For as long as kings and queens have reigned, there have been those who defend them. Valiant warriors who defend the realm from invaders, armies and demons (depending on the kind of realm) in order to keep the peace. However, there is another type of warrior who thrives in this same kind of environment, a less valourous type who places their loyalty within whomever possesses the most coin. I speak of mercenaries and, in a world wherein mercenaries now run rampant, they are integral to the foundation of peace, war and all that resides in between. A tenuous balance to be sure, but it sure is amazing what a splash of colour and stylised characters can do.
Journey, if you will, to the land of Resonail, a grand kingdom (*wink wink*) that is home to four great nations; Landerth, Valkyr, Fiel and Magion. Born from the tumult of war, these kingdoms rose from the ashes of the Uldein Empire, a force which once claimed dominion over the entire continent. Having existed in a state of combat since their individual inceptions, a certain toll was taken on the forces who defended them and the task of war came to be shared with a less…allied force. Thus was born The Guild, a neutral territory respected by all four kingdoms wherein mercenaries are free to accept contracts and forge their own path in a world of chaos. And there you go, the history of the world, the foundation upon which this game stands and something you’ll pretty much be briefed on during the traditional JRPG information dump which makes up much of your time early in your playthrough. Despite this however, I decided to lay this out once more to prove a point, namely that this game presents oodles of plot and premises that sound cool on paper, but are ultimately one of the weakest points of this game. Now, before anyone makes a snap negative judgement, hear me out. The story is in no way bad, nor is it poorly constructed, it is just the least magnetic portion of this game. You are a mercenary, venturing wherever your pocketbook leads, allying yourself with whoever is willing to fill your pockets, that alone should be interesting…but it really isn’t. I mean, it is, but it isn’t…which sounds kinda dumb I admit. What it boils down to (which is something I probably should’ve led with) is that this world lacks the heart that bring about a sum greater than its parts. The most egregious offender in this regard is the segregation of character and gameplay that plagues this game.
Allow me to introduce Flint, your right hand man and all around voice of pragmatism. He also just so happens to be the first face we see…because we don’t have one. You see, the player character (you), is you. As in a bodiless force that possesses no dialogue and causes actual characters to stare directly at the screen in a manner that is only slightly very unnerving. As this is the case, Flint also spends much of his time explaining things to us and then explaining our response to others…because we can’t. But fine, whatever, it’s been done before, at least we have Flint as an avatar, ready to fight in our stead as we eerily control him from a dimension that lies beyond his own. Except, we don’t. We don’t because Flint is not a playable character, in fact, no character is. Instead, we find ourselves with a roster of seventeen classes and the ability to edit their appearances (based on a select list of modifiers) whenever we so please. Whilst this is certainly a nice feature, it leaves us with an entire cast that only exists in cutscenes and another cast that only exists on the battlefield and I’ll give you three guesses as to which receives any form of personality. Hint: It isn’t your playable squad. No, they remain a fairly similar looking cast of scoundrels who fight when you say fight and wear whatever armour you tell them to. That’s it. Meanwhile, Flint runs around claiming to fight under your command, only to mysteriously never appear on the battlefield. Why? I just don’t quite understand. Why not include the option to use characters as troops? Why delegate them to a world we cannot control and leave us with a playable cast meaningless to us unless we assign value to them ourselves, like if we really like that soldier’s voice pitch. It simply cuts the game in two and places a gap between said halves, immediately reducing any kind of interest in the story. By robbing us of a body, a voice and an avatar, Grand Kindgom feels as if it is pushing us into a corner while it does the work. Sure we hit the buttons and take down the bad guys, but Flint claims credit and Lillia (your advisor) chastises you for his attitude. Simply put, it feels as if one single team consists of three opposing forces whom we are told work in unison, lacking any sense of player input. Now, if this had been a game wherein we controlled the entirety of Resonail’s mercenary forces, dispatching them across the continent, I could understand this approach, but it isn’t. Rather, we are meant to believe that we are the leader of a small band of independents who have finally gained the guild’s favour. But I don’t feel as such and nothing the game did made me change my mind.
