Console RPG developers GameArts is definitely one of those companies that fall into the “love ‘em or hate ‘em” category – there seems to be no middle road when gamers discuss the company. Some folks really love the unique style and production values that the Japanese developers have brought to their Grandia
console franchises, while others accuse the company of poor production values and questionable language translation skills.
One thing that most gamers will agree on however is GameArts’ Grandia II
for Dreamcast was one of the most original and pleasing console RPG’s to be released for the failed platform – or perhaps for any platform. And while Grandia II’s epic storyline and detailed environments were certainly big parts of its success, its major contribution was its innovative and inspired battle system. The system melded the excitement of real-time battle with the tactical requirements of turn-based combat to create what is in my opinion the best battle system ever to grace an RPG – whether it is console or PC.
So for Grandia Xtreme – Enix and GameArts’ latest RPG collaboration for the PS2 – the developers smartly decided to make their top-notch combat routines the prominent focus. At least, I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, Grandia Xtreme proves that a console RPG is nothing without a compelling storyline and likeable characters, and a good battle system alone simply isn’t a good enough reason for gamers to want to drudge through 50-60 hours of exploration and combat.
For all its tactical brilliance, Grandia Xtreme seems more like a technology demo for its incredible combat system rather than a full-blown console RPG.
Grandia Xtreme centers around the character of Evann – a reluctant ranger who finds himself in charge of a band of bickering and adversarial adventurers on a quest to stop something called “Elemental Disorders.” The disorders are basically major storms that destroy everything in its path, and these tempests are terrorizing the citizens of Evann’s homeworld. In order to stop the destruction, Evann and company must travel to several ruins and conquer the bosses within. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Evann’s rag-tag group consists of six characters (of which you can choose two that will accompany you into the various missions), each with different strengths. Some excel in hand-to-hand combat, some are proficient in the magical arts, and others rely on stealth and quickness to achieve their goals. While these skills all play a major role in combat (you’ll definitely need have a well-balanced party), they are next-to-useless in other aspects of the game. Your allies are nothing more than “wingmen” for your encounters, and have anemic personalities when it comes to the exploration portions of the game.
In fact, the lack of character personalities (other than typical RPG stereotypes such as “big fighter” or “wise magician”) lend to the overall emptiness of Grandia Xtreme. There’s an overwhelming feeling that the game is more of a “wireframe” as opposed to a fully fleshed-out fantasy. The cutscenes are overlong and uninspired, and really didn’t pull me into the story at all. As a matter of fact, I think GameArts would’ve been better served positioning Grandia Xtreme as a fantasy tactical combat sim than as a role-playing title due to the dearth of actual role-playing involved.
As if a weak plot and poor dialogue wasn’t enough to sink this ship, GameArts throws in some very inappropriate “80’s new wave-ish” music to further add to the awkwardness of the title. Mark Hamill, Dean Cain, and Lisa Loeb also contribute their vocal talents to the proceedings, often to subpar results. Hamill’s performance of Evann’s arch-nemesis Colonel Kroitz is especially cringe inducing – the character on-screen looks to be about 19 or 20 years of age, but Hamill’s voice makes Kroitz sound like a cigar-chomping 50 year-old.
One of the bright spots production-wise for Grandia Xtreme is its in-combat graphics. Both the good guys and the various beasties are well-rendered, and movement and animations are very fluid and attractive. Outside of the battles the graphics are a little less-inspired, but that’s forgivable given that most console RPG fans have evolved past the “graphics are everything” phase.
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