What does it take to make something 'Xtreme?' I mean, I can find "extreme" in the dictionary, but "Xtreme?" What the hell is that?
If Grandia Xtreme is any indication, Xtreme might as well be a synonym for "unbalanced." I guess the term "Xtreme" was originally meant to signify the battle-heavy dungeon crawling of this new, weird version of the excellent Grandia series. Plot has been kicked to the curb, and oh, how it definitely shows.
Evann has been recruited against his will by the Nortis Army to neutralize the Elemental Disorder. The next thing you know, he's knocked out and wakes up in some strange place. Evann's plight is really no more than an excuse to team him up with a ragtag group of several selectable soldiers and fighters, and toss them into a massive dungeon crawl. The story is bland and the writing doesn't help breathe life into this puppy. And why does he spell his name with two N's? Does that make him more XTREME? C'mon - I need more reason to fight than that.
But fight you shall through decidedly large dungeons replete with visible enemies that are still somewhat difficult to dodge. The different dungeons represent different thematic temperate zones, but they don't feel very unique.
Grandia Xtreme lets you build your own party, which is nice. The battles continue the semi-active style of previous Grandias. An Initiative Points gauge dictates the timing of the different characters on the battlefield. In previous Grandias, this gauge was a linear strip, but I suppose linear strips aren't XTREME enough. The strip has been graphically overhauled into a less clear, revolving circle, but the premise remains the same. The gauge dictates every character's turn. A critical attack selected at the right time against a vulnerable enemy on the verge of his own move will often result in a cancel. Thus, different attack strategies become employed to make the most of any situation.
Yet with the weight placed upon attacks, magic usage, like the story, has been pushed aside. The ability to build up magic through usage kept it integrated nicely in Grandia. Instead of usage driven magic, the Mana Egg system has been slightly tweaked to endow a range of customizability. Different Mana Eggs imbue different sets of elemental magic spells. Characters can now equip multiple Mana Eggs, thereby combining elemental forces and accessing new elemental spells. Nice addition, but sad sacrifice. Why not combine both the customization and usage into a more complex system?
These elemental spells show off some of the flashier sides to the mostly ho-hum, middle of the road graphics. Blocky modeling and repetitive texturing form the backdrop for squat, emotionless characters. Artistically, the characters seem somewhat dull and lack fleshed-out personality.
Grandia Xtreme's voice works feature some notable talent, including Dean Cain and Lisa Loeb. Mark Hamil does a subdued version of his Batman: The Animated Series' Joker voice. Even though the tonality of these voices sound like a good fit, the direction behind the voices is awful. They sound like they were recorded sentence by sentence. Words of emphasis are completely misdirected, removing any sense of verbal flow. Sometimes the volume level even cuts out. Musically, the previous Grandias eclipse this effort, but on the whole, it isn't bad.
Hey! Let's do Grandia but take everything heartwarming and endearing about it and chuck it out the window. A limited story and unlikable characters in a prototypical dungeon crawl hamper Grandia Xtreme. This may be enough to appease the dungeon crawler fans, but even then, the battles aren't anything new. Why settle for such imbalance? With other recent, better releases like Suikoden III, there's little reason to go Xtreme.