The Resonail continent, a land that was once home to the prosperous Uldein Empire is now a scarred battleground where four Great Nations wage an all-out war for control. The war has waged for some time now and the loyalty of knights is a dwindling factor, so to win these waring states now have to rely on the services of elite mercenary teams out to make a quick buck. This is the setting of Grand Kingdom, a new tactical RPG making its way to PS4 and PS Vita next month, and to get us hyped up an open Beta has been made available to start gamers off.
After accepting a mission you’re dropped straight onto a grid map as a simple chess piece. Mission objectives basically require you to travel to some set location within a limited number of moves while making your way past enemies and side objectives. Exploring can net players secret routes, gold, and loot, hidden surprisingly in an environment you have a clear view over. Of course there are also plenty of enemies roaming the board too, each moving in sync with your Pawn piece. They too are displayed as coloured chess pieces, blue are standard, red are battle hardened and then there are invisible forces that can only be seen by use of a special skill. There is the idea of rooting though every nook and cranny and engaging in every battle for EXP, but the move counter always plays on your mind too urging you not to dawdle. Should you explore that obvious dead end for possible loot or push on ahead. Do you risk taking on the difficult EXP and move heavy enemy encounters, or teleport around them and accept a match or two later where you could be under levelled.
For the first mission scenario you’re given a pre-built team so that you can get to grips with the basics, but after that you’ll need to create your own elite unit from scratch. This is where you’re introduced to the place you’ll call your home. It’s from here you can check on your team, assign training duties, manage your contracts or spend money at the shop. First stop though is the recruitment line. Grand Kingdom has a total of 17 different classes that you can recruit each with their own particularly unique skillsets. However as it stands in the Lite version you’re limited to just 4, Warrior, Hunter, Witch and Medic. They’re your typical JRPG setup, Warriors are built for close range combat, Hunters can rain down a flurry of arrows from afar, Witches can knock enemies flying with devastating magical abilities and Medics are there to help when you feel poorly. Selecting a unit brings up a simple character customisation menu where you can alter their colour palettes, hair style and assign them skill points. It’s a basic setup but fun to add your own personal touches to your team.
Combat takes the form of a turn based RPG. Characters take it in turns to initiate a plan, the order of which is handily displayed at the bottom of the screen. During phases movement and action points both come in limited quantities. Battlefields are separated into three tracks for you to move along which is actually deeper then it originally appears. Positioning you characters becomes an important factor like manoeuvring units behind enemies to break their guard, pushing back enemy advancements or taking advantage of stage blockades, and traps. The main plan might be to try and take out the leader as doing so will hinder enemy movement, but as the game stands leaders are likely to fall into the Warrior class who are the toughest of the four current classes sporting a nifty auto-guard ability. Another point you really need to keep in mind is that you don’t just hurt enemies. Say for example your Warrior has charged in for an attack and is sat surrounded by enemies, you could pick them off with the others unique abilities but miss aim an attack and it could be your Warrior taking a jolt of lightning or a dose of poison instead.
The main appeal of this game though is its online functionality. After striking a deal with one of the 4 Nations you head online to fight for said country against players who’ve signed alternative contracts. The fights found here are the most taxing as you’re pitted against a real opponent who has all of the tactical advantages you do. Battles though can only be fought up to three times per day. At the moment it’s a little unclear whether this is just for the purposes of the beta or whether it will be opened up for the full release. Hopefully it will be the latter as being pulled out of a war when you’re on a hot streak is frustrating.
In terms of the story there isn’t a great deal to get excited about at present. It’s a very typical JRPG story, take an average character and thrown him into a new environment with characters displaying the general personality tropes we’d expect of these games. However there are only two story missions in the Lite build so hopefully we’ll see it develop more in time. As for presentation, Grand Kingdom utilises a beautiful anime artstyle. It shares a similar art direction with Vanillaware’s PSP title Grand Knights History and this is because it’s directed by the same man Tomohiko Deguchi. Cheery guild assistant Lillia, hot-headed second in command Flint and the illustrious Kings and Queens of the land’s character portraits are all well designed and lovingly detailed. Meanwhile on the battlefield units are brought to life with bright wonderfully animated sprites. Backdrops are equally well finished, bright and nicely detailed they’re fun to look at while not distracting from the main action focus.
As it stands Grand Kingdom has the potential to be a pleasant RPG experience. There are a couple of little faults at present but hopefully we’ll see some improvements on these before and after the final release. The quirky anime visuals are beautifully presented, there’s a surprisingly good amount of depth to the combat and the online-play could be a very interesting touch. If you like the look of the Lite demo version then look out for the full release here in Europe next month. If you’re still on the fence about it then we’ll try to bring you a full review once the game comes out.
This preview is based off an early access code of Grand Kingdoms provided by NIS America.