I first got to take Grand Kingdom for a spin at PAX East, where its unique lane-based combat and board game maps intrigued me. Now that NIS America’s upcoming strategy RPG is in open beta, I’ve taken a closer look at all of the game’s mechanics and systems, putting together a much more comprehensive picture of how the full version will play when it launches in June. We at PSLS will naturally hold our full thoughts at bay until we get a review out, but let’s go over some of my impressions of the beta in the meantime.
Wall o’ Text
Given how simple and intuitive the demo I played at PAX was, I was surprised to find myself overwhelmed once I got past the opening tutorial this time around. That’s not because I found myself face-to-face with anything particularly complicated, but because of the way the game barrages you with text left and right, explaining things like equipment and accepting quests that — for anyone who has any experience with playing this sort of RPG before — should be fairly obvious. Perhaps NIS America expects to attract a large audience of more casual players with this game? I can’t be sure, exactly, but needless to say I skipped a lot of this material.
I was happy to see a lot of customization options available in this more fleshed-out demo; since the tutorial demo I played at PAX limited me to a preset party, I had a little bit of fun recruiting members in the beta. As far as changing your characters’ appearance goes, there’s not a whole lot of depth — you can pick one of five faces and one of eight color schemes, as two examples — but the classes all play very differently, and I found myself excited to try the ones I didn’t have access to. Plus, it looks like there will be a ton of equipment, to which you can attach items that reminded me of Materia from the Final Fantasy series. If done correctly in the final version, that could be a really addictive proposition for certain players.
A couple of small details stuck out to me, as well. I was surprised to find that Grand Kingdom offers two control schemes, Technical and Simple, despite being a turn-based game. It reminded me a little bit of the Tales’ franchise’s “Manual/Semi-Auto/Auto” settings, which allow you to change the level of control you have over your character — going completely manual (or, in this case, Technical) gives you complete freedom over the moves you make, but also expects more out of you as a player. Choosing Simple, which is comparable to Semi-Auto, makes things a lot easier at the expense of flexibility. When I tested out these out in combat, I noticed the difference right away while controlling my Fighter. In Simple mode, I merely had to mash the circle button to pull off a combo with my sword, while Technical mode allowed me to string together a custom combo by using three different moves assigned to three buttons. In the former case, missing was not an option — but in the latter, picking the wrong move could prematurely end my combo and my turn.
There’s a smattering of story in the beta, too, but it didn’t leave too much of an impression on me. Since your party consists of customizable mercenaries for hire, it appears that the narrative will focus on NPCs like the goofily-named Flint Poker and Lillia Sforza. It’s a little dissonant to be playing as one set of characters, then following the exploits of another set of characters, but at least NIS America’s trademark sense of humor (best seen in games like Disgaea) is alive and well. I just hope things get a bit more interesting — the initial hours of setting up our army and going on our first quest wasn’t particularly compelling, but I’m sure there’ll be plenty of adventure in the party’s future.
I can’t deny that the character portraits in the story were gorgeous to look at, though, even if their constant in-and-out “breathing” motion was a little creepy. Overall, I have to say that I’m really impressed with the quality and the level of detail in Grand Kingdom’s sprites. Getting a small teaser of the other characters and classes I’ll be putting to use in the full version was a joy thanks to the big, intricate artwork — and thanks to the great animation, watching the turn-based combat play out is pretty entertaining.
Go Deeper Than the Demo
I’m not going to get too critical here — Grand Kingdom isn’t out for another month and a half, and the beta only gave me a small taste of things to come. Still, the game’s lane-based combat, recruitment system and customization options have a lot of potential. They could lead up to a very satisfying experience when June comes — I just hope a bit more depth is revealed than what’s available in this short demo.