Nippon Ichi Software is known for immense RPG experiences such as the Disgaea and Phantom Brave games. With Grand Kingdom, publisher NIS America and developer Spike Chunsoft introduce a new world and blend elements from multiple genres into a new tactical RPG adventure. While simple at first glance, Grand Kingdom offers depth far beyond its initial premise, showcasing multiple classes, powerful spells and attacks, and plenty of mission types for you to sink your teeth into. Despite this, however, Grand Kingdom falls short of becoming a truly great NIS RPG.
In Grand Kingdom, you find yourself at the helm of a brand new mercenary company, working for “The Guild,” a neutral state which assigns quests to mercenary bands given to them from each of the four warring kingdoms in the world. In the Multiplayer online mode, you pick a nation to side with and compete with other players to find ultimate supremacy for your nation. The single player mode, on the other hand, follows your mercenary band as they uncover a conflict that extends beyond the war, one that might very well destroy the realm, and becoming drawn into a global conflict that becomes threatens everyone.
Your mercenary band is entirely unique, as you can choose what classes and characters you have in the band, hiring characters from 17 unique classes to join you on your adventures. These classes range from the stereotypical Fighter and Archer to new classes such as the Valkyrie, Dark Knight, Arcanist, and Gunner.
Gameplay is somewhat complex; each mission is set up on a board, with a certain objective attached to it. It might be that you have to reach a certain area within a certain number of turns, or even that you have to kill all enemies or survive for a certain turn limit. Each movement on the board takes one “Action” which factors into the Action limit. If you complete the objective within the action limit, you succeed in the mission; if not, you fail it.
On the board are “Symbol enemy” chess pieces that show combat encounters. When you and your party run into one of these things, you initiate a battle which plays out on a 2D battlefield. Rather than being tile based, this combat takes mechanics from things such as Valkyria Chronicles, X-Com, and the Tales series. There are 4 varieties of characters across the 17 classes. Melee classes must get up close and personal, attacking with combos while initiating their defensive guard once their turn ends. Ranged classes have to stay back, and have a certain range they must be from the enemy in order to initiate attacks.
Magical classes are similar to ranged classes, and yet have powerful spells that must be charged over a certain number of turns, leaving them vulnerable while casting. Specialist classes (the final subset) offer capabilities such as healing that are not attached to any other variety of class. The medic, for example, can throw acid at enemies, healing potions at allies, and place down a medical bag which injured characters can walk across to heal. Beware of the placement of the bag, however, as enemies can utilize these things as well.
Where the combat becomes even MORE complex is in the fact that ranged, magical, and specialist characters (in particular) often have a Quicktime event of sorts in order to maximize effectiveness of their attacks (akin to attacks in the Paper Mario franchise). This can be somewhat frustrating as they do not give much guidance on how to make the most of these QTE attacks, and give a vague instruction on them before turning you loose with the characters to do as you like with them.
Additionally, there are objects and obstacles that can be placed on the field, such as arrow shields to deflect archer attacks, barrels that get in your way, healing boxes that can heal friend and foe alike, or towers to give ranged classes extra range on the field.
Each character can equip up to six skills, customizing their capabilities and giving you control over how they play. Friendly fire is enabled, however, so you will need to be cautious of the range of your attacks so that you do not hit a friendly target by accident. Attacks can also miss if your range is not correct; even melee units can attack, knock an enemy out of range, and miss the rest of a combo if you are not careful.
In addition to Symbol enemies, there are stronger variants that are signified by a red chess piece, and invisible enemies on the map that show a dust cloud of their location once every three turns. You can use an item to make them show themselves temporarily, or take your chances with them.
Each character in your party has a limited number of uses for their specialized skills, so attacks like the Hunter’s “long snipe,’ which are easier to perform, can only be utilized a certain number of times per level, adding a layer of strategy where you have to keep an eye on your characters’ usage of attacks.
Battles can also contain multiple rounds back-to-back, requiring you to be careful in how you approach them so that your characters do not fall in battle before the final round is complete. As you progress, you may encounter War Armaments such as cannons, which can greatly damage anyone caught in their “warning zone.” Placing your characters carefully and making sure they don’t get knocked into the warning zone is vital to success.
Outside of battle, the map also holds secrets such as treasure chests, which can be acquired by stepping over them. The visuals of the map can either be more grid-based (in the way of standard tactical RPGs) or what they call “Path-based,” which shows pathways that can be taken along with a more streamlined view. I found myself using the path-based map more often because of how easy to read it was, but fans of classical tactical RPGs might prefer the grid-based map.
Additionally, each class/character has its own “Field Skill,” which takes up TP (which accumulates over the course of combat) and that can be used on the main map. Each Field Skill does something different: buffing allies, warping players to certain things on the map, healing, or even providing extra EXP at the end of a battle. These skills are valuable if you are in a jam and need an extra boost, or need a way to avoid a battle entirely.
