Published by NIS America, Grand Kingdom puts you in control of a mercenary troop as you battle for influence and control across a war-ravaged continent. As the captain of an up and coming mercenary band, you earn prestige and fame through your actions. However, you ultimately find yourself caught up in a scheme much larger than yourself or your troop. By commanding 17 different classes across a multi-plane battlefield, you can secure honor and glory for your troop and carve out your own destiny within a tumultuous continent ravaged by war.
As you may be aware…I’m a huge fan of Disgaea. Strategy RPGs and the opportunity for grind-fests is alluring to me. At the same time, I was a big fan of Valkyria Chronicles when it came out as well – the limited movement elements combined with various classes that could play off of one another for maximum efficiency helped to deepen the strategic elements. Grand Kingdom seems to take a little bit of both, splashed with some twists of its own, to create a genuinely entertaining strategy-RPG experience.
Now these first impressions are based on a few hours of gameplay, largely tinkering around with online “wars” and not digging too deep into the main storyline. That being said – the story so far is pretty straightforward. The continent of Resonail has been ravaged by over a century of war. Hardly anyone remembers why they’re fighting in the first place, and in the place of the traditional armies of knights battling for their respective lords, fighting is now largely carried out by rival mercenary groups. In short, loyalty is no longer earned, it’s bought. I’m excited to dive deeper into what the story has to offer, as the voice acting and translation seems to be well done.
Ok so the story’s got some potential, but how does it look? To be frank: awesome. The sprites in Grand Kingdom are lively and bright, and the mini-character customization that it gives you when hiring on new mercenaries is addictive as well. While Disgaea let you pick the different classes and names, and perhaps some color options, Grand Kingdom gives you quite a bit more creative license: from their skin tone to their hair style…even their voice pitch is at your command! If the character sprites weren’t enough to catch your eye, the environments and skill animations are also impressive.
Now, let’s get down to the brass tacks: combat. Similar to Valkyria Chronicles, your troop members all have a limited number of actions they can take, that is dictated by the action bar on the bottom of the screen. Within this bar, players can move on the battlefield along any of the three “fields” (more on that later), and execute various commands. As long as there are action points left, you can perform multiple actions in the same turn. For example, you could run up to an enemy, attack, change fields, run up to a second enemy, attack and then go into a guard position. If you wish to undo your movement, you can press the touch pad to return your selected troop member back to square one, so to speak.
A big part of movement and strategy is the fact that the battlefield is laid out across 3 different fields of movement. You can switch between these 3 fields and move up or down the field along those tracks. Placement is absolutely crucial in Grand Kingdom, as friendly fire is on and unforgiving. As I was getting used to the controls, placements and skill ranges, I hit my allies more times than I could count. On a couple of those occasions I nearly killed my leader in the process. While these fields can be punishing, they can also be very satisfying when you’re able to plan out your turn well and take advantage of the enemy’s poor positioning.
In addition to the three fields on the battlefield, you also have quite a bit of liberty when it comes to setting up your troop. You can set up two modes: invasion and defense. Within the troop placement menu you can set obstacles to protect your more squishy troop-members, or put down beneficial items like healing boxes as an area to fall back to and recover.
In terms of difficulty, I was definitely feeling the heat in the early stages. Once I got the hang of healing and movement it wasn’t that bad, but Grand Kingdom certainly doesn’t allow you to slack off.
Overall, I am really intrigued by this combat and I want to play more, but in my early play I encountered a specific issue that I found pretty frustrating. One of the classes you can control, the medic, uses flasks to attack enemies and heal allies. These special abilities are area of effect (AoE), based on where the glass breaks. While targeting these skills it provides you an arc for the throw and a landing zone and affected area. These are not accurate enough for my tastes. In a game where an extra step or two could make all the difference, there were a couple instances where I threw an acid attack that should have been outside of the range of my allies, and yet they still end up hit. Alternatively, on the stage where they introduce obstacles, the throwing arc of my bottle indicated that it shouldn’t hit the obstacle, but was still stopped in mid-air. These are little things, but were disproportionately frustrating due to the fact that in a strategy game like this one, a wasted turn is your worst enemy.
Also, and this might be another weird little thing, but “X” being the default cancel button is a little strange. Most abilities are executed by pressing the same button twice, which I did on accident a few times. Maybe I’m the only one?
Ok so you’ve got some beautiful sprites, and you know how to put them to work on the battlefield. Now what? Well, besides the main storyline quests, your troop can sign contracts with one of the four major powers (Landerth, Valkyr, Fiel and Magion) to engage in “Wars”. By emerging victorious you can earn favor with the respective faction, earn special currency called “Royals” that can only be earned in wars, and subsequently redeem that currency for faction-specific loot. If you’re familiar with MMOs like World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV, you’re familiar with the concept. Again, since we haven’t had time to dig in too deep I couldn’t tell you one way or another which faction to go with, except the 4 kingdoms seem to favor different types of players. Landerth’s was hard to pinpoint, except that it seems like the favored faction due to its size, while Valkyr is a warrior nation, where your strength and grit are the most respected traits. Fiel a reclusive forest country that would seem to favor archers, and Magion is a hub for mages.
Once you’ve signed a contract for a certain number of wars, you can choose to dispatch your troops and control them personally, or use an additional option called “Detachment” to set them on auto-pilot, controlled by AI, and then report back to you. Detachment is certainly a great option when you have to leave for school/work in 10 minutes but also want to make some progress in your contracted battles, but the lack of control can be challenging. In Metal Gear Solid V, you have a similar structure with soldiers on your base, but battles aren’t nearly so precise. With a game like Grand Kingdom, utilizing AI systems to fight for you can seem contradictory.
So, what’s the verdict? Well, while I had some minor points of annoyance in the gameplay so far, I have to say that I’m very impressed with what I’m seeing. In addition to what I’ve discussed already, Grand Kingdom boasts additional systems that contribute to the depth and replayability, including a robust inventory and upgrade system, a “Class Up” system (similar to transmigration in Disgaea where your character reverts to lvl 1, but with higher base stats), and opportunities for side quests within the various city centers. With vibrant, beautiful sprites, an engaging and challenging battle system and a promising story, Grand Kingdom is sure to be a great addition for any strategy RPG fan.
The official release date for Grand Kingdom is 6/28 for PS4 and PS Vita.
I did get quite a bit of play recorded. You can find it below: