Vanillaware’s first game was Grand Knights History, which was an RPG on the PSP and only released in Japan. The new game from ex-Vanillaware developers is called Grand Kingdom, which this time around has a worldwide release.
The first thing I will say is that this game is a tactical RPG with tonnes of depth and systems to master. This isn’t a game that you will just jump right into from the get go and know how everything works. It takes time, patience and experimentation but the payoff is great. Grand Kingdom feels like an amalgamation of many games ranging from XCOM to Final Fantasy. I played the game on PS4 but it also comes on Vita and in my opinion works well on a portable device.
For an RPG set in a world inspired by Japanese Fantasy you can pretty much expect plenty of interesting story building and intriguing characters. You play as the head of a gang of mercs fighting through the kingdom trying to earn prestige. The main story has 12 chapters that will test your skill, preparation and planning. The kingdom has four nations, all fighting to gain most control. The moments of dialogue between characters is done in an interesting way, with speech bubbles and animated characters that have a hand drawn feel to them.
There’s a lot to talk about here so I will start with the map navigation part first. When you set out on a quest you move a pawn across an animated map from a top-down perspective, which is actually a mini-game in itself. As you make your way across the map, with a specific destination located, you come across many different scenarios and items. Chests are placed throughout that may have useful items that will aid you in battle, there are hidden paths and of course enemy encounters. You can even use various skills to jump over or evade various obstacles like traps. I have played the game for many hours now and I still feel like I haven’t tried out every ability. This part of the game has risk and reward elements as you have the option to take longer routes to gather more loot but risk dangerous enemy encounters.
The actual battles themselves are what feel like the main section of the game but that would be a disfavor to the many other fantastic elements and sections of the game that feel like games within itself. The battle system is familiar but feels fresh and manages to feel unique. The game may look simple with battles taking place from a side on view, with your four mercs facing off against other enemies, but the mechanics here are deep, complex and tricky to master. The battle is turn based, with each character having a certain amount of moves per turn and specific attacks and abilities to choose from. There’s so much here to cover so I’m going to talk about the main aspects and as much as possible. Players are given complete freedom of movement, but this depletes stamina. Interestingly though if you run out of moves you can hit the touch pad and start over, which is a nice touch as it helps you plan out attacks.
After the initial battle that introduces you to the basics you then have to choose four mercs that will set out on quests, ranging from mages, warriors, witches, dragon riders and many others. You can customize each character from the appearance to the starting stats. I personally tried out having two heavy hitters, a ranged fighter and a healer to start with. It’s also important to note that characters can die and you can also build up a roster of fighters to choose from. If you select a good mix of fighters the battles can become very interesting with archers firing from the back whilst hunters and rogues can get in close. There are 17 classes in all, and a random selection become available each time you check out the employment office.
Placement of characters and knowing what attacks you have at your disposal is critical to your success. There’s also friendly fire, so you need to be aware when performing attacks that cover a wide area as it may accidentally hit your team as well, this goes the same for healing moves. The combat feels very satisfying, with challenging duels and tonnes of strategic planning involved. I didn’t think that I would enjoy the game as much and I really enjoyed the wide variety of combat mechanics. The missions are also very interesting and varied which keeps the gameplay fresh. The idea is simple really because all you have to do is get from one side of the map to the other. As you progress and take part in more battles your mercs begin to level up and you get to put points into various character attributes like strength or resistance to types of attacks. I really enjoyed seeing my mercs becoming stronger and it really gives a great sense of satisfaction and achievement.
Surprisingly the game also has online multiplayer despite the main game having a huge amount of content. War mode is an interesting mode where players battle in wars against nations. I really liked the idea a lot and it was interesting to see other player’s setups when heading into battle. You pick a nation and are dropped into fights in an attempt to claim that land. The addition of online multiplayer is great but I hugely recommend playing the main game first and making sure you have a proper grasp of all the mechanics and systems as there’s a lot to learn. Having online multiplayer also gives the game endless replayability and reasons to go back for more.
The presentation of the game is great and has a unique art style that’s colourful, vibrant and full of personality. The character design is very impressive and they are genuinely interesting to listen to. The voice acting is done well and the game has a good sense of humour that flows throughout the campaign. The conversations play out in a 2D plane of view, having hand drawn characters interact in front of painted backgrounds. The game also switches up styles when it moves from dialogue and battles to the exploration segments that have a top-down view with well designed environments. The soundtrack is great and I loved the music at first, but it doesn’t have much variety and can feel repetitive after long play sessions. The music is upbeat and the tempo rises during battles which adds to the tension. The sound effects are also well done and I feel like a lot of effort has been put into creating an immersive experience.
Overall I loved my time with Grand Kingdom and was surprised by how much depth there is to the game. The RPG mechanics feel rewarding and there’s plenty to experiment with. It’s a game that will take some time getting used to but the reward for doing so is fantastic. The only minor issue I had with the game was the save system which only saves after each mission meaning if you fail during one of the enemy encounters you have to restart and each mission can take up to around 30-50 minutes. The game does a nice job of switching things up, whether you’re exploring, in battle or preparing for your next quest. I could have probably written pages and pages about this game and the mechanics involved but the best way to really experience it and learn how it works to play it for yourself, which I highly recommend.
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