Theorycrafting: Maintaining Engagement – How Do Games Keep Us Engaged?

One of the biggest challenges game developers face is maintaining engagement. As such it’s important to understand what keeps us playing the videogames we like and what stops us from playing the games we can’t get into.

Grandia 3 Review

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So after years of waiting, we finally got Grandia 3 in the UK via Playstation Store. It was a hassle to access the US Playstation store but regardless, I have finally finished it and quite frankly I’m quite glad I got to experience this game, even if it is a bit rough around the edges. What do I mean by this? Well it is pretty much the opposite of everything that made Grandia 2 so great in the first place.

Allow me to elaborate. When this game was first released, people were in uproar about it, some consider it the death of the Grandia series, others just consider it to be a mediocre title which was nothing more than a disappointment. Hey, that sounds like the perfect game for me to review. So I picked the game up and gave it a go. How bad could it possibly be?

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First of all, I would like to talk about the visuals of this game since they are a considerable improvement from Grandia 2. The world of Grandia 3 is certainly a looker, not the best looking game I’ve seen but it has certainly been given a makeover that stands out if you’ve played any of the previous Grandia games. It feels great to actually play a Grandia game with such great visuals. Sure Grandia 2 Anniversary Edition improved on the visuals somewhat and made them a lot easier on the eyes and actually made them quite likable but Grandia 3 really has a fresh new style that is unlike any of the previous Grandia games.

One thing I would like to note is that Grandia 3 feels like a much more open-ended game than Grandia 2 but don’t let this fool you, the game is every bit as linear as its predecessor though to be fair, you are able to backtrack this time around thanks to the game’s flight system which allows you to freely roam the world map in a similar way to Lost Odyssey in the sense that it is very restrictive and in a lot of ways kinda pointless considering the linear nature of this game.

Grandia 3 Flying around is kinda pointless

For a theme centered around freedom to roam the skies, you’d expect the game to deliver that feeling of freedom in its structure but sadly this is not the case, instead when you approach certain areas, you merely get a text box telling you about it, kinda like in Mass Effect. It’s such a shame since there is a huge world out there to fly around in yet you only get to explore a small portion of it. It’s such a shame really.

While we are on the topic of the game’s theme, let’s get straight to business and talk about the games laughable story. Where do I even begin? For starters after having played the legendary Grandia 2, it is easy to see how this game has come to receive such a negative reception. You would think that after playing a game like Grandia 2, the story would be exciting and fresh, sadly this is not the case this time around, the story of Grandia 3 is about as exciting as a baked potato.

Grandia 3 Trying really hard not to make a dick joke

Trying really hard not to make a dick joke

While Grandia 2 went off the beaten track with its protagonist, in Grandia 3, you are presented with Yuki who follows just about every single cliché in the book as a JRPG protagonist. His only standout feature is his love for planes… not that I consider that a good thing, rather It comes across as obnoxious more than anything else. Typically the game starts off with the protagonist, Yuki getting scolded by his mother Miranda for being too obsessive over his hobby.

But believe me, Yuki doesn’t get any sympathy from me. After crashing his plane like an idiot, he is left stranded in the middle of a forest a couple of miles from his hometown and encounters a young girl named Alfina… you know what this means don’t you? That’s right, get ready for some boy meets girl action in the form of yet another bland, uninspired romance that contributes absolutely nothing to the plot… hurray!

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Little did I know that the entire build up of Yuki’s character was about to capsize from here on out. Now Yuki must escort Miss Bigears to a place called Arcriff, a place of worship dedicated to communicating with the guardians. Sound familiar? Anyways the story starts getting duller and duller from there.

Put simply if you’ve played any JRPG, you’ve seen Grandia 3’s storyline already. It pretty much deflates into a quest for macguffins once you reach the halfway mark and by that point, the story never really evolves past that until you face the big bad evil thing at the end.

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To make things even more insulting, the only two redeeming characters leave the party early on in the story. This cripples the story as they are replaced by two dull characters who barely have anything to offer in terms of personality and they are mostly cardboard cut outs. In fact, these characters are so bad that you could remove them from the game and it wouldn’t change a thing.

Now in a game like Grandia, this is particularly worrying since the Grandia series has always revolved around its interaction between characters and with a cast of characters as dry as oatmeal, its efforts to focus on character interaction are pretty much wasted.

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The nature of the Grandia series remains unchanged however. Grandia 3 follows the same formula as the previous games. Its focus on NPC interaction is still an all you can eat buffet of narrative and the dinner scenes return to add more flavor.

