Tactical RPGs are an interesting breed. A combination of carefully plotted player movement considered skill utilization and unique class growth systems. And if the game doesn’t make much of an effort in the way of world-building to draw you in, then the gameplay has to stand on its own. Sometimes, though, games make an effort at both but fall short. This is why when I wrapped up the main part of the single player mode in Grand Kingdom (the 12 Guild campaign missions) I genuinely felt no urge to play any further. Don’t get me wrong, the game can be fun to play and has a great online mechanic, but there are a few blemishes that keep it from being a pristine game.
Title: Grand Kingdom Platforms: Playstation 4, Vita Developer: Spike Chunsoft Publisher: NIS America Price: $59.99
Welcome to the Guild
In Grand Kingdom, you play as Boss. Yes, you do get to input your name like most games, but NPCs will simply call you Boss throughout because you are the fearless leader of a mercenary squad. The game begins in the midst of battle, which houses an annoying amount of tutorial screens. While the tutorials are useful (a lot going on in this game), they mostly just feel like they’re interrupting you way too often. Once you get through the opening tutorial, though, the real game begins as you get invited to join The Guild.
The Guild is basically a hub for mercenary squads to get hired out and complete jobs. Once you’re in and complete the initiation quest, there are quite a few things you can do. You can send your troop on more campaign quests, go exploring in other areas, hire new members for your troops, visit the shop, and of course, sign contracts with warring nations.
That last part is probably the best part of Grand Kingdom because it’s essentially an online mode of the game and allows you to battle with and against other players who have also joined the war. There are four nations to choose from — Landerth, Valkyr, Fiel, and Magion. Other than having different figureheads, there is no reason to choose one over the other as far as I can tell. There aren’t any special perks or abilities for contracting for different nations, but you can tell how many players have contracted for each, so maybe it’s just a popularity game.
Four Nations of Resonail
It’s actually a really cool way to play, though, and I wish more of the game was focused on this online mechanic than the single-player stuff. It reminds me of Helldivers, where everyone was fighting a war and the game tracked the progress. The difference is, instead of everyone fighting together, you’re all at war against each other. The game tracks the war’s progress and lets you hire troop members from other players, who will get that money deposited into their holdings. It’s a really cool way to try out new classes of fighters without spending your money hiring them from The Guild.
So the online stuff is pretty good, but what about those who like a solo experience? The single player stuff is okay for awhile, and is mostly useful for leveling up your main troop (you can have 6) so you can do better in war. You can go on quests that aren’t exactly story related, side-quests that are meant mostly for collecting items and gaining experience, but the meat of the single-player mode is the campaign quests, which follow the exploits of The Guild. This is where you’ll get to know key characters and hear some pretty good voice acting, but unfortunately, this is also where Grand Kingdom starts to fall apart for me.
Cool Story, Bro
Story modes and single-player campaigns should do everything to draw you into the world and help you feel something about the characters. Even games focused on online multiplayer experiences which also feature a single-player campaign do so in order to build the world.
This is something that Grand Kingdom doesn’t do well, and it’s mostly because of the Troop system. Like I said, you hire new fighters at will and place them into your troops. You take those troops out and fight. These fighters come in many different classes, each with unique abilities that can be fun to unlock and learn, but they are very cookie-cutter. There is a basic template for the fighters, and when you hire a new member, you get to change their hair and clothes. You may initially think you’re changing these things for aesthetic purposes, but let’s face it, you just need to tell them apart.
Placing Fighters in Formation
So, four fighters can be put together into a troop, and they can be switched out at any time. This is great for the online mode because there really is no story to worry about there and your troop is just another troop, out there fighting the good fight. Where this goes wrong is by making your troop the mandatory way to fight in the campaign quests. Let me explain. You meet key characters while doing the campaign quests, and they actually have strong personalities and interesting ways that they play into the story. When you meet a villain, and it becomes clear that you are going to fight, you genuinely want to fight that villain. You never actually get to.
