PS2 Retro Review – Grandia Xtreme

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Written By Antoine Clerc-Renaud

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Grandia Xtreme is a role-playing game developed by Game Arts and published by Enix America for the PlayStation 2 in 2002. It is considered a spin-off of the popular Grandia series and features a completely new story, although set in the same universe as the first game.

Game Arts’ JRPG combines traditional RPG elements, such as character progression and exploration (albeit in a different way), with a combat system that follows the same rules as the previous two games but with some improvements as well as some outright bad execution. In 2019, GungHo who published Grandia HD Remaster (a botched job) said they were considering remasters for Grandia Xtreme and Grandia III as well as a new entry. Don’t hold your breath.

Grandia Xtreme-ly bland story

The plot of Grandia Xtreme follows the story of Evann, an edgy, insufferable jerk that happens to be a ranger, apparently some of the only people who can stop the Elemental Disorders that plague the world of Grandia Xtreme. I say apparently because it’s never really made clear that he has what it takes and that rangers are special people. If you’re looking for character development, that’s not it. Because it actually gets worse. 

One day, as Evann was daydreaming in front of his house reminiscing about his dead father (nope no daddy issues as it’s the only time the paternal figure is mentioned), the Nortis army kidnaps him but not to interrogate him or torture him or whatever. They want to put him in charge of a team to stop the Elemental Disorder. Yep, you read that right. Evann is then brought into the village of Locca which will become one of the only two cities in the game and the only one featuring shops and a way to save your progression.

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For the first mission, he teams up with Carmyne, a woman sergeant wielding a rapier, and Brandol, the big loudmouth of the team using a big sword. The group of humans completes the first mission in some ancient ruins that are similar to the ones in the first Grandia and learn that they need to go to 3 other parts of the world to do the same thing. But this time, it’s not just them 3 as they are joined by 4 other playable characters from another race: the Arcadians. Once more, we see that both races are not on good terms but just once and it’s never resolved! 

The story barely makes sense and is just a pretense to complete the dungeons in the game. As you can kind of make your own team for each and every one of them. Kind of? Yes. Sometimes, a character will suggest that he’d like to go with you but when you’re on the world map, you simply cannot start the dungeon if he or she isn’t on the team. Ugh!

After the upbeat story of Grandia and the dark narrative of Grandia II, it’s safe to say that the story of Grandia Xtreme is a huge letdown and was not the central point during development. It feels like an afterthought for the gameplay that makes a risky bet (spoiler alert: that doesn’t pay off).

From RPG to Dungeon RPG Grandia Xtreme-ly risky bet

Despite having one of the best combat systems of the franchise, Grandia Xtreme is more akin to a Dungeon crawler than a traditional one. It’s less linear than the first two games but just a bit as you can choose the order of the first three dungeons. But they’re still dungeons with all that implies: repetitive rooms, generic designs, and some puzzles.

Later on, there is even worse: Randomly generated dungeons! A good idea on paper that never translates well in-game. Because as bland as the first three dungeons are, they’re designed after an element: a volcano for the fire ruins, a desolated valley for the wind ruins, and an underwater temple for the water ruins. But they’re long and tedious with close to no diversity for the monsters roaming around (which are almost all from Grandia II by the way). And after removing it from Grandia II, the developers thought it wise to limit your inventory again. This might be the worst most backward idea of the game.

Oh, and did I mention that there was no save point anywhere in those dungeons? As stated above, you can only save your game by talking to one NPC in Locca before going out to a dungeon. Luckily there are some ways to teleport back to the village using the Geo Gate but with a caveat: your SP bar will be emptied.

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That is not to say that all dungeons of the previous games were perfect but at least there was a variety: end of the world wall and spaceship in Grandia; snowy forest, decrepit tower, and human psyche in Grandia II. That was something else! 

But Grandia Xtreme has some redeeming features and introduced a few good ideas (one of which got carried on to Grandia III).

