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.

Grandia 3 Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the evilist of them all

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.

Grandia 3 Could he possibly be evil

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:

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How to make an engaging storyline in a videogame

Videogames have reached a point where they are no longer merely a source of simulated kinetic interaction in the form of virtual entertainment but many games are being known for their interactive stories, some games are built for this purpose exclusively but what is it that truly makes a good story? While I cannot speak for everyone, I can at least speak for myself and what videogame storylines can engage me. As such I will list several important components a story needs in order for it to become engaging for me.

1. World building

world building

Evil bad guy wants to destroy the world? Why should we care? Make your worlds captivating first before putting one of these tropes in your game… heck you should make your worlds captivating regardless. Every videogame with a storyline takes place in some kind of world and this world is shaped by the people in it.

As such, the player needs to be able to connect with the world through its characters and its people but not just any characters, they need to experience the cultures and social standards that govern the world, they must also meet with charismatic individuals who they strongly care for or bitter rivals who they wish to overcome before any world ending conflict. If you don’t craft an interesting world then you might as well be destroying a cardboard box. Make the impending doom something worth preventing!

2. Multiple Perspectives

multiple-perspectives

Now here’s something you rarely see in videogames. Remember that guy who crossed you at a certain point in the story? Perhaps you were brought into conflict with this person. Who or what is that person and what are his/her intentions, why do they side with the bad guys? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? What do they strongly believe in?  What challenges must they overcome?

Most villains in videogames just show up to laugh at you and bugger off for a coffee break when they have played out their part. When a game puts you into the perspective of that evil dude however, the player sees a part of that character that the other characters didn’t see, they get a personal connection with that character… even if that character is a deranged psychotic serial killer. You might grow to hate a character one minute and the next minute you are cheering them on. Why most videogames do not make use of this concept is beyond me. I am tired of games being focused on individual characters, I want to play and experience all of them!

3. Add a bit of edge

add-a-bit-of-edge

Now I know that edginess is often seen as a bad thing but let’s be honest, a good way to engage the player into a videogame is empowerment and by putting them into an edgy world filled with powerful enemies with a character who is equally as powerful and confident enough to take on entire armies of these enemies, the player is pumped up for not only the story… but the gameplay.

Remember that the purpose of storytelling in videogames is to motivate the player. What better motivation is there than having you play as someone stupidly cool?

Now sure there is a limit to how much edge you can have before it becomes too silly and if you do throw in too much edge, at least lighten things up with some humor. Edginess can get pretty bland after a while and that is why people tend to hate it. If you take your game too seriously and edgy, your game becomes sterile. No one cares if you can wield a 20 ft long buster sword and cut down armies, they want you to have some kind of personality. Even Arngrim, as edgy as he is has at least some funny moments in Valkyrie Profile.

4. Keep it clear and concise

Keep things simple and concise

Or more accurately speaking, respect the players time and make damn well sure it is not wasted with uninteresting dialogue or boring exposition. The player wants to move through the game as quickly as possible and the story needs to grab their attention whenever possible. However, the moment that the player loses that attention, stop the chatter and move on!

I know it can be difficult for game developers to judge when and how they present the game’s writing but it may be a good idea to have someone read through and cut out some of the filler. This can be quite important when writing complex storylines. It is easy to drown the player in jargon and cruel doses of exposition but you need to know when to stop.

In addition, it is important to make your points clear by being brief. The main reason why people hated the plot twist in Star Ocean Till The End Of Time was because it wasn’t clear enough… or to be more precise, there was way too much exposition explaining it all that many players completely lost track of the plot and gave up at what was a crucial point in the story.

5. Experiment with different tropes and see what connects

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Every videogame uses tropes but not every game puts them to good use. Tropes can be both a games strongest weapon or its biggest weakness. To use tropes correctly you must find a connection. For example, evil empire oppresses its people and suddenly a world destroying maniac appears out of nowhere and wants to destroy everything (yes I’m referring to a specific videogame here and no I’m not telling you what it is and you can probably guess if you’ve played it).

Are his/her reasons for wanting to destroy the world connected to this evil empire. Or are the evil empire somehow aware of this destructive force and are secretly planning to prevent the worlds doom? If not then don’t make a ridiculous plot transition like that.

However a game which manages to connect tropes together well can make for a very engaging experience because you get to watch the world change and people change, you get to see how certain events can impact the player’s characters and their personalities. A story of epic proportions requires a plot that is not only ambitious but can connect seamlessly with each plot point to keep players engaged. Tales Of Vesperia is an example of a story which didn’t manage to do this very well.

6. Subtlety

subtlety

Though it isn’t required to be subtle, it certainly makes a story more interesting. Foreshadowing is something that may appear completely irrelevant at first but once the event does happen, you will remember that moment and you will realize that you have been fooled. This can and most likely will shock the player when the time comes and it keeps the story fresh, entertaining and most importantly, engaging. Some games however can make things a bit too obvious.

