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  1. #1

    [PS4/PSV] Grand Kingdom

    Do you remember Grand Knight History? PSP? Vanillaware? Teased for west release but then cancelled? Yeah, that.
    Grand Kingdom is developed by Spike Chunsoft and looks very similar to Vanillaware's own game, from the art style to the general idea. Now, I've never played GKH, skipping the import because, hey, it will be realeased in English!, but the two share the same director and from what I've seen and read of GKH, there a lot of similarities.

    Taking the role of a mercenary leader, your band enters the fray between four kingdoms to which you can swear loyality and even bring the battle online against players working for other kindgoms. The online component seems very strong, and right now I've scratced only the surface, partially due to the incredibly high language barrier.
    These impressions are based on the first two hours I've spent with the game, that could bu summed up to three because I've replayed the opening moments due to some mistakes (like completely overlooking the kana/letters switch when selecting you avatar's and merc company's names).
    You character never gets directly into the fight, he directs a group of four soldiers around a map and then in turn-based battles.
    The map is reminiscent of Ogre Battle: you move your party around trying to get to the goal of the mission at hand. There's a maximum limit of days/hours/turns to get there, with each movement costing one. Special tiles, like traps, can cost more if you choose to approach them cautiosly, and seemingly dead ends can hide treasures or wandering medics to heal your party...for a fee of course. Enemy parties stalk around the same map, and they move as you move; some are visible, some are hidden, some man artillery pieces that can be destroyed (so far no chance of capturing and using them).

    When facing an enemy party, the game switches to a different view, with opposing factions positioned along an horizontal battlefield; battlefields have three lanes (think Guardian Heroes), and can be filled with obstacles (barricades, crates) or traps.
    Characters act based on their speed, and once all have acted a next turn starts; players are encouraged to clear battles as fast as possible, as battle turns still go toward the total number of turns available to reach the final goal. When active, a character has a certain movement range and can perform one action; it's not possible to act and then move. The most basic action is the attack, and each class has its own way to do so: warriors are simple, they reach the enemy and pummel them at close range; archers fire arrows in an arched trajectory, surpassing obstacles and friendly units; mages summon magic from the ground, skipping everything; medics throw potions in a shallow arc; in a comical twist, when someone is hit by a (thrown) healing potion, he/she'll play the "hit" animation, the potion will count toward breaking a guard, and despite all of that, the potion will work as intended.
    Attacks aren't simple menu entries: warriors have a four-hit combo, but the third hit launches the enemy in the air and the fourth attack must be timed to hit the falling soldier; and if that hits, you can perform a Just Cancel and keep the combo going. Archers, mages, and medics can "walk" their attack over a small area because they hit multiple times during a single attack, with each hit bouncing the target around; archers are limited to one target, but mages and medics can actually hit multiple targets with one hit...sometimes unwillingly, as the medic's attack potions explode and might hit targets outside the effective area. This works for your party and enemies, and more often than not enemy medics heal your nearby characters. Bouncing characters also damage anyone on which they land upon, a mechanic that can be used to limit how much a target moves around to have an easier time with close-range attacks.
    And it's fun. Battles haven't been particularly hard, but stringing together an eight-hit combo with a warrior, or hitting a poor enemy soldier in the air with your archer is exilerating. The three lanes also allow for secondary attacks with different properties, like piercing arrows or lightning bolts.

    In between missions you can recruit different soldiers. Warriors, berserkers, mages, medics, alchemists, thieves, lancers, dragon-riding mages...all come with 9 different stats their own sets of skills, that can be customised to a degree. If some classes are overpowered or useless I still don't know, but even between close-range units, the differencies go beyond simple stats: warriors have a longer reach than berserkers, which in turn have simpler and more damaging combos. All point to a well made game, and I hope these first impressions will be vindicated.

    Connecting to my initial statement, Spike Chunsoft paid more than one homage to Vanillaware, going for a fully 2D art style with complex portraits for talking characters, illlustrated cut-ins even during battles, and very fluid animations: even the characters seem to walk like they are from a Vanillaware game. The style is not as detailed though, but I always appreciate when developers go for normal sprites, especially when they look so good and vibrant.


  2. #2
    And the adventures of my mercenary band in the land of...of...Whoknows continue.

