GameSpite Journal 11 | Grandia III

GameArts / Square Enix | PlayStation 3 | Feb. 2006

Only in this industry can a series be touted as a [insert series]-killer, often before the game supposedly doing the killing hits the shelves. This debatedly desirable nom de guerre got its start with the Resistance series of first person shooters on the PS3 as the “Halo-killer,” despite the Master Chief having done a pretty good job of that himself on several occasions. As is so often the case in the videogame industry, the title is generally a bit of hyperbolic fluff inflicted on a title in order to drive potential consumer expectations that also generally results in a subpar outcome. i.e., the game sucks or has otherwise overblown its stereotypic wad.

Which, by way of extended metaphor, is an excellent way to refer to Grandia III since the series is now dead following its release -- perhaps making Grandia III the Grandia-killer in a variety of ways. The development history for Grandia III was long, convoluted, and quite secretive. The majority of it is irrelevant save for one thing: The final game in the series that was quite often touted as the superior answer to Final Fantasy had been published by the corporate behemoth behind Final Fantasy, Square Enix.

Now, Square had little to do with the development of Grandia III. That was mostly up to Game Arts, a producer of a wide variety of things, including several RPG series of long lifespan but sparse entries that are generally regarded positively save for their modern iterations. The problem is that Grandia III falls squarely in that period where Square had acquired several smaller development houses and publishing rights to a few more and whereupon nothing but shit rained forth. At the time, I had just graduated from high school and started attending college and had no clue about said storm. All I cared about was my Grandia, and my new Lunar not even three weeks later, and for the first few hours I was not (terribly) disappointed.

Then the hero’s parent(s) left the party, and things took a turn. Which is sad, because the game features some of the finest real-time combat in the genre. It’s not even that the game is bad, like Lunar: Dragon Song, which I had the misfortune to buy three weeks later. It’s that the game is offensively dumb, and the cast will willingly combo you into mental oblivion. Not that I really noticed, as I had just about started my first year in college at that point, and my brain was effectively fried anyway. But I finished it, stuck it back in the case, and went to go play Tales of the Abyss one more time to cleanse my palate.

And there the game sat on my shelf for years, and I’d occasionally look at it and think about playing it again, at which point my brain would send me visions of painfully stilted voice acting and of teenage characters with equally painful fashion senses. A chill would pass down my spine, and my finger would wander away from the gme case with a vague sense of relief at some crisis averted. Then the Boss solicited potential entries for the 11th volume of GameSpite Journal, and for reasons unbeknowst to me at the time, I volunteered to write about Grandia III, despite that I knew I had finished the game and had quite enjoyed the combat portions of it.

My befuddlement lasted roughly two hours, the span of time it took for the hero’s mom and stud-muffin in the wings to depart the game post-haste, and I wondered to myself if I shouldn’t have gone with them. After that, things went downhill rapidly. It wasn’t that the game dealt in stereotypes and stock plot formulations, it was that it dealt with them with all the panache of a drunk driving on the wrong side of the road in the middle of nowhere. It was dull, formulaic, and had all the narrative spice of an empty Old Spice container.

The things that should have been interesting weren’t, and whatever the cast touched it sucked the life out of, much like the main villain of the story was sucking the life out of the realm of the gods and was turning everything into glass. Even the ground! And whoever scripted this made this negatively interesting somehow, which makes this game a pretty good candidate for containing the real Anti-Life Equation.

My only real fragment of sanity returned whenever the battle screen would pop up, and I’d spend thirty seconds having a blast, only for the playable cast’s pithily terrible victory quotes to drag me screaming back into the game at large. It was at that point that I pegged what offended me about the world map in Grandia III, because the misshapen thing that compromised the plot and characters in it did nothing to hide the sheer linearity of the game. Both of the previous numbered Grandia games shared a great deal more in common with Final Fantasy X in terms of plot structure than the other games in the series they were supposedly killing, as they were both pretty much straight rollercoaster rides from start to finish with only minor opportunities to diverge from the experience at the end. The difference between Grandias I, II, and III is that in the first two the experience was entertaining and engaging enough that the game’s linear nature wasn’t really a detriment.

Both games also featured a top-down world map where the player could select a destination. The only real option was forward, and where past areas that are no longer narratively important get dropped off the cliff and become inaccessible to the player. Grandia III doesn’t do that, despite having the exact same narrative structure, and instead lets you fly around the world map (such as it) is rendered in glorious 3D, and barren of any player accessible destinations save those the plot allows. Despite having a fully rendered world with towns and even places with descriptive text that you can’t land at. Text doesn’t really get across quite how infuriating that is, I find.

So there I was, insane and caught between fits of irritation and life-gnawing apathy depending on where in the game I was -- and right before the final boss too. At which point I flashed back to all three prior Grandia games, including that Xtreme side-story game which is totally a better Grandia III despite coming out weeks after II, whose final bosses are all monstrous world-devouring gods whose right-hand man is the male rival to the male protagonist, and finally realize that I have truly and utterly wasted my time, because this has basically become an extremely lazy and tawdry rehash of Grandia II. Elena only wishes she was half as annoying as yon elf-girl whose name I refuse to remember is, and there’s no Millenia to inject oddly out of place Valley Girl-isms into things as I smash in the game’s Zophar-rehash’s face.

Finally free, I barely manage to crawl out of my chair to flick off the power switch to my PS2 and then tear the damned disc from the machine. I look at my game shelf, spot Tales of the Abyss, and decide that I’ve punished myself enough for one night.

By Andrew Bentley? | July 1, 2012 | Previous: Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode | Next: Heavy Rain