Review: Grim Grimoire (PS2)

Grim Grimoire
Developer: Vanillaware
Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Genre: Real Time Strategy
Release Date: 6/25/2007

You know, you’d think after a few years of Nippon Ichi being a publisher in the US that I’d have learned on simple lesson: If it’s an NI developed game, I will really enjoy it. If it is one they brought over from Japan but they didn’t actually work on it, I will be bored with it at best, and have disdain for it at worst. Case in point: Disgaea? Awesome? Atelier Iris? Medicore, Makai Kingdom? Fricking Bad Ass. Generation of Chaos? Yuck. Disgaea 2? Cute and fun! At Tonelico? Piss Poor.

Knowing this, you’d think I would have stayed clear of reviewing this game. But it’s a Vanillaware game. These are the same guys that made Odin Sphere and Princess Crown! Odin Sphere is almost certainly locked in as one of our five GOTY nominees for 2007, and Princess Crown was even better. The pedigree for Grim Grimoire is pretty strong.

Back on the negative side of things, Grim Grimoire is a Real Time Strategy Game, while Odin Sphere is a more button mashing beat ’em up crossed with an action RPG. They are so different that you can’t really compare them. As well, Grim Grimoire is the second game ever made by Vanillaware (Odin Sphere was released first in the US, but GG is actually older). Generally a company’s second game, especially if it is wildly different in genre sucks ass.

In the end, I bit the bullet and decided to have an open mind when reviewing this game. The last RTS I played was Goblin Commander on the Game Cube, so it seemed like a goods idea to go back and give this genre another try.

The question is, did Grim Grimoire live up to its breeding, or did it fall to the Nippon Ichi USA curse?

Let’s Review

1. Story

This game is basically a rip off of everything from Majora’s Mask to Groundhog Day with a good dose of near trademark infringing Harry Potter bits. I mean the wise old leader of the Academy you play in is Gammel Dore. Dumbledore, Gammel Dore? Oh the lack of creativity and originality hurts.

You are playing as Lillet Blan. Lillet is a young girl who has been raising her little brothers all by herself and enrolled in the Silver Star Magic Academy in hopes of gaining skills that will allow her to support her family better. They might as well have named it the Vane Magical Academy.

While Lillet is at the school for five days. She meets all sorts of teachers and students; some she likes and some she doesn’t quite trust. She learns to cast some summoning spells and then the ghost of the evil Archmage whose castle was turned into the magic academy rises from its slumber and then slaughters everyone in the school slowly and gruesomely. The Archmage is about to kill Lillet when suddenly she travels back in time to the first night she arrives and find that she will repeatedly go back in time until she finds away to keep the tragedy from unfolding. This is your story.
Sadly the game plays out like it was written by Vince Russo. There are just too many attempts at “We swear this character is going to turn out to be bad, but look! They’re not!” Or, “Oh this character is good, no they are evil! Ha ha! Just kidding, they are actually good!” Every character has some secret or ulterior motive and it gets annoying quickly, especially because of how bloody slow this game plays out.

What’s more is the nonsensical bits of the game that are never explained. Why would you take the fortress of the most power evil magician in the world and turn it into a school for little kids. Especially in a world where the undead roam freely. Don’t you think a master wizard would be able to make himself undead? Children + abode of ultimate evil doesn’t really mesh well in my opinion. Then there are the battles. All you learn is summoning mana collecting monsters or battling monsters. Why? That makes no sense. If you are going to learn peaceful magic to help out your family, why would you be taught how to summon dragons or spectral knights? Again, there is no attempt at making the story and the actual battles mesh into any sort of plausibility or cohesion.

The worst part is aside from the Groundhog Day aspect of the game, I’ve already played a better version of this game about ten years ago. It’s called Lunar Magical School for the Sega Saturn. It was the third and final Lunar game, and although it never made it to the US, the battling system was more enjoyable, there was a semblance of a challenge and the story was actually well done.

