Grand Kingdom Review
As a mercenary for hire in a world defined by war, you find yourself at the center of battle. In Grand Kingdom, you are the leader of a small band of adventurers, but quickly find yourself wrapped up in a larger affair with a major guild. Once there, you can take on quests: simple deliveries and fetch quests, versus other teams, and continue along the main story quest, or flat-out join in a war between nations. As commander, you can take time when not in battle to train your staff, develop new abilities, shop for better equipment and items, and check your party's policies to obtain more rewards.
To say Grand Kingdom is deep, is like saying the Titanic was kind of a large ship. First, you must craft your party at the recruitment station. Most of the traditional medieval job classes are available, from swordsmen to wizards, rogues to archers, with some unique classes like gunners and dragon mages. Once your troop of four is crafted, you select a quest. Quests are played out upon a board game style map, wherein you strive for objectives, be they collection of resources around the map, reaching a particular objective point, or defeating all the enemies in the area. When you encounter an enemy, you transition into what can best be described as a turn-based medieval Final Fight. Each character in turn order has a set amount of distance and attack power. When attacking, the learned abilities can be combo'ed via face buttons; proper timing can result in some major damage dealt. If you were in range of ally or enemy ballistas on the board game map, they'll get their own turn, annihilating entire swaths of the battlefield. The board moves on during your turn as well. Take too long and enemies could claim victory from your hands.
You can make up to six separate parties that you choose from to go out on the battlefield. Each character can be leveled via experience, upgraded via equipment (which itself can be augmented), or learn new battlefield skills and techniques. You can edit the formation that you begin battles in, as well. Each and every option can tweak your battlefield prowess, making you a more efficient fighting machine.
On the map screen, you can choose whether to actively engage the enemy or passively route around them, though the extra steps will subtract from your time limit. You will run across fate and fortune on the map as well, and you'll have to decide whether to risk time, health, or team morale based on how you want to weather a storm or get through a field of traps. Combining your recruitment style, equipping prowess, tactical maneuvering, and battle skills into one efficient war machine will see you through to victory.
By far, my favorite part of the game is how it turns some major conventions on their heads while still feeling like a classic tactical RPG. There is a story to follow, but what I've seen so far doesn't feel like it's one you're going to lose track of with 8 billion strange sounding names and five thousand backstabs for political intrigue (looking at you, Final Fantasy Tactics). The game can be soul-crushingly hard, but you still earn experience points at the end of a failure, making it easier to take another crack at it. Storyline heroes are not on the battlefield, so every character you create (which is quite robust for a game as such, offering many different faces, hairstyles, voice modulators, and colors to make your characters truly unique) can live and die on the battlefield. The aforementioned difficulty seems to throw you into the true mindset of a medieval mercenary commander. Sure, at first you can go straight into a battle with a villainous opposing mercenary force, but maybe you ought to go out and deliver some goods to other troops, battling little scrub monsters until you are strong enough to take on the big boys. It makes even the strategy involved in picking your battles exciting.
The depth of Grand Kingdom can be overwhelming at times. I'm quite a few hours in and still don't feel I have seen all it has to offer. It takes a while to get to where you can upgrade your characters into stronger classes, you have to collect the right combination of materials to upgrade weapons, and in general really have to beef up your characters before you can even attempt to go to war. While introduced to you early on, the "War" tab of the game drops you into an online versus match where you ally with one of the four warring nations. At this time, some of the game's conventions get turned on their heads, as the board game portion becomes a real-time chaotic mess, and you have to rush to stay on top of your enemies. It's also best to have several troops of mercenaries created to go into this mode. Just trust me: hold off on "war" until you have a decent setup, or you'll quickly find yourself overwhelmed.
Another good contradiction this game makes, though, is at the end of battle. As said, people aren't dead, and you still get experience points. Any items found and not used are quickly sold off for extra gold. Starting a battle sets you with particular equipment, so you aren't bogged down with one more set of materials to prepare (or over-stockpile and make the game too easy). Our hero characters give an encouraging "better luck next time" attitude, and it's back to the grind.
If you are a tactical RPG fan, Grand Kingdom can definitely eat your time. The beautiful graphics remind me of a cross between Final Fantasy Tactics' upgraded FMVs and Dragon's Crown with their hand-painted stylings. The beautiful graphics drew in my friends who visited while I was testing, causing even non-gamers to stop and see what was going on. Crafting your war party is an accomplishment in itself, as well as keeping up with all the different ways you can tweak your team for maximum efficiency. The gameplay itself, while enjoyable, may feel repetitive at times. After all, there's only so many ways you can move a pawn on a map, and once you find an efficient combo of death dealers, you might end up doing the same set of moves over and over (a-la-Knights of the Round Mime fun on Final Fantasy). There is a wide variety of enemies with different defensive tactics, though, so that should keep you on your toes. I can also say I had frustration with the auto-save system not following through once or twice because I thought I'd tweak my team after a round, only to find it didn't save for my next play session. The depth of options with the glazing over of some of the more mundane things that often plague this type of game allow a fresh take on the genre that is truly fun.
Thanks to the developers for providing a copy of the PS4 edition of the game for review. While I am truly having a blast with the game, I could see it having a solid home on the Vita (unfortunately not a cross-play title), where you won't eat up the TV all the time and can take your addiction along with you. This game truly draws you in with it's fun free-for-all war storyline and addictive turn-based-action style of gameplay.
Final Review Score: 4.75/5
Thanks to NIS for providing a copy for review.