The Grandia series has always been about the wonders of exploration and mythology – discovering ruins and ancient lands long since believed to have disappeared under the sands of time and third numbered entry is no different. The game centers around Yuki, a youthful lad from the country so obsessed with the concept of flight that he's built his own airplane, longing to soar amongst the clouds and explore the world from above. The majority of the outside world is alien to Yuki, but as it always seems to happen to our small-town RPG heroes, he has a run-in with a mysterious girl that send him on a globe-trotting quest to stop evil.
The part of the hapless heroine is played by Alfina, a privileged Communicator who can speak to the gods and is on the run from some horse-riding soldiers. As it happens, Yuki had decided to take his airplane for its first test flight and ends up spotting the innocent-looking girl fleeing from said soldiers. Our pure-hearted hero has no choice but to save her, of course. After Yuki and his spunky, youthful mother Miranda take Alfina under their wing, they are suddenly thrust on an epic quest to figure out what happened to the girl's missing brother, also a powerful Communicator.
Despite some deviations in quality between each iteration of the Grandia series, the one thing that has remained constant is its excellent battle system. Each of your characters runs around a small arena chasing after enemies, while a circular gauge in the corner of the screen ticks down the time between turns for everybody in battle. Once a character's portrait hits the COM part of the meter, the player can choose which actions they would like them to take, including a critical hit, a two-attack combo, magic, and more. The character or enemy's portrait then continues towards ACT which means that character will perform the action asked of them on the target you've just defined. Direct attacks generally make the jump to ACT immediately while spells and special moves will take longer to pull off. The whole thing is real time, so two allies or enemies acting at once can create a multi-hit combo. Enemies or characters who receive damage will also have their portrait pushed backwards on the meter, meaning that it will take them even longer to attack. The real-time nature of the battle system make strategy and timing key without the distraction of having to move multiple allies around the battlefield or really on questionable AI to control them.
Grandia III also features some beautiful vistas with incredible depth and field of vision. In one early forest area, a player can look all the way to the end of the coastline. It's unfortunate that despite the vastness showcased in some of these places, the player is restricted to a linear path, that sometimes branches off, but never allows for the full exploration of any environment. Nonetheless, it all looks quite beautiful. Backed by a wonderful, sweeping soundtrack and likable characters, Grandia III will be well worth your money when it releases in a couple weeks.
1/31/2006 Cavin Smith