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Grand Kingdom (Vita) artwork

Grand Kingdom (Vita) review

"Interesting ideas make Grand Kingdom a unique experience, but it's not always a great one."

Grand Kingdom is a new tactical RPG from Spike Chunsoft and NIS America that doesn't feel like typical genre fare, at least not once you move past its generic premise. The tale begins as your squad claims victory on the battlefield. That glorious moment is chopped off at the knees, however, when the rival force surrenders. You're wondering what to do next when a soldier you just defeated invites you to join "the Guild," a powerful group of mercenaries led by a famous swordsman. This could be your chance for redemption.

Basic tutorials cleverly serve as your initiation into the guild. You might be tempted to rush through it all, because you've possibly completed dozens of RPGs by now. You know the ropes, right? But Grand Kingdom can initially be quite complex. The tutorials are actually worth your time. You might even find it useful to go through them again, a few hours after initially clearing them. There's a lot to learn, and there's some stuff that you'll still have to figure out on your own. I was dozens of hours into the game before I realized that I could use a melee attack from an adjacent lane, rather than only head-on.

So, what's this about lanes?

The turn-based combat starts with your group of heroes lined up on the left side of an area. Enemies are positioned to the right. There are three horizontal strips: front, middle and back. So you move a unit forward within a lane, switching lanes along the way as necessary, until you've progressed as far as your available energy permits. Then you can either guard or unleash one or more attacks. Easy, right?

Grand Kingdom (Vita) image

There's more to it, of course. For starters, battlefields are littered with objects like crates and barrels, and sometimes even hidden traps. The former impact your movement and may also prevent you from hitting your targets. The latter present the possibility that you'll rush toward an apparently defenseless foe, only to find yourself warped back to the far left side of the field just before you can land a killing blow (or that you'll be launched skyward by a flame geyser).

Positioning is critical. Your team members can work together if you play wisely, and it's essential that you chain together attacks when facing a team of lethal rivals. First, you'll want to equip a hero with spells so that he or she can perhaps knock a foe into the air, then hit him on the way back down, then chop him a few times more as he tries to get to his feet. Then you can have another unit perform an assist attack to finish the job before an enemy medic heals your grievously wounded adversary.

This is a review, not a guide on how to play the game, so I'll shut up about the combat system. The individual battles you'll fight are just one part of the experience (and arguably not even the most interesting one). You also should look forward to exploration and wars.

Grand Kingdom (Vita) image

After accepting a guild quest, you'll appear near one corner of a map. Then you must move spaces, as if playing a board game. Each move consumes a turn, and you generally have a finite number of turns you can use to achieve your objective. You might have to defend a few points on the map in some cases, or avoid detection in others, but mostly you just have to rush from one flag to another, until you reach the final one. Along the way, "symbol pieces" that represent enemy squads will try to stop you. Those symbol pieces move much like you do, but follow set routes. You can sometimes easily avoid them, but still must take risks to reach treasure chests and precious resources. There also are natural disasters, such as raging rivers that have taken out bridges, or lava flows. Use skills to eliminate them, or special items, or just find an alternate path.

The board game elements are actually pretty cool, but I always feel disgusted if I mess up and get stuck fighting enemies I meant to avoid. Once I got used to fighting and powered up my characters sufficiently, I dreaded combat because it suddenly felt like filler. I knew I would win--probably without taking enough damage to really put myself at risk--and I just wanted to keep the story going. It also doesn't help that you'll mostly fight the same 8 or 10 enemy types, for most of what winds up being a lengthy single-player campaign. There are wolves, walking plants, ghosts, several enemy soldier types, little goblins that carry flags, and very occasionally an epic beast. A tutorial states that there actually there are 17 character classes in total, but they're sufficiently similar that sometimes their differences are difficult to appreciate even with palette swaps applied.

By the time the game's credits scrolled, I found myself thinking "Well, that was a bit on the short side, but it's probably for the best." Then I learned that there were four more campaigns left to clear. I was only a quarter of the way through. I finished the rest of them, but nothing every really challenged me along the way. There wasn't enough new content to keep things interesting, beyond a series of mildly intriguing stories that were ultimately too rushed to explore character motivations or the setting in a meaningful way.

Grand Kingdom (Vita) image

This feels like a good time to mention that I started playing Grand Kingdom weeks ago. I then devoted a few hours to it every day. For most of that period, barely anyone else was playing online because the game wasn't available in shops. Until this past Tuesday, I wasn't able to do much at all with its substantial online component, "Wars."

The way the game's online mode works is that you sign a treaty to represent one of the world's four active kingdoms. Then you engage in prolonged battles against one of the other kingdoms. Once you find a battlefield, you place defensive structures and then dash around a small map, defending your strongholds when you're not busy invading the enemy's key structures. However, it's difficult to tell what's even happening, and you can easily "lose" the war, even if you mop the floor with every foe you ever face. Tutorials devoted to this aspect of the game are quite poor, and I just didn't have much fun with it, even once I finally got the hang of things.

Like I said, Grand Kingdom offers a different sort of tactical RPG experience. That works out better some times than it does others. I simply adore the fantasy artwork, for instance, which includes gorgeous environments and detailed character models. But there aren't enough unique models, and the initially satisfying combat quickly falls into a rut because the same couple of strategies will easily topple virtually every foe you ever face. The plot is in too big of a hurry and tries to tell too many stories at once, rather than taking the time to focus on more fruitfully exploring just one of them. And the large-scale battles are an interesting idea that falls flat because it's often too difficult to even tell what's happening.

If you're sick of playing a bunch of tactical RPGs that feel like slight variations of the same vanilla approach, Grand Kingdom is well worth a look in spite of its regrettable stumbles. If you're looking for a great way to kill a lot of time with your Vita, you could do considerably worse.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (June 25, 2016)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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EmP posted June 26, 2016:

Every month or so I get reminded I should get my VITA online and then don't. This looks like another reason why I should do that thing I'll probably not bother to do. Good review.
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honestgamer posted June 26, 2016:

For big fans of the JRPG, a Vita is absolutely worth having. There are lots of those games available on the system, more than I can actually keep up with buying as I also purchase games on other systems. If I weren't big on Japanese games, though, I'd probably regret having purchased a Vita. My other problem is finding time to play all of those games, but I put dozens of hours into this one and (even though I awarded it a middling score) I don't regret that. Thanks for reading!

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