During my time at The Vita Lounge I have had the great pleasure of reviewing games from genres that I would have never previously considered trying.
Perhaps the biggest example of this was my time with Atelier Ayesha Plus, the JRPG with more content to throw out than Witcher 3 or Skyrim combined. After my initial reservations, I was hooked, even though all previous news regarding titles from that genre made my eyes roll. The old saying of don’t knock it until you’ve tried it comes to mind.
But there was still one genre where my knowledge was severely lacking.
So along came an opportunity to review Grand Kingdom, the tactical RPG from NIS America. I can say with complete certainty that this is a genre I had absolutely no knowledge of. For you see, I am a rather impatient gamer. Rather than sit, plan and be tactical I love jumping head first into the action disregarding the notion of being properly prepared. That mindset and the general idea behind tactical RPG couldn’t be further apart.
Grand Kingdom has fantastical medieval setting, where you play as the leader of a mercenary group looking to make their mark in the kingdom. The overall game centres around four regions seeking dominance within the kingdom, with players able to engage in quests and contracts to gain prestige, helping to build a strong reputation. Throughout the game you’ll build up different squads, acquire more items to assist in combat and take part in battles concerning the four great regions and their leaders.
Coming into this game, I am in a unique place. As I have never played a game in this genre before I am unable to compare it to others of the same ilk. In my mind, this can only be a positive thing. All I have to work with is my overall experience and enjoyment of the game itself, ignoring other titles that have come and gone. I am able to confidently review Grand Kingdom on its own merits.
It is with great delight that I am say that I absolutely loved my time with Grand Kingdom and its unqiue cast of characters. As a beginner, I did not feel overwhelmed, with the in depth tutorial taking me by the hand and gently guiding me through the games core mechanics. There certainly is a lot to take in, but each part of a battle is helpfully explained in your first quest. If a clueless player like me can master it, then that gives hope to the entire gaming population.
You have a central hub, where you create your party, choosing from 17 different class types to create your squad. Of course everything comes at a price. You gain gold to purchase various items and characters by completing quests and winning battles. The more powerful the class type you want, the more expensive they are. Keeping an eye on your funds is essential and ensuring that you save enough for weaponry for each team member you recruit is also vital.
An interesting feature of Grand Kingdom is that rather than you taking on the role of a specific character, you are the unseen and non-speaking commander of the group, dishing out orders like the orchestrator of war.
When you enter quests, the game plays out on a huge game board, where you have a limited amount of moves to reach an objective. You and enemies appear as small chess pieces, skipping across the board with every step. Grand Kingdom always keeps you on your toes, as each move you make signals enemies to also make a move on the board. Some are hidden, some move quick and others stay in one place. But if any happen to land on the same space as you, then its battle time. You can be strategic and avoid most enemy encounters by judging and predicting their movements or by using skills to alter their movement.
Along the way you’ll find a whole host of obstacles, most attempting to slow your progress. These come in the form of enemies, storms, quicksand and other rather unfortunate types of natural disasters. It is up to you as commander to decide how to best tackle these obstacles. Do you turn back? Risk your squads health and recklessly soldier through? Or play it safe and forsake extra moves to escape unscathed? Judging how the quest is playing out to decide the best course of action is vital in these circumstances, with your decisions having a huge bearing on how the rest of the quest pans out. But do not despair, as you’ll also pick up resources along the way to assist you, helping to keep health and morale up. I personally loved this game board style, which made me feel like a sort of game master, overseeing proceedings and ultimately altering the course of the game.
Battles are turn-based and are fast-faced and hectic. I truly enjoyed every one, with new enemies always appearing sporting unique moves and distinct appearances to keep things fresh. With the huge amount of customisation options available, each battle felt unique and fun truly giving the feeling that your squad are unique to you. Sometimes the amount of moves available became overwhelming and remembering which button did what sometimes ended in me firing shots in the wrong direction. Although criticising a game for having too many attacking options hardly seems fair.
Before entering a quest, it is important to choose the strongest arsenal and plan your teams starting positions. Starting more defensive towards the back of the battleground can sometimes play to your advantage, with long ranged attacks being your friend. If swords and knives are more your thing, then starting further forward nearer the enemy squad is preferential. It’s fun to learn and master the different tactics in battles, and discovering different ways to obliterate enemies made the gameplay incredibly addictive. With so many different classes to choose from, each character you bring into the battle brings their own unique set of skills, ultimately changing how you tackle an enemy. Some provide medic support, other will be sporting huge mallets and others throw explosive barrels. Just the sheer amount of customisation itself kept me coming back time and time again.
Another great feature in Grand Kingdom is the fact that attacks issued can affect anyone on the battlefield. So if you are planning on sending out a poison bomb for example, it is important to make sure that none of your own team are in its trajectory, as they will also receive a mighty blow. This can also work in your favour with the enemy able to hurt there own players as well with misplaced attacks. But this also applies to any health potions you are willing to fling at your teammates. Make sure there aren’t any enemies near or you’ll give them an unwanted boost. This makes it essential that you play tactfully and pre-plan your attacks.
Another positive is that the colourful and beautifully designed 2D art style is a joy to behold. Characters are all lovingly designed and have distinct personalities. The story is your generic medieval RPG fare, but voice acting is all delivered to a good standard, helping to keep it interesting.
The fact the game is cross-play with the PlayStation 4 version ensures that there are a greater numbers of players playing the online War mode. In this mode you swear allegiance to one of the four regions which is alternately a tug of war for power and part take in ever changing battles. This feature is well implemented and keeps things interesting, providing a nice alternative to the main Quest mode.
So what have I learnt? That actually engaging with a games in depth gameplay and taking time to patiently think out tactics can be fun? That going in all guns blazing isn’t always the best way? Perhaps. But what I have definitely learnt is that Grand Kingdom is a great game and is a perfect fit for the PS Vita. Titles like this make playing on the handheld such a joy.
I honestly did not expect to enjoy Grand Kingdom as much as I did. The fascinating game board play style and wealth of customisation options make it a great game for beginners and experts of the genre. It may not have the fanfare or reputation of some of the bigger PS Vita releases from the past few months, but if Grand Kingdom is anything like the other tactical, turn-based strategy RPGs out there, then I have definitely been missing out on something great.