Review: Go for the guild in Grand Kingdom
The hallmark of a great strategy game is how easy it is to let yourself give in to its myriad systems and revel in their complexities. Grand Kingdom, developed by Spike Chunsoft and brought to the West by NIS America, certainly is that. It doesn’t have your traditional JRPG trappings, instead focusing on intricate mechanical interactions and a veritable smorgasbord of possibility. Grand Kingdom doesn’t seek to be a game you like. It seeks to be a game you live.
Those who’ve played the import-only Grand Knights History will be familiar with many of Grand Kingdom‘s concepts as this is its spiritual successor, but here’s what you need to know: the core of this game is a small-area tactical skirmish, with two teams moving about in lanes and launching turn-based attacks at each other that often have button-timing elements. It is this core that really works, and it can become addictive: a fight against a balanced opponent takes precise timing and expert positioning.
It is this core that really works, and it can become addictive: a fight against a balanced opponent takes precise timing and expert positioning.
You’ll be doing a lot of these fights, so it’s good that there’s so much built-in variety. Not only are there a number of character classes from which to assemble your team of four (or three, if you pick a two-slot behemoth Dragon Mage), but each unit in each class can be very distinct. Each comes with different innate traits that can affect any number of factors both in and out of the battle. How you shape their statistics with the limited handful of upgrade points can make them play very differently. Which skills you equip and use make a big difference, especially with melee classes that allow you assemble your own combo attack for damage, effects and ease of use.
Grand Knights History got a reputation for having Pokemon-like obsessive team-crafting, and that spirit is certainly still alive in Grand Kingdom. I suppose Digimon is also an apt descriptor, since you can also reset a unit’s level to slightly raise potential stats the next time around. You can really work to make your team great to throw against high-level foes, but taking what you’re offered at the beginning and making those classes and traits work enough to complete missions is also a rewarding pursuit.
Surrounding these fights are two expansive sets of challenges and surrounding mechanics, and each has its own feel. There’s the online War mode, which has real-time elements and a push for the collective whole. You can send out teams passively to help a bit and gain experience, which is a good thing to do with any teams you aren’t using elsewhere, but actively controlling one and bringing it into the fray allows you to help more and reap more rewards. Sides collectively agree on attack targets and placements of various supporting towers and hazards, then push on in shorter skirmishes of a day-long war. This can be overwhelming if you’re not ready, both in difficulty and complexity, but the result here is an enviable depth.
You do all of this in service of one of four nations: the knight realm of Landerth, the nature-loving Fiel, the battle-happy Valkyr and the magic-focused Magion. Magion could really use your help and I suppose Valkyr can’t be too bad if their king’s name is Graham, but yikes, do Fiel and Landerth not need your help. Of course, these are all arbitrary! But I have these strong feelings about these colors that show up on the map. That’s a testament to the game’s ability to make you choose a side and become invested in its success. You can change your allegiances, but doing more for one nation becomes more potentially lucrative as time passes, and like I said: there’s an intangible force that may compel you to stay loyal.
I have these strong feelings about these colors that show up on the map. That’s a testament to the game’s ability to make you choose a side and become invested in its success.
Compared to the drop-in-the-ocean experience of War, the offline Quests are very much in your control. You move around maps along specific paths in a turn-based fashion, with each of your steps accompanied by similar movement from enemies and other elements. Your goal is to accomplish something within a step limit, usually movement across the map, gathering enough resources, defeating enough enemies or defending a point on all sides. It’s usually simple enough to just do the thing, but the temptation is to go out of your way to open chests and get cool things on the way, and you’ll have to be careful. Turns also pass in battle, so efficient fighting is important there too. Generally, though, these maps are all just ways to get you into more fights rather than a game-carrying element in their own right.
Outside of the hosts of quests to tackle, there are lots of ways to get items and equipment to make your characters better. You can buy it in the normal shop, but there are also nation-specific shops that unlock more things as you help them. You can forge better weapons with the Blacksmith if you have the right materials, as well as throw gems into slots to augment them more. The best items, though, are often found in those chests on the map or as War rewards, so Grand Kingdom really wants you to engage with these simultaneously.
It’s weird to talk about such an aesthetically-rich game for so long without actually getting to the aesthetics, but its systems justify that sort of priority. Anyway, hey: this game’s art is great. It’s not Vanillaware, but you can tell that there’s a similar approach here, with smoothly-animated units doing their thing on the battlefield. Not all of the game is totally gorgeous — developer Spike Chunsoft used a small budget wisely on the characters and environments and phoned in some of the surrounding elements — but it certainly won’t hurt your eyes.
The voice acting is fine, but it’s in service of a story that really doesn’t matter that much; it’s no accident that I haven’t talked about it yet, because it’s really only there to vaguely justify why you need to do the quest things. You have two companions: Lillia, who is great, and Flint, who is a jerk. You all work for the Guild, which is nation-agnostic and does work for whoever. That’s… pretty much it? The game has more than enough complexity in other areas, so the story’s simplicity is forgivable.
It’s weird to talk about such an aesthetically-rich game for so long without actually getting to the aesthetics, but its systems justify that sort of priority. Anyway, hey: this game’s art is great.
The game’s War mode is system-agnostic, but there’s no cross-buy or cross-save between the PS4 and Vita versions and direct one-on-one battling with a friend isn’t really a thing. It looks nice on both systems, so choosing which to get is really a matter of whether portability or better load times is a higher priority for you.
Grand Kingdom is truly an apt name for a game that has so many ways to dig into its features. You can be hands-off and just jump in and fight, but to truly get everything out of it, you’ll need to engage with everything and put a lot of time and effort into your team. It feeds obsession and rewards micromanagement, making it a game worth the investment.
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