You can tell that Game Arts were trying to focus on building a strong narrative as they continue to use the same tools that made Grandia 2’s story so engaging, it’s just a shame that the characters and the plot of Grandia 3 are so sterile otherwise it could have made for yet another memorable and engaging storyline.

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Where the game truly shines however is in its battle system. Like the previous Grandia titles, Grandia 3 uses an active time based (ATB) battle system with a heavy emphasis on changing the flow of battles through cancelling enemy attacks and manipulating the IP gauge to intercept enemy turns.

Grandia 3 enhances the system by rebalancing the game’s difficulty to make for a more challenging experience. In addition, the game adds new aerial combos in an attempt to mix things up. Sadly while aerial combos have their uses early on in the game, their effectiveness diminishes later on as enemies are given insane amounts of health and this tends to make many of the boss fights a slog.

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Fortunately many of the boss fights are varied, some of which can be quite difficult to figure out at first. The game keeps things fresh by offering plenty of devastating abilities to be used by both the player and the enemy. It is important to stay on your toes in all battles as you are usually outnumbered by multiple enemies and if your characters are widely spread out on the IP gauge, you may find yourself in a compromising situation if you make the wrong move.

Thankfully the game offers a wide assortment of abilities in the form of moves/magic to bolster your arsenal. Every ability is useful, you just need to find the right one for the job. That’s JRPG combat 101 right there and while many JRPG’s forget the significance of this, Grandia 3’s combat focuses heavily on making the player’s choices feel important. Add to that the need to manage SP more carefully (due to the lack of SP restoration items available) and you have a surprisingly deep combat system which offers plenty of variety to keep things fresh for the entire duration of the game.

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Character Management is different this time around. New moves are learned via leveling up rather than with special coins. Moves are enhanced at random. I personally dislike this as it can sometimes screw you over in battles since attacks will be pulled off instantly when a new secret method is learned (the process of leveling up moves) which can ruin a potentially well-timed cancel. I also dislike the randomness of move leveling. Grandia 2 gave the player total freedom with learning moves which led to several balancing issues, however this method is still preferable to the method used in Grandia 3, at least in my opinion.

Magic is pretty interesting this time around. While the spells in your arsenal are more-or-less the same, the method of learning magic has drastically changed from that of Grandia 2. On one hand it complicates the progression system, on the other hand it is a more balanced system that prevents players from acquiring high level spells too early. Magic eggs can be dropped by most enemies and are surprisingly very common, they can be used to enhance the effects of spells or they can be consumed to learn new spells. Abilities work the same way allowing you to equip skill books to increase the potency of specific skills or consume them to learn new skills. These can be equipped at any save point.

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In addition, there are higher level eggs available which can easily be acquired through mana egg fusion. This allows you to access powerful magic when you wouldn’t normally be able to. It is important to note however that characters have a set magic level depending on how high of a level they are. As such the system is balanced and you can never learn spells that are too powerful. To some, this could be seen as a bad thing, however mana eggs can still be equipped to increase the potency of spells to make up for this allowing you to grow stronger should you wish to.

Ultimately when comparing the gameplay of Grandia 2 and Grandia 3, Grandia 3 comes on top just by a small margin, this isn’t to say that Grandia 2’s gameplay was bad, many of the fundamentals that make Grandia 3’s gameplay so great were lifted straight out of Grandia 2, they have just been improved this time round which is expected of a successor. Sadly it is difficult to call Grandia 3 a true successor to Grandia 2 as it falls short in the department Grandia games are known for, story.

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Personally, I do not often prioritize story in videogames. Grandia 2 was an exception for me and I honestly didn’t expect Grandia 3 to be anything quite like Grandia 2 but the combat is ultimately what won over my interest in this game. While I disagree with some of the systems used in Grandia 3’s character management, the combat itself is actually quite engaging to say the least. As such I cannot say that my experience with Grandia 3 was as bad as many people make it out to be. To be honest I quite enjoyed it.

The music is what sealed the deal for me, despite this games shortcomings, it still has a solid soundtrack, not as good as Grandia 2’s but a solid soundtrack nonetheless. Add to that the eye-catching visuals and you have yourself an enjoyable game. That being said, I can understand the negative reception this game has received, as a Grandia game it is pretty weak and its linear story focused structure limits its potential. Add to that a couple of irritating songs and a few lackluster dungeons leaving you with just another run-of-the-mill JRPG which just falls short of being yet another classic PS2 RPG.