Everything plot wise in Grim Grimore is awful. From the stilted and poorly written dialog like, “I’m Hiram Menthe, Mild-mannered student, (NO ONE actually refers to themselves as mild-mannered. That’s an adjective only for Superman comic narrators) to the way Gimlet (Don’t ask) is finally beaten just reeks of awfulness. It’s as if Vanillaware hit a creative deadlock and decided to fill the void with patching together the bits from other better games and movies and then threw their creation at the wall hoping something would stick.

Who knows? Maybe it is just awful translation and localization by NIUSA. No matter how you slice it, this is a plot only the mentally handicapped or people who can’t get enough time loop stories could possibly begging to tolerate, much less enjoy.

Story Rating: 3/10

2. Graphics

Visually Grim Grimoire is hit or miss. The cur scenes are beautiful. I love the character designs and instead of just being large paintings with voice acted scrolling text running along the bottom, the character portraits actually have moving mouths. That’s not much, but it’s more than a lot of RPG’s aside from Shining Force. It’s also impossible not to make striking still frame graphics with the PS2.

The actual battle graphics are a different story. I’m not really impressed by most of the monster designs. The majority look as if they could have been done on the PS1 or the Saturn. However, the larger designs like the Dragons or the Demons are much better is design, but their appearance is brought down by jerky movements and some occasional slowdown when these large creatures are being attacks by say, 8 or more opponents. You’d think that sounds like a lot, but considering I’ve sent 16 fairies against one it’s not that unlikely.

The battle background design is nice, but there’s only one for the entire game. That’s right. No matter how many times you battle, where you battle, or what you battle, it’s the same exact map. Again, there’s no explanation why. It also smacks of laziness. There’s not much to the game, so why not a few different battle maps?

Overall, the graphics are decent, but there is nothing here that is really visually stunning or impressive. Sadly, a lot of the graphics look like could be done on the previous generation’s console. Considering we’re in the age of the PS3, having a game that could possibly be done on the PS1 is a bit underwhelming.

Graphics Rating: 6/10

3. Sound

The sound is probably the best aspect of the game. I enjoy the music, although it is a bit repetitive. Much like the battle map, you’ll be hearing the same few tracks so often they will go from pleasant to annoying. At least they don’t get stuck in your head though.

The voice acting is quite enjoyable. Although the lines the actors are given are stiled and comically bad, they are able to make them come alive and be somewhat believable. There are some exceptions. Margarita Surprise is wooden throughout the game, even with the big surprise reveal, while conversely, Opalneria and Chartreuse are excellent. Especially when playing off against one another.

Some of the battle characters have excellent voice work too, although this pertains only to the humanoid characters. The Elves, the Fairies, the Phantoms and so on.

With the voice acting being the best aspect of the game, I find that I could probably have stomached the story if this game had been say, a 13 episode anime series rather than a 60+ hour video game with 20-30 minutes battles separating each story sequence.

Sound Rating: 7/10

4. Control and Gameplay

I think the gameplay is the worst part of this game. The maps are always the same, the battles take forever and the goals can easily be obtained by just sheer numbers plowing into your opponent. The maps are always the same with only enemy locations ever varying and you find yourself siting and waiting through half the battles.

Here is a typical battle. You start off with some Mana gathering troops and a few fighters. You send out the Mana gathering guys to a crystal and they start bringing Mana back from it to your mystic circle. If you want more than one type of troop you’ll need more mystic circles and you’ll have to get more Mana sources to keep up with the demand. You’ll spend the entire 20-30 minutes of the battle stockpiling Mana. Your elves or imps or ghosts or whatever will walk to the Mana Crystal, bring back mana and repeat for the entire battle. Then you’ll be summoning creatures, which takes a long time as well. The first third of the battle becomes nothing but sitting and waiting for your troops to be built up enough to do anything.

At this point you basically send your troops in to slaughter your opponent and once you’ve destroyed one of their gates/mystic circles, you’ll have to send your troops all around the map looking for more things to destroy as you only have a limited range. Once you destroy everything by watching your characters partake in long and boring fights, the overall battle will end.