No, the game takes the troop system too far, and instead of fighting against the villains that threaten you, the game instead makes you fight some generic villain troop, nearly identical to yours or any other troop. The bad guys/girls are not actually there, just the cookie-cutter fighters that fill the rest of the game. Sometimes, you’ll be in trouble and a powerful Guild member will come to your aid and fight with you. I genuinely thought, “Sweet, I can’t wait to see what kind of skills this character has for me to use.” Well, you’ll never know because when the battle starts, you don’t actually have them on your side, just more generic fighters with the same abilities as you.
For this reason, I just never cared about the characters or their struggles. Maybe if I actually played as them instead of the random fighters anyone can hire from the guild, then maybe I would, but since I saw people talking, and entirely different people fighting, it sort of made the struggle null. I don’t think it’s entirely fair to compare Grand Kingdom to Final Fantasy Tactics, but this is something that Tactics did very well. It blended the combat and the story in a very satisfying way, and I cared about the outcome and what happened to everyone.
This lapse is especially true when you encounter the Uldein, a villainous group trying to rise to power. I actually started to feel sorry for some of the Uldein because it becomes apparent that they aren’t entirely sure what their leader is doing, being manipulated by her through patriotism. Some of these people fight you and die. Then again, you never actually see them die, but instead kill a group of generic Uldein soldiers that are only discernible from those fighters you hire because of their black garb. There is an attempt at a compelling story in the single player campaign of Grand Kingdom, but it ultimately falls flat because of the very way the game is built.
If there is one character that I do like, it’s Weiss. Man, Wiess and the White Wolves are something else. He’s always wanting to fight, even though you are on the same side. And you do get to fight Weiss and his White Wolves a couple times… or at least, you fight a generic troop and are supposed to imagine you’re fighting Weiss. I was pissed. I was psyched to actually fight Weiss and see his moves, but the game lets me down again and made me fight some generic soldiers in just another example of how its attempts at creating a compelling story fall short.
Weiss Coming to your Troop’s Aid
Lots of Content, Though
After you complete the initial 12 Guild quests that make up the beginning of the single-player campaign, you can then play all of the Great Nation campaign quests that were only available through DLC when the game came out in Japan. This does make Grand Kingdom pretty good insofar as content goes, so if you are enjoying the game and don’t feel the same way about the story as I did, then there’s some bang for your buck to be had.
Aside from the 12 Guild quests, there are an additional 36 Great Nation campaign quests in the game, which is a lot. Quests are pretty quick in the beginning, but get longer and longer as the story continues, so I imagine you could spend quite a bit of time in this game. This is all well and good because content is content and if you’re in love with the gameplay, then you’ve got plenty to keep you busy. My problem is that I simply won’t care about each nations’ “motivations and history” when all of the characters will just come and go through cutscenes.
Additional to this release of Grand Kingdom is all of the other DLC that was parsed out in Japan. Most notably, the extra character classes, Valkyrie, Archer, Noble, Paladin, and Dark Knight. I used a Dark Knight in one of my troops for awhile and he was probably my favorite in terms of damage. But really, though, if you’re going to level up one troop well, you want to stick with four main fighters and move through the campaign with them. They’ll be at a decent level pretty soon and you can take them to war and do well enough. That is if you don’t mind a story that is less than engaging.
*Copy of Grand Kingdom was provided by NIS Amercia
Grand Kingdom had me really interested in the beginning (especially with that sweet intro theme), and I enjoyed my first few hours of play. Over time, though, the game started to lose me. The story didn’t hold up and made some interestingly bad choices in the way it handled single-player gameplay. Since I really enjoy offline play at times, that just didn’t sit well with me. I do have to hand it to the game for its great online mechanics, its interesting class system, and its wealth of content, which a lot of games don’t offer.
Content, and lots of it
Battle is fun, even if a bit shallow at times
Great online mode
Single-player falls short
Art can sometimes seem under-developed
Interesting characters, but no way to play as them
Interesting online play and enough content to keep you busy, but falls short in the single-player campaigns.