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Truly a work of art! Oh wait, that’s a mirror, never mind…

So all in all, Grandia 3 is not as bad as people make it out to be, while it is far from being a true successor to Grandia 2, it is still worth the experience. If you can find the game for cheap, give it a try. It’s not a bad game, just don’t expect too much out of it. Put simply if you’re starving for some JRPG action and you’ve played all the best, you aren’t doing yourself a disservice by playing this game, you should be able to find some enjoyment out of it. While this may come as a surprise to you all, I actually had a hard time tearing this game to shreds as much as I’d have liked to.

I really didn’t expect to like this game. Though the story may have been laughably bad and cringeworthy at times, I’ve definitely experienced worse (*cough*White Knight Chronicles*cough*). It gave me some good laughs at least… seriously what is with the blatant similarities between the story of Grandia 2/3 and Devil May Cry 4? Even the voices for Yuki and Alfina return to play the same roles in Devil May Cry 4 as Nero and Kyrie… plus why does the villain look so much like Ganondorf and why does he wear black patches on his face? Seriously dude, grow a beard or something. Plus what is with that wannabe Arngrim guy named Kornell? Why is he such a doofus? What is his purpose in the plot besides being comic relief? We may never find an answer to these questions. All I can do is give the game its final score.

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Seriously who the fuck is this guy!? What is his purpose in this game besides just being there?


Story/plot: Pretty Bad

Visuals: Good

Gameplay: Great

Music: Good

Lifespan: Decent Length

Would You Replay? No


 

Overall: Satisfactory

 


 

Value: £15.00

For a more in-depth look at the story, watch this video:

How to control your backlog and spending habits in gaming

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As a reviewer, I often find myself overwhelmed with the responsibility to buy and play lots of different games and as such I am left with a huge backlog of games just lying around waiting to be played… but then a new game catches my attention and I drop everything just to play it. Then I get fed up again.

Now you must understand that I have been writing on the Destructoid C blogs for 3 years now. I used to be a proactive writer, I would take a pick out of a game that took my fancy and just throw out a review. However, the quality of them was appalling among other things. To make a review is pretty easy if you think about it, all you need to do is write what you’re thinking. However it’s not easy to make a solid review. In fact the moment you start improving as a reviewer is the moment when you start to realize that it is hard work.

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Sure there are a lot more harder things to do but reviewing is considered a hobby to me. Unfortunately with this mindset, I have to become a lot more close-minded. Since this isn’t my job, I’m not going to play every single game on the face of the earth and throw out a review… though I may occasionally try something new, I want to stick to writing about games that I am passionate about or manage to gain my full attention and considering the fact that the gaming industry is changing for the better, I have to change to adapt to that, as a writer.

In any case, how is this relevant to controlling your backlog/spending? Well you see in the latter half of the seventh generation, I hit a massive burnout. Games just stopped coming out (games that I cared about anyways) and I had to change myself as a gamer, I had to be open-minded and explore new areas of gaming which I hadn’t before. In a way, I had grown as a gamer, I had grown away from my nostalgia barrier that led me down a narrow path in gaming. I feel better as a gamer for doing that and to be honest, I don’t think I would have become inspired to write without that.

With this however came its own issues. Though I am often careful with my money, I came to the point where I simply couldn’t turn down a cheap deal. If there was a game that interested me even a little, I would buy it without a moment’s hesitation. This had it’s fair share of ups and downs. I got to discover new games that I otherwise would have never tried but I also picked up some dreadful games that I simply got tired with.

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Despite what many people believe, I played Painkiller on a whim and guess what? I loved it!

I’m a cynic, I hate what the gaming industry has become and this changed my perception on gaming but it was more than just that, the industry’s change affected the games available. It is the end of 2016 now and games have been great this year but the past few years have been utterly dreadful, it was like a gaming drought. Trying to find a top quality game was a nightmare. Many of the top rated games I have reviewed are from past generations. Those days were good, it wasn’t until 2010 where things started going wrong.

I still say that 2011 was the worst year for gaming since the videogame crash, only 1 game released in 2011 managed to entertain me and that was Kirby’s Adventure Wii. Everything else was horrifically bad or just mediocre. 2012 wasn’t much better, Farcry 3 was probably my game of the year and that’s not saying much considering the fact that the game was an open world shooter with a dubstep soundtrack… ehhh.

The biggest question was “where are all the JRPG’s”? We had our Tales, we had our NIS shovelware along with a few others which were equally as bland. Seriously why do the Hyperdimentional Neptunia games still sell? Those games depress me because they take away all the passion and the effort that went into old school JRPG’s and instead these games are released every single year and as such the quality of those games takes a nose dive (at least in my opinion).

