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by Enix

Grandia Xtreme couldn’t have arrived at a better time for the RPG market. There is little-to-no activity in the genre, meaning the saturation point hasn’t been hit like it has with other game-types. Additionally, there is a certain subset of gamers out there that have been waiting for some decent RPGs. Count myself among the crowd. When Xtreme released, I was hesitant to pick it up since the port of the Dreamcast title to the PS2 disappointed me to a great extent.

If you will remember back to the glory days on the PSX and the brief ones on the Dreamcast, then you will recall the particularities of Grandia’s combat system, which puts us at a good starting point. The battle system is crisp, quick, and fluid; as a gamer, I found it extremely easy to pick up and get the hang of without wading through the instruction manual. In combat, you can attack with magic, standard moves, special moves, etc. The system seems almost identical (it’s been awhile) to the game’s predecessors, but that is why it is good that Enix didn’t alter it. This is where they excel; the combat system, in my opinion, is solid and carries the game.

It might appear that the battle system allows for laziness and no tactical skills; however, as soon as you progress into the more difficult encounters, you won’t be so willing to turn on the AI or to blindly run at your enemy. Each of your characters possesses different skills as well as weapons. Some are good at rushing in, quickly attacking, and then retreating, while others are good at hanging back and sending volleys of arrows into the mess. Your main character, Evann, seems to be marginally good at everything, while the others have their own thing that you’ll end up relying heavily upon, i.e. Brandol, who’s the kind of packs-a -punch fighter. The difficulty of each dungeon can also be weighted by the companions you choose to bring along. I found it best to rotate characters out of the party on a periodic basis and to return to headquarters during a dungeon crawl to feel out how each character performs against various enemies.

The beauty of the combat system is that you have the chance to learn various special moves. Once you’ve learned enough moves you’ll pick up the ability to combine your moves with a partner, pummeling the enemy for even more damage points. Xtreme almost makes it bearable to enter ceaseless combat. Granted, the game forewarns you of any attack by plotting the enemy out on your radar, a nice feature that I wish other RPGs would pick up. It’s ridiculous to think that you wouldn’t see an enemy standing smack dab in front of you, especially when they’re large and lumbering, a massive beast. This feature also makes it possible to plot out your movement through a dungeon. New questions arise: Do you really need to engage that tribe of monsters or can you circumvent the cluster and not bother? I found that after you’ve been through the same dungeon three times, you begin to skip as many battles as possible just to arrive back at the point from which you retreated to stock up on supplies, save the game, etc.

As mentioned earlier, you assume the role of Evann, voiced by Mark Hamill, a Ranger who is rounded up by the military to confront a re-emergence of elemental forces. Quaint. Soon after your first quest, you are given a slew of allies to choose from. Regarding the animation and character design, it is excellent. The characters are colorful, carrying on the tradition since the series’ inception.

Compared to the version on the Dreamcast, Xtreme doesn’t really appear to have improved graphically, stylistically, or thematically on its predecessors; portions of the game have the old hat feel to them, which is never good for a game on a new system. Textures are bland and poorly rendered. It feels like all of the great benefits of the PS2’s hardware aren’t realized in the game, which makes me kind of sad. I was hoping for something that captured me as graphically as the DC version, which turned me onto the series, causing me to retro-play Grandia on the PSX. What I mean is that the graphics appear to be direct ports from the Dreamcast. I mean it was cool on the DC, but when you have better hardware to work with, come on--give me something more. I know it isn’t all about eye-candy.

The milestone CGIs are nicely done and move the story along rather quickly, carrying you from one location on the world map to the next. Once you’re past the CGI and into the area, you’ll usually encounter a Geo Gate which allows you to warp back and forth from the battle field and headquarters. The game also offers action points, places where you perform some type of action, i.e. pushing a bolder to shatter another boulder, etc.

Another problem I have with the game is the camera’s motion. It felt very bi-polar; either it was working well or it was failing miserably, but never in between. The R and L buttons didn’t really help too much, and would never center where I needed them to center. In a game where you can see your enemies and they you, the camera becomes even more important in getting the upper hand in a confrontation.

It’s nice to see that Enix has decided to continue with the Grandia saga; however, that aside, they still have much to improve upon when doing a sequel. Let’s hope that the recent merger announcement from Enix and Squaresoft breaths new air into Enix’s development life. I think Square, if they threw their talent at it, could turn around some of the lagging Enix series, while Enix could throw some of their battle system talent at Square.

If you’re a fan of the series, played through it on the DC, PSX, and Saturn, then you will most likely enjoy this successor, albeit graphically weak; however, if you’re shopping around for a genre bending RPG, then you’ll want to step past Xtreme. It offers you the anime dungeon crawl, which in itself can be cool, but lacks some RPG qualities and rings itself in as more of an adventure game rather than a hardcore RPG.

Mathew Baldwin   (01/19/2003)


Ups: Great combat system; lots of adventure elements; epic story; Mark Hamill.

Downs: Iffy camera; dated graphics; perhaps too much focus on adventure for hardcore RPG types.

Platform: PlayStation 2