Grand Kingdom is one of those niche titles that pop out of Japan every now and then. They tend to be a gamble between pure brilliant and complete trash. Grand Kingdom is a tough one because it definitely has its highlight but is held back by a lot of issues.
I have to mention the beta of Grand Kingdom before I delve into the main review and, while I didn’t play it, it throws up a little red flag in my eyes. Firstly Grand Kingdom was released in Japan in November of 2015. Meaning the game was already finished before we had access to the beta. This means to me either there was something seriously broken in the game that they needed to fix, probably online features, or it was just a glorified demo. Either way, it definitely made me wonder why it existed, unfortunately, I never got round to playing it so I can’t really comment on how it compares to the full game.
The game itself features a largely generic story of a mercenary group that joins a large guild and takes on various missions and quests throughout the game. While there is a story of sorts, the game is largely in your hands as to what kingdoms you wish to align yourself with and which quests you undertake. Online features see you taking on other players aligned with other nations in a war over territory. The premise is very interesting and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in, however, the game likes to throw up a few curveballs before you can really get going, such as regularly overloading you with lots of jargon-filled walls of text, an attempt at helpful tutorials no doubt, but they only serve to confuse and get in the way. Unfortunately, all these walls of text give the appearance of endless features but really offer little to remedy the repetitive gameplay.
There’s a noticeable lag in areas, such as at the end of a battle and when navigating the menu back at base the background animations are prone to judder – a lot. This appears to be the case for all menu options at the base. While it doesn’t affect the performance of the game when selecting options it is extremely distracting and off-putting. Hopefully, this was not an intentional design choice as it would be a very poor one. Speaking of menus, there are lots throughout the game, I feel like I spent more time switching between one menu to another as I explored various kingdoms and while out on the battlefield. None of which made the process rather appealing, I was really expecting a nice simple and light menu system to compliment a unique and enjoyable battle system but unfortunately, I did not get that.
The battle system is clearly the highlight of Grand Kingdom. Its unique three-lane turn-based strategy system is full of depth and very satisfying. With the huge selection of classes to choose from and how you’re able to freely build characters as you wish gives you a great deal of strategy when it comes to battles. Allowing you to have multiple troops on hand that you can switch between depending on the situation is a brilliant move and allows you to create specific strategies with each one. I’m not normally a fan of creating your own characters in these types of games but here I felt it was implemented really well.
Field maps can be rather large depending on which campaign or quest you undertake and the winning requirements can be quite linear in most cases. Giving you only a set amount of movement points, or steps, you have to carefully plan out your route or face failing the quest. Most quests just require you to make it to a specific point while only giving you just the right amount of steps to make it there. While the map feature is very interesting it doesn’t really allow you chances to pick up the many treasure chests or mineable materials scattered about. This also extends to grinding battles for EXP unless you deviate from the quest on purpose. While it’s still enjoyable I would have liked a little more openness to this feature, I don’t mind having to restart a mission if the puzzle or strategy is good but here it’s as simple as getting to the specified point in as little steps as possible.
Visually the game is very attractive, one of the main reasons I was drawn to the game. The visual novel-esque dialogue scenes feature some gorgeous looking artwork and the background artwork for the four kingdoms look fantastic. The highlight again is in the battles as the character sprites used look great and when you have created these characters yourself you can’t help but love it when they take down your enemies. The soundtrack is mostly good throughout the game however the English audio track did start to get on my nerves rather quickly; thankfully, you can switch to Japanese at any time.
Grand Kingdom boasts some gorgeous artwork and a very unique battle system but somewhere along the lines, it decided to overcomplicates itself. The first couple of hours of the game can seem like an eternity when you have to read through essays on each feature within the game. First appearances can be deceiving and what feels like a lot of content quickly turns into a linear and repetitive system. That said the game has a really unique and enjoyable battle system that alone makes for a fun time. Once you’ve navigated through all the text dumps the game does become more enjoyable but also repetitive. If you’re interested in the strategy element to the battle system then it’s worth checking out but I don’t think the game will have any long term appeal.