key benefit for the player; more powerful eggs have a tendency to contain powerful magic spells that are usually hard or impossible to come by otherwise.

At the center of Grandia III's story is the legend of the "King of Flight," Schmidt. While the stories of the legendary pilot have slowly but surely been forgotten by most people, the dream of flying still fascinates kids and teenagers, such as the game's protagonist Yuuki.

Yuuki lives in the small, peaceful village of Anfog and dreams of piloting his own aircraft. One night, Yuuki encounters the game's heroine Alfina who is being chased through a nearby forest. The 16-year old is on her way to Arklif, looking for clues about the whereabouts of her older brother Emelious. Emelious was raised to become a god-like person, but three years ago he vanished under mysterious circumstances. By the time he reappears, he does not resemble the loving brother Alfina remembers, but rather a dark warrior wielding a sword capable of killing gods.

Other characters include Miranda, Yuuki's mother. This straightforward lady arrived in Anfog 10 years ago and raised the boy on her own. Then there is the 28-year-old Alfonso, who travels across the oceans onboard a small ship. He eventually ends up joining Yuuki, but generally feels more comfortable traveling over water than land. The 16-year old beastman Ull is a runaway from his family. As guardians of the holy beasts living in the Valley of the Flying Dragons, Ull's family has been living according to strict rules which the free-spirited boy could not bear any longer. He has since been traveling the world on the back of his dragon Shiva. He also seems to know the legendary "King of Flight" Schmidt. Joining them will be 23-year-old Dahna, a gifted fortune teller. Since the mysterious disappearance of her lover two years ago, she has taken his place as head of the village of Pakura. To cope with her lost love, she lives by strictly obeying the village's rules. This in turn often results in struggles with her younger sister Ruiri. Dahna has a strong sense of justice and radiates a certain feeling of calm. And Hect is an elfish-looking girl hailing from another world. Originally this world used to be a beautiful place, however by now it is entirely crystallized. With her violin, Hect is capable of cutting the link between her world and Yuuki's.

Rounding out the cast of characters are Dunkel, and Emelious’ lieutenants, Kornell, Violetta, Grou, and Law Ilim. Dunkel is a mysterious dark knight who, in the beginning of the game tries to prevent Alfina from reaching Arklif. He used to be friends with Emelious but now opposes Alfina's brother for whatever reason. The hulking Kornell, the beautiful Violetta, Grau and Law Ilim all seem to be under the command of Emelious.

Grandia III has been available in Japan since August 4th. A US release date has yet to be announced, but given the series' popularity outside Japan and Square Enix's continued expansion in North America and Europe, a US release is probably only a question of time.


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