“After the collapse of the former Empire, the Four Great Nations of Resonail wage a war of supremacy over the continent. Leading your own mercenary squad, you will dive into the heart of battle. Travel distant lands rendered in beautiful 2D art, and use your personally-trained mercenary squad to improve your military gains. Take part in an exciting single-player campaign as you unravel the mystery behind the Uldein Empire’s collapse, or play online and participate in continental warfare between the Four Great Nations. Pledge your loyalty and conquer the realm, or pursue your own desires. The choice is entirely up to you.”
– The official Grand Kingdom website (http://nisamerica.com/games/grand-kingdom/)
Whilst I’ve always preferred a standard turn-based RPG over a tactical one, there was something about Grand Kingdom that really appealed to me from the moment it was revealed. It never looked like a traditional tactical RPG, but instead something that focused more on action-packed battles and fantastic 2D visuals. Whilst it certainly offers its own twist on things with its fast paced and exciting battles, Grand Kingdom still manages to offer a deep tactical RPG experience that challenges you to think as hard as you fight.
You lead a group of mercenaries who work for one of four nations that are battling it out for supremacy in the continent of Resonail. Don’t worry too much about which nation you align with – as mercenaries you’re most interested in receiving rewards, so your allegiances will be shifting between the four nations on a regular basis. Your loyalty to particular nations is rewarded though, and as your relationship with each nation grows you’ll unlock new missions that offer bigger prizes upon completion. On the flip side, failing a mission will see your relationship with nations deteriorate, so you’ll only want to take on missions if you’re fully prepared.
Grand Kingdom’s story goes into a lot more depth than simply being in control of a mercenary group, whilst you’ll also interact with plenty of interesting characters from each nation during the fairly lengthy campaign. The game’s script is well written with some great voice acting on offer, making each interaction between characters all the more entertaining in-game.
The first thing you’ll notice in Grand Kingdom is just how stunning the 2D visuals are. They bare some similarity to Vanillaware titles such as Odin Sphere and Dragon’s Crown, though the similar aesthetics aren’t actually too much of a surprise – Grand Kingdom’s game director Tomohiko Deguchi previously worked at Vanillaware on the Japan-exclusive RPG Grand Knights History. The game still manages to have its own unique look though, and seriously, it looks absolutely phenomenal.
The game’s character design is great too, plus each action they partake in is animated fluidly in-battle. Standard attacks look like they genuinely pack some punch, whilst special abilities and magic attacks look enchantingly exquisite too. The game’s enemies look impressively fierce with a good mixture of brutal monsters and tough soldiers out for your blood.
Grand Kingdom’s main gameplay takes place across two areas – the main overworld map and on the battlefield. Each mission you tackle has its own map that you have to traverse across to complete your objective. It has an almost board-game like appearance (without the dice of course), with units taking on the appearance of what look like chess pieces – kind of fitting given the tactical thinking that’s required in the game.
You’re given a set amount of turns to complete your objective though there are plenty of enemies out to stop you achieving your goal. Whilst it’s possible to try and evade enemies, sometime the easiest way to reach your goal is by taking them on in battle.
Battles are turn based tactical affairs, though they feel different to traditional tactical RPG battles thanks to the lack of a tile based map. Instead, battlegrounds are large 2D areas that are made up of three lines that host both your units and your enemies. It works really well in-game, with clear indicators on each line showing what area each of your attacks will cover.
Your ranged fighters will be able to cover big distances on the line, whilst your close range fighters naturally have to get up close and personal. Melee attacks actually have an interactive element to them, with button presses required to land each attack. It gives you the freedom to time your hits perfectly, allowing you to set up some big combos to deal extra damage to your opponent – just mash the buttons and you’ll find your attack less effective. It actually reminded me of the attacking mechanics in Bandai Namco’s Project X Zone series.
Ranged and magic attacks on the other hand can be aimed to hit a certain area of effect. You have to be careful though – Grand Kingdom features friendly fire and some attacks cover a large area. There’s nothing worse than sending out a horde of arrows towards your foe only to see your frontline forces wiped out in the process.
Whilst you’ve got plenty of means to take out your foes in-game, they’re well equipped to take you down too. Every action you take in Grand Kingdom requires a bit of thought, as the enemies will always be ready to attack you when your guard is down. They’re certainly no cakewalk and it results in some pretty epic battles in-game that feel rewarding to complete. You won’t always find success though and there’s nothing worse than a failed mission.
