Author’s Note: This review was originally published on February 19th, 2010. Like other reviews of the time, it features “witty” taglines that separate each section. When I first wrote this review, I remember hoping that the title would cause some strife. I decided to keep the title to remind me of what NOT to write. Still, I continue hold Grandia Xtreme as the best game in the series.
How would I describe my history with the Grandia series? I remember when I played Grandia when it was first released back in 1999/2000. I got to the middle of disc two and, for some reason, could not bring myself to reach the conclusion. I was able to play through the Playstation 2 version of Grandia II from start to finish and enjoyed it for the most part. Unfortunately, it was hard to recommend this port due to the constant graphical lag. For those who still have yet to play it, I say go with the Dreamcast version. Grandia III was played on a whim and it turned out to be a disappointment. Finally, I replayed the original Grandia and enjoyed it much more than my first time. Yes, I was able to finish it. One thing remained consistent with all of the titles: an excellent battle system. Despite Grandia III’s story and silly characters, Grandia’s leading role, and the ending sequences of Grandia II, each game provided me with plenty of customization options and battles that were fun from start to finish.
One title remained to be played in the saga. No, not Parallel Trippers! I’m talking about Grandia Xtreme! Of course, I was skeptical about playing it considering my checkered history with the franchise. Having completed it, however, I can say that it is the best game in the series. Not only are the battles exponentially more fun than they have ever been, the story was far better than any other entry. Forget what you have heard about it being a dungeon crawler without a story; those people must have never played the other entries in the series and witnessed some of the awful story events that happened in Grandias one through three. In other words, they have no idea what they are talking about. Take it from me, my friends! Grandia Xtreme has nearly everything any RPG player could ask for.
Go! Go! Geo Ranger!
After the end of the war between the Nordis Army and the beast-men of Arcada, natural disasters began happening more frequently than ever. These disasters were called The Elemental Disorders, and the Nordis Army has been doing all it could to neutralize them. The army’s second in command, Lieutenant Liene, enrolls the help of Evann. A ranger with the ability to create teleportation devices known as Geo Panels, Evann is cynical and disinterested in helping the army out. This is mainly because his childhood rival, General Kroitz, is the head of the neutralization operation. However, Evann and his rag tag group of friends eventually get involved in a chain of events that involve much more than natural disasters. Only Evann can save the entire world from a cataclysmic destruction beyond imagination.
See? There’s a story! Also, unlike Grandia’s one through three, there are no cheesy story events that happen involving the power of love, the soul of an adventurer, or a sissy-like change of heart. Those who have played these games will understand the references. Evann is a hilarious lead character. His cynicism does not stop from the get-go. Joining him is a group of equally colorful characters. Some of them were not my cup of tea such as Brandol and Jaid. Others, such as the darling Myam, the fierce Lutina, and the wise Ulk were great. Sure, their development was not at the level of characters in the other Grandia titles. However, people saying that character development is absolutely lacking are delirious.
Results May Vary.
While on the topic of characters, I think I should talk about the music and voice acting of Grandia Xtreme. Mark Hamil, Dean Cain, and Lisa Loeb are the big names doing voice work for some of the characters in this game. Despite their history and experience in the acting industry, they do a less than remarkable job. The rest of the characters hardly sound convincing. But, that is where the fun lies. You see, the voice acting in this game is so bad, it’s awesome. Mark Hamil’s acting is super-cheesy, and Dean Cain sounds like he just got out of acting school. Lisa Loeb sounds as though she is talking to a special needs kid. Needless to say, the voice acting has a campy appeal that some will love and others will hate. Results, obviously, may vary. Luckily, the music will appeal to mostly everyone. The tracks in the towns, dungeons and the battles are all excellent. Even better, some of the battle tunes from Grandia and Grandia II are in this game.
Livin’ La Vida Locca.
Before we talk about the battles, which act as the backbone to the Grandia series, we need to focus on getting ready to explore the numerous dungeons and the dangers within. The town of Locca acts as Evann’s home base. Here, you can pick who you will be in your party, shop for new equipment, and talk to the locals. The classic dinner scenes have returned, which allow you to learn more about the characters and the situation at hand. There are two extra fun features in Grandia Xtreme. The first involve skills. Skill Books range in grade from C to S. By equipping a book of a certain letter, you are able to equip skills of that letter. By going to the Skill Man, you can take a vellum and have him identify the skill. There are tons of skills to find. By combining the right skill set, you can customize your party as you see fit. The more you battle, the more experience your skills get. When they reach the maximum level, the skills will be much more effective. Also, you can exchange your unwanted skills for points. When you earn enough points, you can exchange them for powerful items and Mana Eggs. Speaking of Mana Eggs, these have made a triumphant return in Grandia Xtreme. Mana Eggs can be mixed to form more powerful Mana Eggs. While they start off weak, continuous combination of Mana Eggs will yield amazingly powerful spells. Sometimes, the spells contained in each Mana Egg will have enhanced bonuses such as less MP, less charge time, and a wider range of attack. By now you should have figured that there are tons of options available. While some characters are meant to be magic users and others are geared towards physical attacks, the options are flexible enough so you can make them work how you want. When you have customized your party to your liking, you can set out to the next dungeon.