I find it amusing when the game shows the villains in a room talking amongst themselves as to how they are going to defeat the good guys, giving away all their sinister plans and then they swap back to the good guys who are completely oblivious despite the fact that the player is informed.Lets say there’s a box and you know not to open that box However the game forces you to open the box and inside that box is a trap that you saw coming, it makes the player feel as if they lack control over the story and can be quite frustrating and sometimes even boring.

So be sure to keep things a secret from the player when you need to. Remember that the purpose of the player is to be connected with the characters. Unless you are in direct control of the bad guys at some point in the game, don’t reveal their plans right away. Even so, you can still give that character control and make them subtle to make things even more interesting. Make the character a puzzle that the player has to unravel. This can be done with both abstract and exposition. This makes players feel more rewarded if they figured it out.

7. Keep characters fresh

keep character's fresh

I would have put character development here but let’s be honest here, character development is pretty unrealistic in some cases. Watching someone completely change over the course of a night can sometimes feel awkward, it is almost as if they have been swapped brains with someone else. Character development is often demanded in story driven games but it isn’t always the best approach nor does it work in some cases. Like they say, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, at least not without a good reason.

That being said though, characters take the spotlight in the story, they are the pillars that hold everything up. If the characters are uninteresting, the pillars holding up the story will begin to deteriorate until there is nothing left. It is important to at least have one character who gives mixed feelings to the player to make a story engaging. If all the characters give the same impression for an entire game, it really does get sterile.

However it is possible to change the player’s perception of a character without character development. Like I said in #6, a subtle character can prove to be one of the most engaging of characters because you learn more about them at a slower pace and you feel more rewarded for figuring them out and that alone can be a game in itself, a puzzle someone will need to solve.

8. Don’t forget to illustrate your stories

Don't forget to illustrate your stories

Videogames can be more engaging than books sometimes and this is often the main reason. When you are in a fictional world, you expect some aesthetic appeal in that world. While this may be more connected to visuals than storytelling, the visuals do have an impact on a game’s story and can set the mood for a particular event or abstraction in a story.

Sometimes, a strong ambiance can speak greater words than any story. The same has been said about art. Illustration speaks a lot of words and if you can illustrate your world well and make it look interesting, even if your story fails, at least you have a brilliant looking world set up for you in the sequel (so long as you maintain the level of visual quality).

Remember that stories don’t need to have any narrative whatsoever. An example of this would be Kirby 64 The Crystal Shards where the characters don’t speak and only gesture but the world is so picturesque that you are immediately engaged in the story. It is important however to remember to make the aesthetics fit in with the theme of the story so the player doesn’t get distracted by an inconsistent visual style. Sunshine and rainbows have no place in a story where people are being enslaved and beaten to death.

9. Don’t just make videogames

don't just make videogames

It may sound silly but sometimes a story is better told in words and in such a case a book would be more appropriate. Videogames are great and all but if you can make an engaging book to go alongside it can get people more invested in the game’s story and they grow more attached to it. This is usually the ultimate test. A book written within a game’s world can be daunting. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. It is a good chance that if you do manage to pull it off, you probably had some good material to work with.

Successful videogame stories are perfectly evaluated this way, if you can tell a story in a videogame you can also tell a story in a book. However, books have been going on for years now and there are much higher standards set by readers than there are with gamers. If you are going to write a book, make sure that your world is well-built and that you have a lot of potential to expand your story beyond the game’s story.

This can involve characters that may have had very little opportunity to shine, it can also involve characters you played as in the games. You could make a completely new story altogether with new characters if the world building is good enough. Warcraft managed to do this and it did it so well that sometimes I find the books to be more engaging than the games themselves.

10. It’s not about what you write, it’s how you write it

its-not-about-what-you-write-its-about-how-you-write-it

A story can be great in concept but can be very shallow in writing. Good writing can make a huge difference in storytelling. While average writing does get a pass most of the time, good writing is what helps games stand out. I know it may seem obvious but when your vocabulary is limited to the basics, the story can become stale very quickly. Good writing allows you to create memorable lines that can be either witty or hammy to make for an epic moment.

There is no straight answer to what makes for well-written dialogue, you just have to experiment. Using a thesaurus can be handy if you wish to bring the best out of your dialogue. Try to deliver your writing in a way that is not only clear and concise but is also quirky.

Remember to make sure that your writing matches the mood you wish to portray to your audience unless you are deliberately trying to alter the mood of the game. That being said writing something funny in a serious situation can be a good thing at times as it can add an unexpected twist to suppress the melodrama a little which can be handy should a situation cause a game to stray away from the narrative style the writer wishes to portray.

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In any case, those are ten ways to make a story engaging in a videogame. A lot of it may be simple and perhaps somewhat vague but nobody said it was easy. If you are playing a game, try to pay attention to these things and see if they are up to snuff. It may help you evaluate your experiences better and it may also help you inform others too, something I may also have to keep in mind.

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t really looked too closely at storytelling in videogames and that it mostly due to the fact that I haven’t experienced many stories in videogames which I can consider to be masterful. I’m not a critic of narrative, I am a critic of videogames in general and as such I try to be an all-rounder. Even then I will miss things that a writing critic would point out. I do my best though, after all it is my goal to create a review that is as accurate and detailed as possible.