Grand Kingdom allows you to recruit new units to your band of mercenaries throughout the game, with a maximum of fifty allowed in your group of gun shooting, arrow launching, magic blasting, sword swinging fighters. You can set up multiple teams comprised of up to four units that you can either control yourself as you tackle missions, or send out on assignments to be controlled by the AI in a similar vein to the Motherbase Missions in Metal Gear Solid V.
There’s an abundance of different units that you can using in Grand Kingdom that each span across multiple different class types. Those who like to battle up close and personal will love the damage dealing Warriors, Nobles and Blacksmiths. Alternatively, those who like to take out their foes from a distance whilst keeping themselves safe will want to recruit plenty of Archers and Gunners. The same applies for magic users – Arcanists, Shamans and Witches can deal both magic damage and support, though their magic can have dreadful consequences if your units get caught in the area of effect. Don’t make the same mistake I did and forget that Grand Kingdom has friendly fire! Thankfully you can recruit support classes like the Medic that can provide plenty of healing support to all units, though their lack of offensive skills means that it’s important you use your frontline units to ensure their safety at all times. Finally, there are the specialist units such as the Dragon Mage who comes into battle atop a mighty (yet slightly small) dragon that she can use to wipe out your foes. With a variety of both ranged and close attacks, the Dragon Mage is an excellent comrade to have on the battlefield – she’s worth two units on the battlefield though, so her inclusion comes at the expense of your party size.
There are seventeen different classes in total and they each feel unique with their own skill sets and styles that differ from each other. Whilst certain classes may feel slightly similar, they’ll always offer something unique that might justify their inclusion in your team as opposed to another similar unit. It’s up to you to work out what works best for you, though the freedom to have multiple teams does give you the opportunity to experiment with different units and work out what suits your playing style. I’d say it’s vital that you take a decent assortment of classes into battle, though sometimes it’s something you can work out on a mission to mission basis.
Whilst each unit in the game is reasonably varied, you’re also able to customise them in your own way with the game giving you the freedom and flexibility to level up each individual unit as you please. You’ll customise their equipment, spend experience points on different stats, assign an assortment of different skills and even customise their appearances.
There’s a lot depth in the customisation options and it’s great that Grand Kingdom gives you so much freedom to fine tune every stat for each of your units. It can feel a little intimidating though, especially considering how many units you’ll actually have to look after. I’m used to looking after parties of around six to eight characters in RPGs, but looking after fifty can feel overbearing at times.
It’s things like this that show how complicated Grand Kingdom can be. You can’t simply pick up and play it, but instead have to invest a lot of time and commit to developing your party. You’ll easily spend close to forty hours with the game before seeing how the story ends and that’s without the abundance of side stuff you can complete. It’s a big commitment and some newcomers to the genre may well be intimidated by the scale of it all. At least the game’s battles aren’t as complicated as in other tactical RPGs, so their accessibility should appeal a little more to all kinds of players.
Grand Kingdom features a strong emphasis on online too, with the game actually letting you take place in full blown wars. Whilst you never take on real-life players, you will take on their squads as you work to fulfill a war contract for one of the four nations. The AI is carefully adapted to match the play style of your rival player though, so you may find that each battle will play differently to those found in the single player mode.
There’s a surprising amount of depth to the online mode that actually surpasses the single player campaign at times. Everything takes place in real-time, so the war is going on even when you’re away from the game. There are separate operations to take place in that will sway the tide of the war, whilst you’ll also get to influence the decisions that are made by the nation you represent. You can even send your own groups to take part in AI controlled battles, so you’re never too far from the war – even if you’re miles away from your console.
Grand Kingdom provides something that’ll entertain both hardcore fans of tactical RPGs but also newcomers to the genre too. Don’t get me wrong, the thorough customisation options for each unit can feel a little intimidating, but there’s never anything that crops up in the game that will put off those who’ve not played a tactical RPG before.
It looks absolutely beautiful, battling is accessible and fun, plus there’s a ton of content that’ll keep you hooked into the game for a long time – Grand Kingdom features an adventure that’s certainly worth taking part in.
Publisher: NIS America (www.nisamerica.com)
Release Date: 17/06/2016
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Playstation Vita