Let’s leave it at this. Your first ever mission in this game is to summon 10 elves. This takes 5 minutes just to summon the elves. BORING. There’s also the end battle of Chapter 1, where you just sit around for 20 minutes waiting for a few monsters to attack and prevent them from destroying your stuff. Again – boring.

The big problem here is that nothing ever really happens. And because you’re always on the same map, and the computer has no AI at all, the game is one big snore fest where nothing remotely interesting happens.

The controls are pretty bad too. At times the game is sluggish and unresponsive. You’ll press square to highlight a particular troop, then press up to highlight all of that specific troop in that area. Then you’ll tell them to move or fight. However, when you do this, there is a one in three chance not all the highlighted characters will respond as you inputted, or even at all. This is pretty frustrating because an RTS needs to have precise controls as every thing is happening in real time!

Another big issue I found is if you have a large group of summoned creatures by the mystic circle they were summoned from. You’ll have this group, the Mana gathering spirits and the circle itself all in one area and it can be a real chore for the game to recognize who you want to select. What’s worse is there it supposed to be a command that prevents this. Guess what doesn’t work most of the time? You try to switch between the possible creatures, but for some reason the command will only notice the circle and one other class of creatures nearby. Sadly it is rarely is ever the one you want. Again, because this is all happening in real time, this adds precious seconds on to the game clock, which would be a death knell for you if the computers AI wasn’t basically retarded.

Basically you’ve got a very poorly designed RTS with sluggish controls, no diversity at all with the map designs, piss poor AI on all sides and a game that is so mind boggingly slow it makes Guardian Summons in a Final Fantasy game look instantaneous.

I honestly can’t see how anyone is finding enjoyment with this game. It’s pretty shallow and there is next to no reward for the amount of time you put into this game. It’s pushing Dragon Warrior 7 levels of length and at least DWVII is faster paced.

Bad engine, and one of the worst I’ve ever encountered in an RTS. Give me Starcraft any day over this.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 3/10

5. Replayability Rating

Oh my god, if someone has the desire to site through this game again, they masochistic as hell.

Grim Grimoire is exceptionally linear. Why anyone would want to go back and play the game a second time hurts my brain. Especially as you can repeat any battle or play the unlocked bonus battles at any point. Granted this is nice to have, but why would you want to go through the game again? Do you really want to spend another 70 hours on a game this bad? If you played this game for 5 hours a day, which is a VERY long time to be gaming, it would still take you two weeks to beat. God f’n No. That’s a fortnight you could be doing something far more productive. At least the option in there.

Long game. Bad game. Normally either of these things on their own is a bad sign for the game. Both in the same game though is a huge “stay the f*ck away” mark. I suppose you could go through the horror of beating the game and then just watching the story bits, but that’s like giving yourself Herpes so that you know you can get an outbreak without the having sex. Wheee.

Replyability Rating: 4/10

Balance

Hahahahahahahaha. Ha ha ha. Ha. Okay I’m done.

There is nothing at all resembling balance in this game. There is no challenge. There is no AI. It comes down to the same thing every time: “Sound out as many troops as you can as fast as you can and then gang rape your enemies’ gates to prevent them from summoning anything at all.

Just build up your forces en masse, play defensively, knowing if the occasional enemy comes to your gates, your forces will wipe him out quickly. Then send your armies out to the 4 corners of the board. Once you wipe out the gates, no more enemies can come through from that side, so you’re safe there. Generally if you just ignore the actual creatures your opponent summons, you’ll still be strong enough to take the remaining down.

There is supposed to be a rock/paper/scissors motif to the game, but again, you’d never know it. I’ve defeated Necromantic troops with Sorcery ones. This is supposed to be nigh impossible to do. But in fact, it is quite easy. The entire game is easy. Too easy. Which just adds to the banality of it all.

There’s also a hard mode you can unlock once you’ve beaten the game. To be honest, there’s no difference. It doesn’t matter if it is sweet, east, normal or hard. The game plays out the same and offers no degree of challenge. I probably wouldn’t have been so bored with the game if there was any degree of AI, but alas, instead I just sat through one of the crappiest and LONGEST games I’ve played in some time.

