Replay Value: 8.9
The newest installment of the Grandia series has arrived with the tag Xtreme, could it be just that? Developed by Game Arts and published by Enix, Grandia Xtreme is radical departure from the first two games. Grandia 1 and Grandia 2 both focused on a combination of storyline and gameplay. In the case of Grandia Xtreme, the focus is the gameplay. It has all the trappings of a great dungeon hack.
The basic premise of the game is that the elements of the world, (wind, water, fire, and earth) have gone out of control and is creating havoc all across the land. The Nortis army to help investigate and ultimately stop this disaster recruits the hero of our game, Evann. Along with his companions, Evann must journey through each of the four elemental dungeons. Sounds kind of standard fare right? Well, if you thought so, then you hit it on the head. The story is standard cut and dry RPG cookies with a good amount of predictability chips on top. That's not to say that there aren't highlights to it. Character development is handled almost exclusively outside of the main storyline and so it's partly a side event. The classic Grandia dinner chats make a return and they help to flesh the characters out some more. A great blessing for fans of RPGs that don't want to be force-fed characters. The story, while clichéd, has several nice subtleties to it that some won't notice unless you're paying close attention. Overall though, story and characters are Grandia Xtreme's Achilles' Heel.
Graphically, the game looks like Grandia 2 (i.e. Dreamcast looking graphics) small anime style characters running around in 3D environments. Although, it's nothing technically spectacular, the game is aesthetically gorgeous. The dungeons look absolutely wonderful. Each dungeon is unique in look and quite appealing to the eye. The character modeling is decidedly Dreamcast but still carry a great deal of personality and detail to each one. Great looking environments and some decent character modeling are probably the strongest points for the game's graphics but still not Grandia Xtreme's strong point.
Another element key aesthetic element, the music, is a mixed bag. Noriyuki Iwadare, as always, does the music for Grandia and Xtreme is no exception. The music is quite delightful with mood setting tunes ranging from the town theme for Locca to the dungeon themes for each of the four elemental dungeons. All sound quite nice but only are slightly under par in comparison to the other two games. The weak point in the sound category is the voice acting. Even with such names as Dean Cain, Lisa Loeb, and Mark Hamill the game's voice acting suffers from the same thing that the original Grandia suffered from, awkward acting and pacing. While each voice actor in the game fits their part in spirit, the pacing and pronunciation of the lines seems quite off. What could be a great line in the game, more often then not, is mauled by this problem. Atrocious voice directing is the problem I suspect. There are a few funny exchanges in spoke dialogue in the game though.
The last and strongest aspect of the game is definitely the gameplay. Grandia Xtreme's battle system is a mix of the standard turned based combat with a few additions. Unlike most turn based console RPGs, Grandia adds an extra element by making it so that the character has to move to attack an opponent instead of standing in place. So you have to take in to account your relative distance to your enemy when deciding to fight one because you might not be able to get there. It adds a whole new dimension from standard combat systems. One other thing about this is that everything is always moving. The game only pauses when you have to choose a command for you character. After deciding the game resumes and your character does the command you selected while everyone else may be doing theirs. It adds a slight layer of depth to the game that others don't have. The mana egg system is back from Grandia 2 but instead of putting experience points to them, you gain new eggs by combining them (which is called junctioning). Skill books (they allow you to equip a variety of skills like strength enhancing and such) are back as well and are a nice way of helping to create a unique character. There's a lot collecting to be done in the game which can definitely extend the life of the game for the perfectionist in everyone.
There are several glaring flaws to the gameplay though. Being focused on gameplay, dungeons make up a good chunk of it. Although most people would expect the dungeons to be great, they're only good at best. Most of them are tremendous in size and have excellent layouts but the problem with the dungeons is that there isn't enough to do. You get the occasional climbing ladders and slashing barrels but otherwise the dungeon feels rather desolate and can become a chore. Nice to look at but can be cumbersome to travel would be the best way of putting it down. Another flaw is that the game can be somewhat easy early on but it spikes out near the end only to taper off some. For most, "hardcore" RPG gamers, which the game is focused more towards, it'll feel somewhat easy but will be hard for most everyone else.
The translation by Enix of America is excellent for the most part with only a few rough edges in the translation, definitely one of the better translations in the last year. The characters are funny and the dialogue moves at a brisk pace. Each character talks in different styles as to accurately reflect on their personality and Enix of America did an excellent job of bringing that out. Surprisingly, the game has a fair bit of swearing to it. No, it isn't excessive swearing but used in the correct amount to give the characters a slightly different feel when compared to each other.
One last annoyance is the camera. Which moves at a slug's pace when rotating and can be annoying to control when you need to look somewhere in a tight pinch.
Grandia Xtreme is geared more towards gamers that put gameplay ahead of story but the flaws might turn other people off to the game. Nonetheless, the game is solid and definitely worth checking out if you have time to burn and looking for a good dungeon hack.