The light side of Grandia Xtreme: improvements galore

One of the standout features of Grandia Xtreme is the combat system, which is more strategic and fast-paced than in other RPGs. Players can choose from a variety of actions, such as attacking, using skills or magic, or using items. As is in the previous titles, positioning is key but is still managed by the AI. You can still cancel the enemy attacks by using the Critical attack or the first skill of each character. 

Speaking of which, skills still need SP to be executed but this time around, the bar fills with every normal attack you do and with the damage you take. Moreover, every character is equal and has 100 max SP. No one can go higher. So there are a lot of strategies involved as you can spend some SP using a skill, then attack an enemy to refill the gauge, rinse and repeat. 

But that’s not all! There are now party skills as two or three characters can do a combined powerful attack that will seriously damage the enemy with a strong attack power output. Although it may seem like a good addition, you end up barely using it if ever. As it uses all your characters’ turn at once as well as some precious SP. And those attacks are not that powerful.

Magic, in the form of Mana Eggs, still plays a huge part but as you almost never find items to replenish your MP, you either save it for the boss battle so that you can use your most powerful spells to win the battle or you pray that you find a Geo Gate close to the boss (there usually is a Geo Gate but you never know) so that you can go the village, sleep and come back.

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Mana Eggs can be obtained throughout the game by defeating enemies, completing quests, or finding them in hidden locations. There are many different types of Mana Eggs, each with its own unique effect. Some Mana Eggs can be of one or several elements with a certain number of MP. The MP count is linked to the Mana Eggs and not the character who uses them.

What’s new in Grandia Xtreme is the Mana Egg Junction. That’s right, you can now fuse two Mana Eggs to get a more powerful one. There are several combinations and sometimes you can get a better one and sometimes you go backward but what’s good is you always know the result in advance so you can’t really make mistakes.

The game also features a deep character skill-development system, allowing players to customize their characters and unlock new abilities as they progress through the game. Namely, with books you find throughout the dungeons that allow you to equip skills like in Grandia II but it’s far more cumbersome.

Grandia Xtreme technical side

The graphics in Grandia Xtreme are of good quality and help to add to the overall atmosphere of the game. The character designs are well-done and the environments are varied and detailed. The game also features a wide variety of locations to visit, each with its own unique visual style and atmosphere.

However, the music in Grandia Xtreme is noteworthy but not for its catchy and memorable soundtrack that fits the mood and theme of the game. Instead, it features some of the worst work done by otherwise genius composer Noriyuki Iwadare. It’s unfortunate as Noriyuki Iwadare produced some of the best JRPG soundtracks ever, especially with Grandia II (the battle music for example).

One of the standout features of Grandia Xtreme, though, is its voice acting in the English-language version, which is performed by a talented cast of actors, including Mark Hamill for the antagonist leader of the Nortis army Kroitz and Dean Cain for the hero Evann. The voice acting is well-done and helps to bring the characters to life and add depth to an otherwise completely bland story.

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Grandia Xtreme is a longer game, with around 30-40 hours of gameplay, depending on the difficulty level and the player’s playstyle. The game also features a bonus dungeon that adds even more content to the game, making it an excellent value for RPG fans who like generic randomly generated 100-level dungeons.

One of the drawbacks of Grandia Xtreme is that the gameplay may feel dated to some players, as the game was originally released in 2002. The combat system, while unique and engaging, may also feel unbalanced at times, with some battles feeling too easy or too difficult and the pathfinding often causes two characters to collide preventing one from attacking an enemy.

Additionally, the voice acting in the English version (or American version) of the game is not as strong as in the Japanese version, which may be a concern for some players. Fortunately, you can easily find an Undub version nowadays. But, note that during the CGI cutscenes the voices are still in English. 

Overall, with numerous shortcomings, Grandia Xtreme deserves its moniker of black sheep of the series as it’s extremely different and not in a good way. I can’t recommend it in 2022 as there are way better JRPG out there nowadays.

Grandia Xtreme: A flawed dungeon RPG with some great ideas but some spectacularly bad execution. ACR

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