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Sure Exist Archive may have re-used assets and all that but at least they were trying. Most JRPG’s of recent years don’t even feel like they are trying to impress us. Someone has to give all those lazy JRPG devs a boot up the ass so we don’t get shit like Time and Eternity anymore, that game was an insult to all JRPG fans.

Sorry about my soapbox rant but I’m trying to get you to understand why I felt the need to spend money when in truth you really don’t. I was prepared to give anything a go because I was lost in the massive labyrinth of gaming. I was desperate, I needed a game, anything to keep my passion inflated, a passion that I knew still existed after I was reminded by Grandia 2. There was still something there… the world just moved on and abandoned passion but I hadn’t given up, even now I’m still confident that we will someday see rainfall again in the gaming industry, Star Ocean 5 gave me hope, hope that I had been praying for years.

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Grandia 2 re-ignited my passion for gaming

In fact it amazes me that games such as Halo can be considered classics now, yes I’m talking about Halo 3. How can a game like that be considered a classic by today’s standards I cannot fathom… but it is, it has been nearly 10 years since it was released. The state of the gaming industry completely blinded me of just how much time had passed, it was a depressing time for me and possibly for many others. Heck I was on the “Gaming industry is dying” bandwagon at one point, even people like Razorfist mentioned it in one of his videos during the dark days of the year 2013… that was a terrible year for a lot of reasons… and for gaming also.

Now that we have hit the eighth generation, as bad as the modern consoles are, there is still hope for change. A fresh start, something the industry has needed for a while. Now it has come to the point that there are far too many games coming out that I simply can’t keep up, I just have to buy them all, I owe it to myself and the readers to do so… or do I?

Not only does buying lots of games cost money but the more games you buy, the less invested you become in them. Here’s one of the reasons some of us younger gamers are possibly suffering from this gaming “spending spree” and what we need to do to prevent it is:

1. Think back to when you were younger…

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It sounds so simple doesn’t it. For some, it may work better than others. If you were spoiled as a child, this may not be the way for you, if you are an older gamer, this may also not be the one for you but if you are in your 20’s like myself and think back to your childhood, you will remember the small selection of games you owned and how dedicated you were to finishing them. They were all you had and you made the most of them. Be is Pokemon Red/Blue Legend Of Zelda Ocarina Of Time or for the older gamers perhaps it was Castlevania.

We valued our games back then because we didn’t have the ability to purchase them ourselves, we were funneled gifts from our parents at xmas or our birthdays and those were usually videogames (for those who were lucky). We were all excited back then. I remember the excitement of getting not only a Gamecube for my birthday but also A Playstation 2. Those were the best consoles I played in my life (well besides the SNES which was before my time but we’re talking about my childhood here). I had so many great moments on both systems, especially the Gamecube. There were so many games to play… but I couldn’t play them all. All I had to play was Smash Bros and a few other games. It wasn’t until way later where I looked back and tried out other games such as the legendary F-Zero GX.

So try to remember those moments and be responsible for your spending. I don’t care how well off you are. Be responsible for the psychological impact that buying tonnes of games brings and try to pick and choose your games. I know it’s hard for the more dedicated individuals out there such as myself but remember, gaming isn’t going anywhere, you can always pop round at a later date and play them when they’re cheaper, sure you’ll miss all the craze but for single player games especially, it may be for the best. However you might want to:

2. Avoid using digital distribution services like Steam/GOG/Humble Bundle

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My Steam Library is chock full of unfinished games

Ah the temptation of steam sales. That moment when you realize just how cheap games can be. The moment when you find out that just about everyone can be a gamer regardless of how poor they are. Not only that but you can also help charity’s through gaming too? It sounds like heaven doesn’t it? Well… it’s kinda cool at first, however you don’t want to overdose on this trend. Remember, these are digital games, they cannot be sold off when you’re done with them (though you can refund them on steam but that’s not what I’m talking about) nor can you keep them on your shelf as memorabilia. These games are the equivalent of an economy flight to Benidorm, a cheap break-away but it gets old after a while.

As a PC gamer, reviews are more important than ever because there is so much choice. However you cannot just read reviews that say “this game is awesome” you have to be 100% sure that you are prepared to play the whole way through because only then will you get your money’s worth. If it helps you can:

3. Play games with a shorter length

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Need For Speed Carbon may be short but it keeps me engaged better than any other game in the series.

For the casual audience, this is your best bet. Games like Child Of Light are great, yet small diversions away from the gaming ghetto bringing back the quality of old games at the cost of its length. Sure I would have liked it better if the game had an epic final dungeon at the end but to be honest, I was glad that it was short. It gave me the quality I was looking for without the investment required, plus it was a challenge.