The Dungeon Master.
Yes, the dungeons and battles are the focal points of the game. However, certain pieces of story get revealed as you continue to trek through them. Dungeons have traps to watch out for, puzzles to solve, endless treasures and plenty of monsters to fight. Some of the dungeons are randomly generated. After certain points in the story, the enemies gain a boost in power and you can fight them to earn new items and more experience and gold. The dungeons are a real treat, mainly because of their rewards. Some are a bit long, and not having the ability to save in them may turn some people off. Luckily, Geo Panels are scattered throughout many of them. These allow you to warp back to Locca and refresh your team if necessary. When you finish a long dungeon, you can acquire powerful items such as Mana Eggs, better equipment, and some powerful skills. While the camera can be a bit of a problem at times, navigating through the multitude of unique dungeons is always sure to leave you on the edge of your seat. This is mainly because of the excellent, fine-tuned battle system that any Grandia fan will appreciate.
Instead of a giant game of crack-the-whip, Evann is the only on-screen character you see. Holding the X button will cause him to enter a ready stance. If you touch an enemy in this stance, you may gain initiative. If the enemy touches a not-ready Evann, the enemies may gain the initiative. Other times, no one may have an initiative. You can anticipate the level of difficulty the enemies will give you by the Xtreme Gauge located on the bottom. The higher this is, the more dangerous the foe. Regardless of who gains initiative and how dangerous the foe is, touching a foe will start a battle. The Grandia Xtreme battle system features a circle on which both characters and monsters, represented by icons, rotate around. This is called the Initiative Points (IP) gauge. Higher IP means the sooner a turn occurs. When a character icon reaches a certain point, your characters are able to choose an action. They can do a combo attack, a critical attack which doubles as a cancellation move, use an item, use magic, flee, defend, or use one of their specials. Once an action is chosen, depending on what it is, the icon will move to another portion of the circle. When it reaches said portion, the person will act. As per usual, battles become super chaotic very quickly. Time freezes for your character when an action is being selected, but once everyone has selected something to do, battles become buck-wild. While there are times your party member may act like a buffoon and run the most ludicrous route to the enemy, most of the time chaos of the battles is awesome. This Grandia trademark is what kept me going. Battles are fun as hell, and there are some new features added to them.
Each character learns a unique set of specials, but getting to a certain level is only part of it. Learning these happens when you select to do a regular attack. The character will say something like, “I got it!” and use their new found power. Consistent use of these will power them up in various ways. A feature added to the game that makes the game more challenging is that skill points (SP) start at zero when you first begin a dungeon. By taking damage, giving damage, and performing well in battle, SP gets restored. Certain special attacks have a cancel effect, so when used properly you can easily turn the tides of even the most difficult of battles. Others can attack a wide area; perfect for getting rid of a small army of weaker foes. If the last blow is a special attack, that person gets a bonus in experience.
My favorite part of the battle system are the party combo attacks. When certain characters’ skills reach the right level, they have the ability to make a combination with another character. For instance, when Evann’s X-Slash and Carmyne’s Smash reach a certain level, they will perform the combo called Sword Dance. The fun does not stop with double combos; you can perform three-person and even a couple four-person combo. When a foe is finished with a combo, the members get a bonus in experience. These special feats are perfect for bosses, of which the game has plenty. Even better, the bosses are a challenge that will make you use all resources available to you. While there are times you may have to grind for extra experience and items, the fun battle system makes it worthwhile. Anyone familiar with Grandia will feel right at home with the exciting battles.
Grandia II. Part II.
Part of the reason the battles are so exciting is because of the game’s look. I was a huge fan of Grandia II’s graphical style, and Grandia Xtreme takes it a step further. Characters are very colorful and detailed. Mood portraits accompany the dialogue boxes; always a nice feature. In battle, you get to see some exciting and impressive special attacks and spells. Monster designs suffer from palette swaps, but the towering bosses make up for that. The final boss will easily go down in history as having an impressive look and some intimidating special attacks. Best of all, there are no graphical glitches or loading issues. Grandia Xtreme looks great in every way.
Grandia Xtreme took me about 50 hours to complete. Much of that time was spent hunting for items, going back to old dungeons to earn better rewards, customizing my party, and having a ball with the battles. When the credits finish, you will unlock a 100 floor bonus dungeon that not only grants you the best stuff, but an alternate ending. Unfortunately, with the lack of another final boss, there was little reason for me to finish it. Sure, the treasures were fun, but who would I use them on? Still, this will give some people plenty of reason to go back for more. Grandia Xtreme has received a bad reputation for not having a solid story. People fail to understand that Grandia titles are not known for solid stories. Also, in comparison to Grandia, Grandia II, and Grandia III, Grandia Xtreme delivers the best story. Are you a fan of the franchise? Are you a fan of RPGs? Of course you are! Pick up Grandia Xtreme so you can enjoy this Xtremely excellent title.