Why couldn't I spend quality time with my mom like our hero Yuki? And seriously, what is it with cute, seemingly helpless elf chicks? These are pretty much the most complex questions likely to pop into your head as you plow through the very thin, but very polished third installment of Grandia.
Everything about this game is high-gloss. It's the Hollywood blockbuster equivalent of a RPG and it works in that capacity. Cute girls? Check. Simple, forgettable plot that keeps things moving? Check. Great visuals? Check. And finally, action that will make hours and hours of you life slip away? Check!
Beneath the surface, Grandia III is quite simply a very good, but very generic RPG. In typical Square Enix fashion, the polish is there. Tack on a highly evolved battle system courtesy of Game Arts, the juggernaut developer who brought us Lunar, Alisia Dragoon, and the previous Grandias, and you have a very enticing package.
The single greatest achievement of the latest Grandia installment is the combat. It's as if Game Arts compiled decades worth of research and created the greatest psuedo-realtime combat available on the PlayStation 2. The action is so timing based that I actually think it should have taken the next step and moved to either real-time menu driven combat or full-on action ala the recent Tales games. Visible enemy encounters help supplement the focus on action. If you don't want to fight, you can avoid most enemies as you search for the very sparse save orbs in each level (this is one way to refresh your life if it gets too low).
As it stands, you'll be playing each battle on the edge of your seat. Racking up huge combos will become an obsession as you use the timing wheel to critical break enemy timing, pop them up into the air and then pummel them into peanut butter. The enemy can break your moves as well, so it becomes a struggle to read the enemy before he reads you.
The cool thing about combat is that perseverance will net you rewards. Use skills enough and you'll master them and further master them until their timing has become instant and their power has improved. Use huge area of effect spells to exploit enemy weaknesses and remember that everything you do has the possibility of adding to that one glorious combo you can tell your grandchildren about.
There's tons more I could write about Grandia III, but it would all further expand on the combat, and that's the part you will have 40 or so hours to hone to perfection. There's no shortage of quality production values here. If you want a taste of the best when it comes to contemporary turn-based combat, then Grandia III is all you need worry about for quite a while. if you want a deep compelling storyline and character development, well the RPG genre hasn't given us that for years, so keep hoping they'll evolve the way other genres have and maybe one day well be as compelled by narrative as we are by novelty.