10 Thoughts On… Grand Kingdom Beta (Sony PlayStation 4)

Since its announcement, there was something about Grand Kingdom that had caught my eye, almost as if there was something familiar about it. It wasn’t until later that I learned it shares a director with Grand Knights History, a Vanillaware title originally slated to be localized in the west by XSEED Games before its eventual cancellation. As a fan of Vanillaware, I was understandably disappointed by having to miss out on one of their games. Could this be the game to fill that void? I was anxious to find out.

After having played the demo, I still don’t have the answer to that question. The concept does show a lot of promise though. Here are my impressions:

1. The world of Grand Kingdom is divided up between four different nations who are constantly at war. However, most of their skirmishes are fought using mercenary groups. As the player, you join one such group and lend your resources to fighting on whichever side best serves your interests.

2. The first thing you’ll notice when diving into the game is how visually striking it is. It may only share a director with Vanillaware, but it maintains that developer’s consistency for beautiful 2D visuals. It’s not nearly as eye popping as say, Dragon’s Crown, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

3. Most all of the major dialogue is fully voiced in English, which is a surprise considering it’s a beta for a niche Japanese game. Further shocking, is that all of the actors did a pretty solid job, which is a bonus.

4. Grand Kingdom blurs the line between a traditional turn-based RPG and a strategy RPG. The tutorial missions task you with getting from point A to point B with the end result usually being a confrontation with a boss. You only have so many turns to get there though and every step you take as well as every confrontation you face will spend those turns. The game is fairly generous on how many turns it allots you to get where you need to go, but it’s clear that the final game is going to rely heavily on time and resource management. In fact, it seems that the game encourages you to avoid confrontation whenever possible, which is refreshing for a game of this genre.

5. Rather than directly controlling your party during missions, you’re actually moving a sort of chess piece across the map as you try to collect treasure and avoid traps on the way to your goal. My immediate thought was that this setup was very reminiscent of Unlimited SaGa, except the execution here didn’t make me want to boycott the company that tried to pass this off on me. In fact, I dare say it works pretty well here.

6. Battles are fought on a battleground with three separate planes to position your characters on. On their turn, party members can be moved anywhere with the analog stick until their movement gauge runs out. Once positioned, the various face buttons can be used to launch a number of attacks based on the character’s class and current setup, each with different ranges and levels of effectiveness. For example, melee classes have to get right up in the enemies’ faces and combo them to death, but archers have to put some distance in between to be effective. Different techniques may also require additional input from the player, such as timed button presses in order to make sure the hits land their mark. Oh, and there’s friendly fire too, so you have to take care not to scorch your own comrades.

7. In between missions, new party members can be recruited and even have customized appearances. There were only a handful of classes available in the demo, but you do get to see a preview of the things you don’t have access to yet, and there seems to be a healthy entourage to scout from.

8. After clearing the tutorial missions, you are introduced to the online component, which seems to be the bread and butter of the beta experience. Players sign contracts with any of the four kingdoms and in turn, wage war against the other kingdoms (and other players). Joining a conflict gives your troop a chance to lay siege to strongholds belonging to other kingdoms to help gain ground for the country you’re contracted to serve. In doing so, you may confront other players’ troops who may or may not be better equipped for the skirmish than you are. Of course, there are also those fighting on the same side as you, and their troops can be recruited to help you out at a cost.

9. This constant connectivity extends into other aspects of the experience. The contents of the shops you find in the towns you visit can be voted on by anyone fighting on your side. The areas in which your chosen kingdom focuses their efforts are decided much the same way. You can even donate resources to your country’s cause so that they have better supplies. Success is a group effort, even down to the locations you conquer.

10. Don’t feel like managing the battle personally? You can send your troop into battle and relay control to the computer A.I. and still reap all of the rewards. Whether you do it yourself or allow the game to do it for you, a leaderboard tracks your performance and you can see how your party measures up to those around the world. The leaderboard even allows skirmishes against the top players to see how you stack up.

It’s very tough to gauge how much lasting appeal Grand Kingdom is going to have. Is it going to be entirely online driven in that the only things to do are to help your country vie for control? Or is there going to be substantial single player content. And how much of an overall narrative will there be? Fortunately the gameplay itself appears to be a lot of fun, so as long as there’s a healthy amount of stuff to do with it, NIS America could have a hit on their hands.

Grand Kingdom releases September 21st for the Sony PlayStation 4 and Vita.


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