Grand Kingdom is a recent release from NIS America and Spike Chunsoft. This game evokes memories of real time strategy games and action RPG’s alike, making it a unique JRPG on the PS Vita and PS4. But does the game accomplish its goal of blending the two genre’s into a cohesive whole, or does it feel too clustered as a result of blending game genres?
The game takes place in older times, where magic existed and wars are frequently being fought. You play as a commander of a small army who is very skilled at what they do. But after losing a recent battle, you sign on with the guild and complete jobs & quests across the grand kingdom around you. This leads you to bumping heads with a tarnished faction called Uld, helping out the warring nations and more.
I enjoyed the story of the main campaign a lot, as the voice acting for all of the characters is well done in addition to the localization being very solid. I laughed at a number of characters and enjoyed seeing everyone interact off each other. For people that prefer their Japan-developed titles having the original JP Voice Acting, the option for that exists in the games options screen (party menu), so you have both English and JP VA’s in the game.
One part of the story I like that similar to the Vita RPG Soul Sacrifice is that you have more stories to see outside of the main one. For this review, I fully completed the main story (Guild Episodes) but I played a little bit of the other campaigns. In Japan, the game received DLC support that added four addition campaigns to complete once the main one is finished and they are fully translated & voice acted.
This greatly expands the games story, as each one touches on a specific warring nation and giving you more insight on the world around you. Overall, the story in the game is very strong and gets a lot right.
If you can say anything about Grand Kingdom, is that the game has a lot of hidden depth and that much care was put into many of the games features & mechanics. The game can be split up into the following modes; War, Campaign & Quest Types
The War mode is the games extensive online feature, where you side with one of four factions and participate in battles to help your side win. You can do this through either sending your solders out to battle and letting the AI (which you can customize) take over or send your solders yourself and take control of the action. The former is useful for giving extra units something to do while your main units are dealing with side missions or story campaigns, but jumping into Wars head-on is rewarding as you are on the font lines and can ensure victory.
You can use items in shops to help in war battles, your solders get extra EXP & Gold when battles are won and you can fight against people playing online on either the PS4 or Vita version as the game has cross-play online support on both platforms. The online battles are very rewarding as there is a great feeling of winning successive battles, where you keep on fighting over and over until your opposing side is exhausted of units, and helping your faction win wars.
Campaign is the games story mode, where you play across 12 Missions for the main story that has you helping the Guild deal with the Uld faction’s hidden motives and efforts to ravage the land. This exposes you to the bulk of the games different mission types such as taking out every opposing unit, defending X amount of bases for a limited number of turns and more. By doing this the game offers depth, as you aren’t just moving on the map and running to the goal flag; you have goals to complete. It is also a great introduction to the games core mechanics as the game explains how battles work, how you can work with your units, and exposing you to much of the games quest types.
The games quest types include the following:
- Defend: Prevent the opposing faction/foe/monster from touching spots on the map for X amount of turns
- Resource: Go around the map and collect every resource you can find (either from icons on the map or from foes that are carrying it)
- Bonus: Limited spaces to go around and collect treasure on the map without foes harming you
- Hunting: Take out every foe on the map
- Travel Quest: As you level up, you can unlock more maps to explore based on your level. You can explore each map to get more treasure, level up your party and more
As one could see, the games objectives vary a lot and with the ability to scale the difficulty (amount steps/moves you can make on the maps) for the side quests, you can get more rewards from riskier play.
Overall, the games amount of design choices regarding mission types allows the game to have a lot of hidden depth. My only gripe with the games design is how leveling up works for your extra units; they don’t level up in the background. So it is encouraged that you have a main party for the campaign missions to prevent struggling with the extra campaigns (which have high level caps/expectations of your units being Level 30-60).
Grand Kingdom blends real time strategy with action combat, with you exploring on different maps as a chess piece. The maps work on a grid, with your chess piece (your party) moving using ‘turns’. Each mission has X amount of turns to use and depending on the mission, running out can make you fail a mission. So, careful movement on the map is critical, more so with things obstructing your path like fallen trees, weather conditions and more. Thankfully, your party learns map skills that use TP, so you can use abilities like Earthquake for X amount of TP to remove the obstructions with little issue.