However it can be difficult to know when games are short or not. If you’re looking for more detailed information on length for any game I reviewed, just leave a comment. I will tell you a more detailed explanation. For the most part I will only cover it if it’s relevant to the game overall such as Exist Archive: The Other Side Of The Sky. However, I have and can not play every game out there so relying on me isn’t always the best bet. I can only try my best after all. As such one thing you really need to do is:

4. Do your research!!!

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Spec Ops: The Line wasn’t a bad game, it just wasn’t for me.

Do you really want a game? Do you want it enough to work for it? To find out if it’s really worth your hard-earned money? Reviewers like me exist for a reason, demos exist too, so do forums and wiki’s. Look up everything you can about the game. Watch lets plays if you have to. I’ve always had a saying that you shouldn’t just read 1 review, you should read 50 because every review is different, if there was truly a definitive review out there, I wouldn’t be writing reviews to begin with.

If you aren’t wetting your pants with excitement, consider waiting. Sure you might not get that pre-order bonus but chances are it will be available as paid DLC later on anyways and if not, it’s not like you missed much. However wasting £40.00 on a game you get burned out on isn’t worth it and you want to get the most out of your money. You may also want to consider doing some price comparison, if you can find the game considerably cheaper elsewhere, you may re-think whether or not the game is worth giving a go, however don’t forget that price isn’t everything and that you also have to control your backlog. Make sure it’s a game that you can dedicate your time to finishing, it doesn’t matter how long it takes, just finish it!

Finally the last and most simple way is:

5. Take a break from gaming

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This doesn’t mean you have to quit gaming, maybe your gaming lifestyle needs adjusting… or perhaps you need to bring a few friends over or just consider doing something else with your time for a while. Consider what I do as being a “productive gaming hobby” I’m not playing anything as I write this, I’m doing this simply because I would rather spend my time writing rather than gaming right now. Even the most die-hard gamers know that gaming 100% of the time isn’t fun, you have to break it up. I don’t care how you do it but you need to change every so often. Heck it could be as simple as playing 2 games as once and going back and forth. Be warned though as this can cause more backlog issues. As such, Pick a game that you have already beaten and try replaying it again. That way you can play both familiar and new games so you have a mixture.

Variety is the spice of life, its never fun to be doing 1 thing constantly every single day, though some people would disagree with that (I.E MMO gamers) but the majority of gamers want something more from gaming rather than something to sink time into. Games need quality to make the experience memorable. It’s why I hate on games like Legend Of Dragoon so much (you probably won’t know that unless you read some of my old Destructoid blogs though), that game was ridiculously long. It wasn’t a bad game by any means but it over-stayed its welcome. It took years for me to finally complete it. Never again. Oh and also:

6. Know your limits

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I want to play God Hand, I really do, but if it’s going to be another masochistic game then I’m just going to have to pass up on it, at least for now. Sometimes you just want a nice relaxing game that you can just pick up and play rather than something which is going to kick your ass on a consistent basis. Think people! Before you pick up Dark Souls 3, think for a moment, are you truly prepared? Do you truly seek a challenge? Or are you simply starved for a new game and like the look of it? If the latter, put it off. I swear if you can’t handle those types of games it is often the best idea to just save them for later. There’s a time and a place for game like that, moments when you feel like you’re up for a challenge.

Games like God Hand and Devil May Cry are designed with replay-ability in mind, they are designed for players who want to invest time into the meta-game and constantly learn. F-Zero GX is the same, by all means as much as I love to preach about it, don’t just dive straight into it if you aren’t ready. F-Zero GX may be the best racing game ever but to truly embrace the awesomeness that F-Zero GX is you must develop patience and determination to get through it. Until you attain those qualities you are unfit for the task. Playing F-Zero GX is a reward in itself, a reward you should savor for a time in your life when you’re feeling like a winner. A time where you’re motivated to experience a true adrenaline rush. Of course you don’t want to hold off on getting F-Zero GX by any means, get it as soon as you are ready for some hardcore action. Heck if you really can’t cope with hard games, just play it on Novice. It’s not that hard.

So keep this in mind when you are considering purchasing games. Don’t just purchase something because everybody else is playing it. Find out whether or not the game is going to be valuable to you first. Read reviews (not just the ones on mainstream sites like Destructoid/IGN), research as much as possible, pay close attention to trailers and you may notice a few things that may alter your experience for better or worse.

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Don’t make the same mistake…

Have a great new year everyone… and don’t forget to keep your wallets sealed during the January sales unless there is something you absolutely must have.