Grandia III Update

Square Enix and Game Arts stop by to give us a look at the latest entry in the Grandia series on the PlayStation 2.

Hot on the heels of our recent Heartbreakers feature, we bring you an update on Grandia III, a game that at present has no official US release date. It's the latest entry in the long-running role-playing-game franchise that first appeared on Sega's Saturn system in 1997. Though the game was overshadowed by the Final Fantasy VII juggernaut at the time, it still managed to find a devoted following that has kept the series going for the past eight years. The latest entry in the series, Grandia III, is actually the fifth entry in the series, which has appeared on the Game Boy Color, Dreamcast, PC, and PlayStation 2. With the game's release earlier this month in Japan, Square Enix and Game Arts recently dropped by to give us a look at the final Japanese version, as well as to tease us with an early, localized version of it.

Grandia III's story casts you in the role of a 16-year-old boy named Yuuki, who dreams of being a pilot while living a pretty ordinary life. This all changes after an encounter with an elven shaman named Alfina, who possesses the unique ability to communicate with holy beasts that both serve the gods and protect mankind. Alfina is on a mission to find her brother Emilious, who disappeared three years earlier. However, the duo's simple quest to find Alfina's sibling takes a dramatic turn when it discovers that Emilious is a villain with designs on conquering the world.

Now, family ties aside, this is obviously a situation that calls for someone to step up and put the kibosh on such nefarious plots, which is where Yuuki comes in. You'll set out with Alfina and a colorful cast of characters that will eventually join your party to help you stop Emilious and save the world. One of the nice touches we saw was that, in true wacky fashion, it appears as though Yuuki's mom is going to be tagging along on the adventure, which should ensure some priceless moments of interaction if the previous games are any indication of how this might be handled.

If you're a fan of the Grandia series, you'll be pleased to see that the core gameplay, which has been one of the franchise's big draws, remains intact. You'll still explore your surroundings on a 3D world map that will let you freely explore towns, ruins, and the areas connecting them. If you're the curious sort, the game will reward you with hidden items to discover that range from standard items, such as potions, to the extremely useful, such as mana eggs that you'll use to beef up your party's magic. One of the cool new additions to the exploration system is the ability to pop into a plane and take it for a spin around the world. Besides showing off the nicely done 3D world map, flying will also serve as your primary means of traveling between locations on the massive continent you'll be exploring.

Grandia fans should find plenty to like about the latest installment in the series.

Combat in the game is pretty much on par with the most recent entries in the series, and it retains the best loved aspects of the battle system. You'll be able to initiate combat with the enemy of your choice, and all enemies are shown onscreen as you explore, because you'll either walk into them or bop them on the head with your sword. If you can sneak up and hit enemies to initiate combat from behind you'll be able to get in the first attack of the fight. The battles play out in a quasi-real-time system that's similar to the active battle system in the Final Fantasy series. Each member of your party has a turn that's tracked on a meter that also displays enemy attack times. The meter has been shifted to a stopwatch-style circle that also displays everyone's status.

You'll find several new additions to the combo system that beef it up over the previous games. The combo system now lets you knock foes into aerial combos that let you juggle them for a hefty amount of damage. A new dialogue system lets party members interact during battle, which improves their effectiveness. When you're in combat you'll make use of an accessible combat ring that has your assorted attack abilities laid out for you. You'll eventually be able to use the aforementioned mana eggs to teach your party members different types of elemental magic that can be combined to create increasingly powerful spells. One thing to note about the mana egg system in Grandia III is that the team opted to streamline it for players to make it both easier to use and more efficient.

The visuals are nicely done and sport the expected layer of polish since the last time we saw the game. Our demo showed off some new environments, namely a beach area and a winning tour of the sky that showed off the impressive look of the world. We got to check out a few different types of battles, and we checked out some of the more over-the-top spells and attacks, which were nicely done. The English demo of the game looked spot on, and aside from a few expected work-in-progress quirks, it ran well.

When Grandia III will be available in English is anybody's guess--but at least Square Enix is hard at work on the localization.

Ordinarily, we'd close with some information on when to look for the game, but unfortunately, Grandia III currently has no US release date. While the English version we saw proves that it's being worked on, Square Enix and Game Arts couldn't offer much concrete info on when to expect it. Though the two companies would like to release the game in the US, they're currently trying to determine if it would be a good fit for the market. So the best we can say is that the Japanese game has a lot of promising elements to it that should make Grandia III a solid entry in the series, in addition to being a game worth bringing to the US. Hopefully, all parties involved think so too and will let us know when to spread the word on its official US release. Until then, Grandia III is currently out in Japan and is available if you choose to import it. A word of caution to anyone who isn't reasonably familiar with Japanese or importing: The game is heavy on the text. But then, what RPG isn't?

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