"The War Rages": Grand Kingdom Review
I was able to play Grand Kingdom while it was in its beta phase, and if I'm honest, I wasn't impressed with what I saw. That experience left me with a negative first impression of Grand Kingdom, which I tried not to allow to taint my opinion when I sat down with the retail version of the game on the PS Vita. After all, things can change between the beta phase of the game and the final retail release, right?
Grand Kingdom's story revolves around a team of mercenary and picks up in the middle of a conflict. The hero's friend, Flint, lets you know of his boredom with the current situation. They are soon approached by another mercenary who offers them membership in a mercenary army called The Guild.
Once they join The Guild, they find themselves wrapped up in a conflict that involves the fallen empire of Uldein. It has been one hundred years since the fall of the Uldein Empire, and the remnants of that group wish to restore the Empire. That causes Flint and the hero to become wrapped up in their plot, all the while, an ongoing war rages between the four great nations to fill the void left after the collapse of the Uldein Empire.
Right out of the gate, Grand Kingdom ticked one of my boxes for one of my least favorite story devices in an RPG. The story for the game revolves around a nameless, faceless protagonist, meaning that you are the main character. During story cutscenes, the characters in game talk directly to you, and since you cannot reply to them, it leaves many issues with the story, since the game just assumes what you would say in that situation. This robs the player of any real opportunity for character development. This is compounded by the fact that the game has you create your battle party, leaving fewer characters for you to interact with and making the story that much more bland.
Sadly, I can't say I cared for Grand Kingdom's story. Without any real character development for most of your army, there's little to relate to outside of Flint and a select few other characters. It's a disappointment since a weak story can ruin an RPG, but perhaps Grand Kingdom can be one of the few that can be redeemed by its gameplay.
The great thing about games that are released by Spike Chunsoft is they are a company that's open to taking risks when it comes to their games, and it helps to make their games feel unique. Grand Kingdom features a strange mashup of genres, which include board games, RPGs, and beat 'em ups. This combination may sound strange on paper, but it works surprisingly well in practice.
Once you enter a battle in Grand Kingdom, you'll see that you are on a giant game board. Typically the game will task you to complete an objective in a set number of turns, though there is an exploration mode which allows you to spend as much time as you want on each board. Each board features enemies, NPCs, and random events. NPCs can include traveling merchants or healers, among other things. Random events are just that, they can be a battle, a wasted turn, or anything else. Finally, battles are relatively self-explanatory, and these will have you fight against an army of enemies.
Battles are played out in a somewhat unique way. Your team will appear on the battlefield across from their opponents. Each battlefield has three rows, and you move your characters among them to move your characters into position to attack. These rows remind me of the verticle movement in a beat 'em up, specifically Guardian Heroes. Each character has a set amount of movement and actions they can take each turn, to keep the battle system from becoming an unbalanced mess.
Overall, I found the systems in Grand Kingdom to be enjoyable. The combination of styles makes the game feel wholly unique and made it feel like a real breath of fresh air in a genre that can feel like it's been played out.
Grand Kingdom's beautiful sprite work is a real highlight of the game's presentation package. Character portraits and the battle sprites look fantastic and really stand out on either the Vita's screen or a television. However, the overworld and hub menus are incredibly bland and leave a lot to be desired when compared to the rest of the package.
The music ends up being just as much of a mixed bag as the presentation, but not for the same reasons. Much of the music is fantastic, and each piece fits well within the confines of the game. However, the score of Grand Kingdom was so forgettable that most of the audio was gone from my head within minutes of finishing the game. While this isn't a truly damning review of the audio, even a few memorable songs would have been better than a fitting soundtrack with no lasting appeal.
I'm glad I had the opportunity to revisit Grand Kingdom because I would have missed out on a unique experience. While I wasn't a fan of the story or the way it was told, I loved the gameplay, and I think that makes the game worth a look. Grand Kingdom feels especially nice on the Vita as the game feels a lot more natural as a title that you can easily pick up and play.
Grand Kingdom features beautiful hand drawn graphics and a visually appealing style. While the music isn't anything memorable, it fits the game well despite it not being anything I'd look for outside of the game. Overall, Grand Kingdom is a solid package, and I highly recommend the game for PSVita and PlayStation 4 owners alike.