Balance Rating: 2/10

7. Originality

There is not an original thought in the game. The story is pieced together from so many different things and the stealing is so blatant, it borders on plagarism. If you want a time travel game, there are many out there that do it better. Many of which involve Link in some way. Honestly the only idea that comes to my head is that Vanillaware assumed the original audience of Japanese gamers wouldn’t get the references. Which is insulting and troubling. All at once.

There’s better school based games, better RTS games, better time travel games, and better games across the board that don’t rely on an ending where “Everyone couples up.” Seriously? WTF.

Every character is a cliche, every battle is pointless, and I feel annoyed that a company that has produced two other very well made games allowed their sophmore slump to suck this heavily.

Originality: 2/10

8. Addictiveness

You know, as much as I’ve bashed this game, there IS a morbid fascination I developed trying to beat the thing. I kept hoping something intelligent would happen. Something that would make sense of the plot when coupled with the battles. Something that wouldn’t be predictable. Something that would present a challenge. Anything that could save the game from my first impression which was “How can anyone enjoy this simplistic far too easy sack of boring crap?”

With battles that go for about a half hour (and some are even longer), this game will bore even the most ardent RPG fan who are used to long boss battles. This is because of how slow the game is and how little action there is. It’s just so unrewarding and boring that it’s hard to play the game for a long stretch. The only reason I managed more than an hour or two was because I HAD to play the game. Hell, I got a review copy a few weeks before it came out, but because the game was so insipid and uninspired (AND LONG) it took me this long to beat it.

If someone manages to be drawn to this game and play it for long stretches, I strongly suggest a straight jacket and a suicide watch.

Addictiveness Rating: 4/10

9. Appeal Factor

Do you long for Real Time Strategies where you don’t have to think? A video game that’s plot feels really familiar because you’ve seen it before in multiple locations before it was sewn together like a Frankenstein’s Monster? A game with no AI whatsoever so you are guaranteed to have less challenge here than if you tried to mug a quadraplegic with down syndrome? A game that lasts so long you realize it will kill weeks or months of your free time and still suck in every way possible in the end?.

This is one of those games that has the Beyond Good and Evil factor. Reviewers are giving it high scores for some unfathomable reason, yet most actual GAMERS are giving it low marks and poor scores. Considering this game is selling pretty poorly, it’s a good sign that once again the critics have been dazzled by swag or only played through the first four days (about five-six hours of gaming) and then wrote their reviews (See RPG FAN).

Stay away. FAR AWAY.

Appeal Factor: 3/10

10. Miscellaneous Rating

This is a bad game. Make no bones about it. It’s one of the least original or innovative titles I’ve played in a long time. It’s one of the worst RTS’ I’ve played in many a year. The PSX Magic: The Gathering RTS is better than this (Not to be compared with the equally bad MTG for the Xbox). That’s pretty bad. It’s got good graphics and sound, but there’s no other value. It’s not worth replaying, and there’ no extras unless you went to Nippon Ichi’s preordering where you could get a DVD of old Japanese NI commercials. Even then you paid extra instead of getting it for free like most preorder bonuses. Bad move there as well.

I wish I could have been more positive, but holy hell it’s pretty and sounds good but is crap otherwise. If I wanted a good looking but vapid and easy video game that takes forever to play and where you spend more time watching then you do playing…I’d get Final Fantasy 8 or 10. Yuck.

Miscellaneous Rating: 3/10

The Scores
Story: 3/10
Graphics: 6/10
Sound: 7/10
Control & Gameplay: 3/10
Replayability: 4/10
Balance: 2/10
Originality: 2/10
Addictiveness: 4/10
Appeal Factor: 3/10
Miscellaneous: 3/10
Total Score: 37 /100

Final Score: 3.5 /10 (BAD GAME)

Short Attention Span Summary
The rule of thumb remains intact: If Nippon Ichi developed it, BUY IT. If they just publish it: Run like Hell away. Disappointing through and through with no redeeming value.