Well now, that was certainly grim wasn’t it? All that talk of missed opportunities and a complete dissonance between story and gameplay. but why don’t we lighten the mood a little and discuss the strength of this game; the gameplay. When separated from the story and analysed on its own merits, the gameplay of Grand Kingdom is a legitimately fun and interesting experience. Presented in a 2D format, combat occurs via a three lane system, with both enemies and your troops spread between them. There is a degree of preparatory strategy in this aspect, in that you are able to decide where your characters stand, though ultimately this will mean that melee troops stand in front with long rangers and medics setting up further back. Naturally, you are limited to four characters whilst enemy forces possess no such limitation and can often swarm you with numbers if you do not choose your strikes wisely. In this regard, the traditional turn based combat is kept lively by a need for constant input. The main example of this is the Archer, whose basic strike brings up a sliding target within a specified area, requiring input for when to fire. More specifically, when the target is over the enemy, hit the button, hit it as many times as your character’s stamina will allow. Melee characters are a touch simpler, given their lack of range, with technique falling under which moves you choose to place in their attack queue. Once again however, the amount of attacks that can be utilised depends on a character’s stamina, a stat decided in much the same way as Attack and Defence. When a character moves through the three battle lanes (you are able to change lanes during any movement by the way), their Movement Gauge lowers. When a character attacks, their Action Gauge lowers. Simple as that. However, any excess Movement Gauge also funnels into the Action Gauge, meaning that concise movements lead to more attacks, which can be pretty important during tougher fights. Almost as important as knowing that taking out any enemy leader demoralises, and debuffs the opponent, so go after those leaders first people. Though it’ll probably become second nature before too long.
Outside of battle, quests occur on a gameboard-like setting, wherein your troop is reduced to a game piece, bouncing around from one peg to the next. Bouncing much the same are enemy pieces and simultaneously occupying a peg together causes the aforementioned pieces to fight for real estate i.e. initiate combat. Should you not wish to initiate combat, perhaps to save health for a bigger foe, enemy movement patterns tend to be pretty predictable, often following a predetermined path. Of course, taking lengths to avoid an enemy eats up movements and story based quests provide you with a limited amount before it’s automatic game over. It should also be noted that each turn of combat also counts as a movement on the gameboard, so taking a steady approach in battle may come back to bite you. Losing will have a similar effect as, unless specified a “No Death Allowed” mission, your team will revive after defeat at the cost of several turns. So…don’t lose. Or do, but don’t mess around.
For those of you who desire connection, Grand Kingdom also includes an online kinda co-operative mode; War. As the name suggests, war were (consistently) declaredand therefore you must choose one of the four kingdoms of Resonail to fight for. Percentages are public knowledge, so it is easy to determine which side possess the most player support which is absolutely Landerth and it is absolutely because its leader is a strong and beautiful woman. Not many people supporting Magion’s smug looking wizard when he has that to compete with. Personal, and physical preference aside, the choice is not entirely crucial as gameplay is the same regardless. Gameboard as usual, you move around the battlefield with the intention of besting the enemy, destroying their fortresses (through battle) and pressing your forces forward (also through battle). The main difference from the singleplayer experience comes from the ability to vote, providing your forces with additional stat buffs, extra challenges and bonus defences. So choose wisely, spend your money wisely and seize victory for your kingdom of choice (probably Landerth)…then get ready to do it all again. War…war never ends. Oh, one slight umbrage I take with this mode is the self proclaimed Dispatch system. Simple in premise, the system allows you to send your backup characters (should you possess any and have placed them into teams) into battle to level up in the background. Awesome. Unfortunately, their performance is dictated by their level and skill, meaning that in order for this system to have any merit, you must put time into these characters beforehand. Combined with the singleplayers increasing difficulty (which is to be expected of any game), it feels like a waste to do anything but stick with whatever four troops you purchased at the beginning of the game. Unless, of course, you wish to enact that one, unshakable process of RPG life; grinding. IF you do wish to do so, then by all means, go for your life, there’s plenty of opportunities to do so.
Grand Kingdom is a mixed bag. On its own, the gameplay is an interesting experience that reduces some of the minutia that can come from turn based games. For this, I commend the game. The mechanics work well and it is rewarding to acquire new abilities and improve your troops stats upon leveling up. The inclusion of a quest type that declines to introduce a turn limit is also rather cathartic, allowing for a calm arena in which to level grind and build up a surplus of resources and currency. That being said, those expecting a compelling JRPG tale of war, chaos and wealth will be quite disappointed. Though the elements are all there, the complete disconnect between story and gameplay negates any meaningful connection to the story and the characters within. All the aspects of this game simply combined in a manner which leaves the player character feeling inconsequential to the progression of the plot. There’s only so long you can see a character proclaiming a long standing rivalry and then never appearing as an in-battle character model before completely checking out. I’m looking at you Weiss, stop sending faceless knights at me…you jerk. I want to see the look on your face when you lose, not have it explained to me in the half of the game where I lack control. Because at that point I’d be better off watching a series, not playing a game. But, since this is a game, I can only voice my criticisms and stare directly into Flint’s eyes as he stares right back and explains how we’ve always been friends and fellow mercenaries. It’s kind of scary. I…I don’t think he blinks…
For all your mercenary needs, contact NISA Resonail…I mean The Guild