The game provides you with different bags before starting missions, and they carry supplies. Using the supplies, you can remove objects that hinder progress (saving TP for other skills like Camp Out) and heal your party. Morality is also a factor to consider when on the map, as the more battles you fight, the lower it goes. When its low, your party’s attacks get sluggish and their defense lowers, so its important to keep that high through healing and using items.
Combat is an area of the game that shines the brightest, as it feels different per class. Each unit belongs to a specific class, with them having different abilities to contribute to the party. For example, your knight can use a move called ‘Total Guard’, which can defend your party as long as your shield holds up (has a meter) from attacks. Another example is your medic, as she can throw healing potions that restores 80% health over a long distance or you can slide a health pack on the ground that another unit can walk into for a smaller percentage of health restoration.
Each class has a specific weakness and strength over another class, giving the combat a lot of hidden depth. But one must ask, how does the real-time action come into the picture? It does through a Mario RPG/Paper Mario style combat system. You move on a 2D plane on three lanes, with your walking distance governed by a meter at the bottom of the screen. Once you go up to a foe, you can time your button presses for a series of attacks and the better you land your attacks, the more damage is dealt.
This extends to magic and ranged combat users as well, as even though they don’t attack front-and-center you still need to use careful timing with your button presses to ensure your attacks hit the specific targets. The game also has a system where buttons presses during fights are fewer but the real-time combat options provide you with higher damage dealing ability.
Because of this system, battles are frantic and require a lot of strategy; placement of your units, area abilities that your units can use are critical for area control and even object placement is key at points as you can buy items like shields and barrels for your units to hide behind. I loved this combat system and it made my time with the game very rewarding. Some battles have an endurance system, where you have to fight successive battles in a row and after winning one round, you can use healing items to recover lost health. In addition, you can gain buffs as you fight and they carry over to the succeeding battle. This is a much greater mechanic during the games war battles but it is used a few times during the main campaign.
One last thing to touch on with gameplay is some of the key leveling up systems. When you level up, you have different stats (Strength, Stamina, ect) that have different letter rankings. You can level them up when you hit Level 20, where you can increase your letter ranking through items you can find/buy. Other important things to consider is visiting each of the warring nations homelands to see their shops for rarer gear/items, using the Blacksmith to make your weapons stronger and just overall maintaining your units.
The stronger they are, the better results you will get out of them in combat for both the single player and online modes.
Overall, the gameplay in Grand Kingdom is strong and inviting to newcomers to the strategy genre.
Presentation & Performance
Grand Kingdom is a very beautiful title through having a stylized 2D art design that extends to every aspect to the game. It’s look mirrors titles like Dragons Crown or Odin Sphere in some respects and little details like animated background in menus, lip-syncing for cut-scenes, and the loading screen animation does a lot to give the game a feeling of liveliness and heart.
Musically, Grand Kingdom also shines as it has a fantasy vibe through catchy melodies and tracks like the Travel Quest Battle Theme or the Base Menu Theme that stand out a lot to me personally.
The game also runs very well on PlayStation Vita, with it running at a locked frame rate and native resolution. This is great, considering how timing based the combat can become. The PS4 version has shorter load times and runs at 1080p.
Grand Kingdom has a lot of content, with the main campaign taking well over 20+ hours to complete, the online modes offering a lot of extra content and side missions giving your lower-leveled units plenty to do. But the games extra campaigns give it a significant amount of post-game content that will extend your 20+ hour run into something that could last upwards to 100 hours or more in total thanks to the 48 extra episodes to complete (12 per each campaign).
Story – 4.5 out of 5 / Design – 4.5 out of 5 / Gameplay – 5 out of 5 / Presentation & Performance – 5 out of 5 / Replay Value – 5 out of 5
Grand Kingdom is one of the years best JRPG’s thanks to its strong core mechanics, an enjoyable story, strong blend of real time combat & strategy elements and an excessive amount of replay value. You will love the game if you are a fan of JRPG’s and I strongly encourage everyone to give this game a shot.
Overall Score: 5 out of 5
This game was reviewed on the PS Vita with a review code provided by NIS America and is out now digitally & at retail on PS Vita & PS4. A Demo of the game is out now on PS Vita & PS4, so give that a shot if you want to try the game before you buy.