Grand Kingdom (PS4) Review
Grand Kingdom tells the tale of Resonail, a continent which consists of four nations at war over the fallen Empire of Uldein. The story is delivered via voice-acted comic book-esque cutscenes where players engage in turn-based battles. Delivered by lead designer Tomohiko Deguchi, Grand Kingdom takes inspiration from many of my favorite like minded games in the genre – think Fire Emblem or Valkyria Chronicles or even Odin Sphere – but it also shakes things up to keep the experience unique.
Overall, the story should not be considered the only draw to the game but instead the building up the party. I found myself skipping the story as I got deeper into the game, not necessarily because the story wasn’t interesting, but because I was eager to get back into the fray. At its core, Grand Kingdom consists of a team of four mercenaries with multiple combat classes to select from. The games map very much resembles a board game, where pieces are moved around the map. Random treasures and resources for crafting can be found in the map and movement around the map will also trigger random events and encounters. Movement, however, is not unlimited. Players have limited number of steps or moves that can be made before a mission expires, though the amount of steps given is quite generous, so exploring the map is encouraged. In addition, depending on the party setup, specific skills can definitely be beneficial and help with exploration and completing the mission. For instance, I had a teleport skill that marks a designated treasure chest and warps to that space.
Exploring the board to find the optimal path has its own interesting challenges, but the battle system is also quite dynamic and deep. Combat consists of three lanes where party members and enemies will move. Character placement can often decide the outcome of the battle and this usually means life or death. The typical setup would have the melee up front with ranged members in the back, but players also have to make decisions on the fly, should the party be in the way of a canon or charged attack. The turn order is displayed on the bottom to help with strategizing. Should the mage be focused upon on first, or should the leaders be targeted to lower the enemy’s morale, and affecting their movement gauge. These are just a few examples of how the gameplay remains fresh and keeping the players on their toes despite the grind.
Enemy encounters are a mashup of turn-based and action gameplay, quite similar to games like Valkyria Chronicles or Odin Sphere, becoming one of my favorite strategy/RPG battle systems to date. Every character has an action gauge that will deplete during movement or attack. Melee characters are controlled by rapidly pressing the assigned buttons to combo attacks when within range of an enemy. Characters with range rely on timed attacks, hitting the buttons as a moving target icon moves onto the enemy In both scenarios, characters can launch their opponents into the air or hit them into objects (or even into each other for more damage).
Exploiting the environment was fun, and I really enjoyed the skill involved in how attacks are executed. There are numerous possibilities on the outcome of battles, and it can be very satisfying lining up an attack and destroying multiple enemies. It is important to note that there is friendly damage in this game. The party can take damage based on their proximity and their positions. There were situations where taking out my own party member worked in my advantage in taking out an otherwise dangerous enemy.
Aside from missions, I enjoyed building up my party with the sheer amount of customization the game has to offer. The variety of classes is very diverse, featuring everything from a dragon mage to a valkyrie, choosing skills, allocating experience points, and equipping gear that can be bought or crafted. One feature I found novel was the ability to see the equipped gear appear visually on the character model whether it was some of nose armor or a hat. From a player perspective, I loved all the different options that I was given for my characters. There are four main attacks, plus a litany of passive and support skills. In addition, there are plenty of skills such as healing or poison resists that can be purchased. With so many different skills, it was very hard for me to choose and I found myself constantly making the tough choice of which skill to sacrifice.
While the battle system thrives, the overall experience can get pretty repetitive. Throughout the main story and side quests there is a lot of grinding involved. The party level carries over in online cross-play where a contract is formed with one of the four nations. The contract contents is decided by the player and it will dictate and specify missions such as the number of wars to support and in turn will affect the players access to shops and trade posts within rivaling nations. There are two ways to manage these wars; manual movement by the player or letting the A.I. run. I tried both. I set the A.I. control, so I could gain extra experience, items, and gold.
Other times I tried to manually control my party to see the outcome. I was surprised how my opponents would use strategies that I would never have considered. Another way of leveling up the party is by taking on quests against the computer with set objectives, such as making deliveries or defending areas. It is also possible to explore an area without any specific objectives to gather treasures and resources which are to be used in crafting. With so many options, Grand Kingdom will likely find a long term following.
PlayStation 4 isn’t only well-known for its number of exclusive games, but for the sheer number of quality exclusives. That’s what makes Grand Kingdom even more impressive, because not only does it join the ranks of well known series like Disgaea and Fire Emblem, but it bests them in its own unique way. Monochrome has crafted a game of great quality. While Grand Kingdom can occasionally suffer from sheer repetition from numerous side quests, there is something undenyingly satisfying about this game. Grand Kingdom is a true feat.
-Diverse class variety
Review copy courtesy of NIS America