Grandia Xtreme Updated Preview
We take a look at a localized version of Grandia Xtreme.
Enix's recent partnering with Game Arts will ensure that a great many more Japanese RPGs will find their way to North American shores, and Grandia Xtreme is the first tangible result of the deal. Due out in September, Grandia Xtreme is the third game in the Grandia series, each of whose installments has garnered a great deal of critical acclaim. The game was released in Japan in February, and it has been in the process of localization ever since. The version of the game that we recently got to play featured full English text, though the voice work was still in the process of finalization. A number of largish names were recruited for the cause, however, which could prove quite amusing. These include the likes of singer Lisa Loeb, and others. In any event, while Grandia Xtreme features many elements that tie it to the series from which it was born, many characteristics of its design make it a different beast entirely.
The game stars a young, scrappy ranger named Evann. In Grandia Xtreme's world, rangers are keenly in touch with the cycles of the Earth, and they're able to channel their energies in various ways. When disasters occur, they're often called upon to realign the forces and bring harmony back to the world. That's the sort of scenario that Evann finds himself in. The outset of the story finds him diligently practicing his sword technique, when he receives a letter via courier. His country's army, apparently, has been trying to draft him for quite a while, though his inherent mistrust has kept him from responding. After this particularly stern letter reaches him, he finds himself quietly cursing the army and its commanding officers, when, out of nowhere, a well-armed platoon encroaches on his dwelling. Next thing he knows, he's been shanghaied.
He comes to in the company of a young officer named Diene, who, in a few words, tells him he has no choice but to help the army deal with a particularly large problem: the Elemental Disorder. It's all a mystery at that point, but apparently, strange forces are emanating from certain parts of the world, causing all sorts of disastrous events. It's Evann's skills as a ranger that they're after, and despite the fact that he's an 18-year-old neophyte, they aren't taking no for an answer. Evann learns that he's been spirited off to a town called Locca, which he's encouraged to explore a bit after his initial briefing by Diene. Soon enough, he meets up with the people who will become his companions during his first foray as an army ranger: Brandol and Carmyne. The former is a blockheaded sort who doesn't like taking orders from an 18-year-old kid. The latter is a sassy young woman who seems more than able to manipulate them both. In any case, they all learn soon enough where they'll be headed first--a place in the middle of the desert, which is also the site of the game's first dungeon.
Dungeons and Dungeons
Grandia Xtreme's layout basically revolves around towns and dungeons. Each of the game's major areas will consist of such a pair, with the town serving as a "home base," where you can reequip, tweak your skills and magic, and the like, and the dungeon serving as the playfield. Locca and the desert dungeon make up such a pair, and as the game wears on, you'll get to explore several other combinations. Exploration occurs in the third-person, granting the game more of an adventure feel than you'd expect. Your range of movement is still strictly limited to the RPG genre's conventions, though, so don't expect to be able to traverse any sort of large gaps without the aid of a rope bridge or floating tiles. To aid you in exploration, you're able to rotate the camera using the shoulder buttons, though in some of the tighter chambers you'll come across, it doesn't move all that rapidly. The auto-center function mapped to the R2 button remedies this a good bit, though. You can also swap to a first-person view on the fly by hitting the L2 button, which is good for when you're disoriented in larger chambers. A map also conveniently logs your progress through the dungeons, which makes the inevitable backtracking that much easier to deal with.
You're able to see most monsters on the actual playfield and on the automap, which makes the game's random battles seem that much less random. Who gets the upper hand in battle depends on whether you're running full tilt or taking it more leisurely. If you're hauling tail, you'll get stuck in pincer attacks more often, so you're punished that much more for blazing through. Likewise with traps--if you're hustling through booby-trapped corridors, you're more likely to spring them than you would be if you moved more carefully. In all, it feels like the game's dungeon-crawl aspects are as fully realized as they come. At the very least, the dungeons themselves seem much more compelling to explore, at this point, given the perspective you'll view them from and the fact that they're fairly ambitious in terms of architecture.
It's Grandia Xtreme's combat system that seems to be firing on the most channels, though. It's all centered on a clocklike graphical device that sits on the foreground and marks the coming turns of every player on the battlefield, friendly or unfriendly. It works just like the IP gauge did in previous Grandia games, albeit with a more fleshed-out graphical representation. It basically displays icons representing each of your party members and your enemies along its face, in an order that corresponds to their upcoming turns. As all the attacks are executed, though, things will continue to happen on the battlefield, lending it a nice illusion of real-time resolution. As your character's basic attacks are combo-based, they may finish off an enemy with one stroke and automatically take on another for their second. They'll also run about the field, along with your enemies, so the actual layout of the combatants changes constantly. This adds a nice level of strategy to the battles, especially when it comes to area-of-effect magic spells--you'll find yourself attempting to herd enemies into the blast radius, as your teammate's spell is being resolved, for maximum effect.
Combat definitely seems to be what Grandia Xtreme's all about, though the dungeon-crawling aspects of it seem to be compelling in their own right. What most will surely miss is the game's lack of an overworld experience--it all occurs by means of a checkpointed map interface that instantly whisks you to your chosen spots. Still, the game was relatively well received in Japan on the strength of its combat system, and from where we're sitting, it looks like the game will get the same reception stateside. We'll have more on it for you, in any event, as soon as the situation warrants. The game is set for release in September, so keep your eyes on this space.
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