    As the game is entirely in Japanese, I've spent some time translating the menus trying to understand what the various entries do. This still leaves out items and their effects, and Grand Kingdom requires to make the best use possible of any resource available, from character skills to movement on the mission map. This is especially true if you go online, where the land of Whoknows is full of parties composed by other players fighting for the faction they've chosen.

    I've had my first taste of this yesterday, when I tried one "versus" map and my primary party was destroyed. In this map the task was to defeat 5 bandit parties before the other player parties; there were three parties, two player parties including mine, and the game controlled the other one: even if it's an online versus map, players don't have direct controls over their parties, they just "activate" them for online and decide the behaviour of the party (how it moves around the mission map) and every single character.
    My and the other guy's party were pretty similar (warrior, medic, mage; I had a berserker, he had an archer), the NPC party was two archers, two thieves, and fortifications.
    While I could manage to beat the other guy's party despite being one level higher than mine, the NPC party was simply deadly. Thieves would lay caltrops around, damaging my units and limiting their movement, archers would merrily target my troops from afar behind their covers, that I had to destroy before getting them; also: thieves can disappear and backstab. Ouch. Even the other party had troubles dealing with such composition, and the computer eventually won the map.
    The onslaught that the NPC party was able to lay down was quite amazing, a sharp contrast between campaign (offline story) missions.
    From this mission I've learned that you have to use your characters' map abilities to gain the upper hand in tactical movement and item usage, and that if you intrude in an ongoing battle you'll have to fight both enemy groups at full health without any kind of advantage. Ouch.

    Campaign missions are generally easier, and allow to experiment with the various classes available. After a couple of missions I assembled a second and third party; I thought that characters available were simple class templates, but instead a random number and quality of mercenaries waltzes in between each mission; each has his/her own price, stats compatibility (from F to...A I think? Never had anyone past C), and bonus points, aside the base class.
    In the second party I have a medic (that are pretty useful in attacking groups of enemies), one particular class of mage (I call her a necromancer because she uses skulls as weapons and her magic has a skull-like special effect), and a witch riding a dragon.
    Setting off with this party for a campaign mission I was worried that they would be trashed: the mission was rather for level 4 parties, they were 1; also, the dragon was worth two characters, so just a party of three instead the usual four. After the first battle I realized two things: first, despite being level 1s, those characters had around the same HPs as my main level 4 party; second, I have a dragon.
    The witch/dragon duo was one-shooting essentially every enemy, and it was glorious. Especially because almost every attack from the other two members was followed by an assist with the dragon smashing enemies into the ground. And the dragon had a lot of HPs and high defense: it's not invincible but it tanked and deal decisive damage in every battle. Unfortunately dragons cost a lot, and thre are so many classes to choose from! Yesterday I had the chance to hire a barrel-bearer (I'm giving classes random names because I don't want to spend too much time with phone in hand and Google-translate everything) but I preferred to spend some hard-earned money on map items and new equipment.

    And again, the language barrier comes into play. Numbers for new items are easy to understand, but map items (aside those with HPxx%) must be first understood because money is tight, making impossible to "just try" something. Weapons also come with gem slots, and I'm not really quite sure how you get them. Currently they aren't sold by the shop and I think it has to do with treasure chests around maps and/or filling a gauge during battles, but I don't really know.

    One thing I can move against the game is its complexity: there are simply too many variables to keep track of, even in simple party-VS-party battles. Some classes only attack targets in front of them, others (like lancers) have a longer reach and they can actually combo into an attack that strikes nearby lanes; almost every class is able to lay down traps, each with different capabilities; you have to plan for powerful attacks, as they require time to wind up; charging characters can be interrupted; close-range fighters have wildly different attack ranges and effects (valkyries push targets very far away at the third strike; berserkers have enough reach for just three strikes before the target bounces off range; warriors can strike past the fourth attack if timed correctly); certain deadly attacks can be survived, and enemy will always hit 100% of the times with all attacks from mages and archers, something that won't be true for you; small black banner-bearer bears (I think) can't fight but can bestow bonuses.
    There is a lot going on, with a tutorial section tucked away in a menu; I like complex games, and Grand Kingdom is one of those and gives plenty of options to fight your way through it, but there are moments when this complexity can be simply overwhelming, and I'm not taking the language barrier in consideration.

    I'm liking Grand Kingdom and I don't think it will succumb to repetition and exploitation, but surely this is paid by a steep learnin curve and high difficulty. I really wish that someone (Atlus?) would announce this for the west.

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