by Joshua Russo
Publisher: NIS America
Format: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita (reviewed)
Released: June 28, 2016
Grand Kingdom is a new direction for a struggling genre
At first glance, Grand Kingdom doesn’t look too special. It doesn’t stick out much compared to the plethora of JRPGs on the shelves today. It doesn’t start with a bang or hit the ground running, but instead slowly builds up to a deep turn-based tactical RPG that is completely individual. It’s tempting to try to compare elements of it to other games like Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics, but Grand Kingdom’s style of quests and combat are a much needed novelty in the crowded market of JRPGs.
Grand Kingdom’s less than stellar start begins with some backstory about the collapse of the Uldain Empire, which left the continent of Resonail’s four great nations locked in a hundred year war for dominance. Patriotism is uncommon and selling national loyalty to the highest bidder as a mercenary seems to be the way of life for everyone in Grand Kingdom. It’s almost comical how little the mercenary guild cares about which country will eventually fill the vacuum of power.
You are the captain of a crew of mercenaries with little regard for national politics and a sole desire for gold. You aren’t on your own though, you have Flint, who is an alcoholic misogynist and Lillia, daughter of the leader of The Guild to help advise you. The Guild is the central hub of the game. From there you’re able to sign war contracts with one of the four nations; Landerth, Valkyr, Fiel and Magion. The Guild also lists the campaign missions and sidequests available to head out on. Your reputation with each of the four nations will rise and fall depending on the sidequests and war contracts you do. The Guild has a variety of other menus, including hiring additional mercenaries, upgrading party members skills and a store that sells weapons, armor, skills, spells and consumables. The number of menus are intimidating and definitely take some time to get familiar with, but will eventually become second nature.
The band of mercenaries you travel with is up to you. There are seventeen different classes to hire mercenaries from, many of which are typical for RPGs. Witches, medics, archers, fighters and dragon mages are just a few. Everything from their name, hair, skin, voice and even the color scheme of their attire is customizable. There’s almost nothing I love more in an RPG than seeing newly equipped weapons, armor and accessories actually appear on my squad in battles. I had a completely green paladin named Mr. Pickles wearing a clown nose while he got up close and personal with my opponents.
Grand Kingdom’s story plays out in a conventional JRPG fashion. Dialogue boxes appear alongside 2D character animations over and over. The voice acting is almost painfully carried out, but Grand Kingdom never offers any quotes that demand an Oscar-worthy performance.
Where Grand Kingdom begins to outshine other RPGs is its quest and combat gameplay. All campaign and sidequests are laid out board game, with squares for spaces to move around on. The boards have resources to loot, enemies to battle, traps, hazards and shortcuts to navigate through. Each square traveled on counts as one turn and most quests have a turn limit. The quests can be quite lengthy and if you fail you you are brought back to The Guild and must start from the very beginning. Grand Kingdom takes a little time to get the hang of, so I failed a few quests at first. It was frustrating to get so close to finishing a mission only to run out of turns or health and not have a checkpoint to continue the quest from.
Your squad is represented on the map by what looks like a chess piece. Moving on the map with the game piece is a minor annoyance at times. The direction your piece travels is determined by the direction your piece is facing, so you may want to move forward, but accidentally turn left instead. This is a minor annoyance, especially when the turn counts is dwindling. Enemies on the map are purple, red or gold pieces on the map. Landing on the same space as an enemy triggers a battle. Battles are easily the most fun part of Grand Kingdom. They consist of a hybrid between turn-based and action combat. Battles take places on a 2D plane with three lanes that mercenaries can hop in and out of. Each character gets their own turn to act, with two separate stamina gauges. The movement gauge allows a character to move on the battlefield, while the action gauge is the energy mercenaries use to attack their opponents. Unused movement gauge is added to the action gauge, so ranged mercenaries like the archer benefit and are able to fire off several arrows before their turn ends. You and your opponents can both place destructible items and barriers on the battlefield to use as cover or leverage. Certain classes can lay down traps or dangerous elements, creating the catch-22 of having to waste movement stamina going around it, or taking damage and plowing right through. Encountering enemies on certain areas of the map can have an effect in battle, as well. Fighting too close to a catapult means you’ll need to avoid areas of the battlefield, or else you’ll be taking damage at the end of each turn. All of these elements and strategies are what make Grand Kingdom’s combat well-formed and distinct.
Visually, Grand Kingdom’s sprites are campy and full of charm. Backgrounds on the map and in battles are colorful and beautiful. Grand Kingdom definitely isn’t pushing the boundaries in terms of graphics, but it doesn’t need to. Battle animations are not just gratifying to execute, but give a number of satisfactory sounds when landing an attack. Grand Kingdom’s music is great, but there isn’t a large variety of tracks to keep you from getting bored with it after too long.
Grand Kingdom’s biggest sin comes in the form of a loading screen. I played Grand Kingdom on the PlayStation Vita and can only assume that the issue is much better on the PlayStation 4, but loading screens are absolutely ubiquitous on the Vita. Encounter an enemy? Loading screen before the battle. Defeat said enemy? Another loading screen. Back at The Guild and want to hire some more mercenaries? Buy items, weapons or armor? Oh, you want to equip the weapons you just bought? You get the point, there are loading screens around every corner. Some only last a few seconds while others can take a good amount longer. These interruptions are disappointing and far too frequent to allow players to get completely immersed.
Online play is something that Grand Kingdom has done surprisingly well. Typically, RPGs aren’t known for online features, especially multiplayer. Grand Kingdom allows you to take your already leveled up squad up against others. Choose a nation to contract with and battle players in real time or set your team to AI and let them do all the work. This is a great feature to test your skills once you’ve finished the campaign but still want more of Grand Kingdom’s challenging battles.
For this review, Grand Kingdom was played on PlayStation Vita. A review copy was provided by NIS America, but did not influence the review score.