Outside of the battle board, you can return to the Guild to hire party members, buy items, train units, and participate in Wars. Hiring units not only allows you to add new party members, but also enables you to customize their looks with presets and add bonuses to their stats (to a small degree). You can also go to the other kingdoms to take advantage of the blacksmith there to upgrade weapons and other gear.
The shop allows you to buy weapons, armor, and skills for your classes to learn; you can also buy items, but they are strictly for the multiplayer aspect of the game, as single player field items are provided for you free of charge. Each unit you have in your party (or rather, in your 4 character troop) can equip a main weapon and two accessories. These weapons usually have multiple slots to equip Pyroxene, which adds extra effects to your weapons and armor.
The Guild Capital also allows you to train your units using resources mined on the map during quests and allows you to open the party menu. The party menu is where you can outfit your troop members, set formations, set pyroxene in your weapons, set up skills and combos, as well as checking on the status of your party. You can even utilize the options menu here (though it is sorely limited to audio volume, text speeds, and a few other minor tweaks).
There is so much more to Grand Kingdom, but I would rather not spoil it by going into further detail, so let’s talk about what Grand Kingdom does correctly. Grand Kingdom has a variety of customization options for characters and parties, deep combat, and tons of quests and side quests to enjoy. While the campaign missions take an hour or so each, the side quests added in will extend your play time well beyond 50 hours of gameplay, possibly even past 100 hours depending on how deep you dive into leveling characters and doing all the quests you can do. This isn’t even factoring in the possibilities for the Multiplayer wars (though I was unable to participate in those due to the game being a review copy pre-release).
I’ve played a lot of RPG’s over the years, tactical and otherwise…and I have honestly never seen a game that has blended genres quite like Grand Kingdom. With elements from franchises like X-Com, Valkyria Chronicles, the Tales Series, and even mechanics polished from Nippon Ichi Software’s own Disgaea series.
With that being said, there is a serious flaw in the game that keeps it from being a truly great NIS America RPG: The campaign is very hollow. The characters aren’t interesting, the banter isn’t witty, and the storyline is BARELY there at all. While I loved the combat, I found that the game was not keeping my interest because there was no real urgency, no reason for me to immerse myself in the game, and very little reason for me to build more than four characters.
The reason for that last point is that, when you hire a character, they begin at level one. This means that if you get too deep in the storyline, and you find yourself wanting to try a new class, you have to grind that character up from level one. The missions (regardless of objective) are relatively repetitive anyway, so spending extra time to grind new characters winds up becoming more tedious than interesting.
While the voice acting for Grand Kingdom is pretty good, the characters are not interesting at all, with one-dimensional dialogue that fails to sell the tropes the characters are trying to fit into. Flint (your second in command) is meant to be a goofy sidekick that loves to get drunk and slack off; yet I found myself seeing him more as an annoyance than light-hearted comic relief. I think that, if you could recruit actual NPCs into your party, it might be more entertaining, but Grand Kingdom is just missing that spark that makes you really want to spend hours and hours in an NIS title.
The humor most NIS RPG’s are known for is missing, instead replaced by tired stereotypical tropes and jokes that never quite hit their mark. While NIS fans might enjoy Grand Kingdom’s gameplay, there are parts that leave much to be desired.
It is almost as though Grand Kingdom trades an epic story (that it could have) for an overarching war that you never really see and which is there only to promote the multiplayer elements that Grand Kingdom offers. You don’t see the sick and starving being trampled on by soldiers, or refugees trying to flee their homes to the safety of cities in the neutral Guild zone. Not only that, but The Guild is meant to be a neutral state, yet they side with EVERYONE equally, doing a job for one nation only to turn around and do one for their entirely opposite faction.
As far as gameplay goes, I found the inability to turn off friendly fire somewhat frustrating, as there are certain attacks that shouldn’t land or affect a friendly ally but that do anyway, and can cause a well-planned assault to fall apart from a single mis-click. The inability to adjust difficulty settings is frustrating as well, though it is less of an annoyance than an inconvenience, and players used to difficult RPGs like Fire Emblem may not be bothered by it at all.
To close this review, I can say that if you like NIS RPGs such as Disgaea, Grand Kingdom is worth your time…but it isn’t a game that will keep your attention long, and may very well disappear into obscurity after its final release. With deep combat and character customization, fans may feel right at home in Grand Kingdom’s battlefields, but the world of Grand Kingdom leaves much to be desired, and seems more fitting of a mobile game than an actual fantasy epic.
A PS4 review code for Grand Kingdom was provided by NIS America for the purpose of this review