When Grand Kingdom was first announced last summer, it seemed oddly familiar to most gamers who followed Japanese gaming releases. That was primarily because it was very similar in presentation to an earlier Japan-only release, Grand Knights History.
For those who don't follow gaming news heavily, western publisher XSEED Games initially planned to localize and publish the title in 2011, but it was dropped in 2012 due to developer Vanillaware being tied up in the development of their then-current title Dragon's Crown which took up all of the resources that could have went towards the title.
So when the game's director, Tomohiko Deguchi, got a second swing at a western release with a spiritual successor of sorts in the form of Grand Kingdom, it naturally piqued people's interests for a number of reasons. And it's no coincidence that his second swing at the genre is so uncannily similar to his first "” after playing it, it's evident that it's meant as something that's supposed to take after, but not outright one-for-one imitate his initial outing.
While there is an overall narrative at play in Grand Kingdom, it's by far not the cornerstone of the game in any way. There isn't really any high stakes at play, and it feels like the the waring nations will pick fights with each other for no given reason other than to fight for the sake of it. You do have your central characters, but I found most of them to be a bit archetypical in nature. All in all, it's an amusing backdrop to the core gameplay which we'll be delving into below, but if you like your Japanese RPGs for their plot, this is not the game for you.
Thankfully, the gameplay mechanics by far make up for any issues the narrative has. Gameplay is segmented into two distinct halves: field exploration and combat. Field exploration is played out in a board game-type format, where you move your party members around the board. The idea is to navigate the board and seek out spaces that hold treasure and other special resources, while at the same time avoiding enemies moving around on the board and other traps lying in wait. There are special abilities that your party members have that you can utilize if you need them in tough spots, though.
The latter half of the gameplay, combat, is where Grand Kingdom really makes itself unique from its spiritual predecessor Grand Knights History. Battles take place on a series of lanes, in which units can walk and jump between as long as their movement meter holds out. After you've determined the location you want them to be set at, you select the way they should face and what move they should use (attacks are tied to the face buttons).
What's unique about this system is that you can set-and-forget for the brute-type classes, but healers and long-range units (i.e. archers, mages) need to have correct spacing otherwise their attacks/spells will be rendered ineffective. And in the case of archers, you also have a pseudo-rhythm mini game to attend to once you get the distance correct. It makes for a unique system, since you can't bum-rush a map with units, but it does have a learning curve without a doubt.
Similar to Grand Knights History, Grand Kingdom has an online multiplayer component where players go against each other in a grand online war. You purchase a war contract towards one of the four nations and represent that nation in battle until said contract expires. The other nations you fight against are other players' parties, and it uses the same board game-type mechanic that the single-player mode uses. The catch is that this mode is quite the time sink, with matches often lasting a good half-hour to hour-long at times. There's no way to save in this mode either, so you'll have to be in it for the long haul.
The art style and music in Grand Kingdom should also be mentioned. Artist Chizu Hashii's art, while not as detailed as what you'd find in a Vanillaware entry, is quite exquisite and lavish, especially when zoomed into during battle. Composer Mitsuhiro Kaneda, who most will know from his work on Odin Sphere, holds the same quality you'd expect in this title as it was in that title. The only downside I'd find is the English voice acting, which for a few of the character felt stilted and was something I noticed in some of NIS America's other games this year such as Stranger of Sword City.
There's been a lot of strategy RPGs released as of late, but there isn't any with gameplay as unique and different as what you'll find in Grand Kingdom. That said, being different comes with the price of having some rough edges, but for those who can look past those issues and learn the mechanics, there's a lot to love for fans of the genre here. Its story may be lacking, but the gameplay easily makes up for it.
|The battle mechanics has a learning curve, but in that sense it can't be bum-rushed through which is a positive.|
|The field exploration board game-like mechanic is a fun way to move around the field.|
|The graphics are quite detailed and the music is a treat for the ears.|
|The story is pretty forgettable, the characters feel like they are fighting for the sake of fighting.|
|The online mode is a nice touch, but it requires a lot of time to invest into it.|
|Some of the English voice acting falls flat.|