I’m in an interesting position when it comes to strategy games: I love them, but I’m absolutely terrible at them. There’s no way around it. I just don’t have the patience for intense strategy, and instead I’ll look for ways to get my war machine in killing form as quickly and efficiently as possible. Who needs to think? We’ve got swords! Surprisingly enough, though, Grand Kingdom has been able to make me sit down and think a bit more…though the swords thing still tends to work just fine.
Grand Kingdom casts you as the leader of a band of mercenaries that you name, design and command. The land of Uldain is in disarray thanks to endless battles between four warring kingdoms. As mercenaries, this state of affairs suits you just fine, allowing you to take advantage of the carnage to get rich or die trying. That’s pretty much as far as the plot goes; there are characters and dialogue that are charming enough, but this isn’t a story-focused epic, rather it’s more of a platform for staging your own mercenary adventures.
You’ll do this by accomplishing missions for the various kingdoms, which plays out a bit like a board game at first. Your mercenary squads and the enemies they fight are represented as chess pieces; each time you move, you tick down a turns counter and your enemies will move as well. Typically you’ll have to clear out all enemies or make it to a certain point on the board before the turn counter ticks down all the way, though in some cases you’ll have to defend a point until the counter expires instead.
Exploring the board is a great time, since there’s plenty to discover. Hidden treasures are strewn about, while hazards block the way, forcing you to go around unless you remove them with skills or items. Your mercenaries have usable skills that can provide all manner of benefits, like removing hazards and healing allies, but these will need to be fueled using points earned from victory in combat. You’ll also need to look out for both friendly and enemy artillery, which will blast away in battle and can play a big role in swinging fights. The real stars of this show, of course, are the enemies, and if you move your piece onto one you’re dragged into combat.
I was more than a little surprised with how battles in Grand Kingdom are resolved. The closest equivalent I could think of would be something like Valkyrie Profile or a 2D Valkyria Chronicles, but even those don’t really encapsulate how this works. You’ve got your squad on one side, theirs on the other, with characters able to shift between three planes. Everyone takes turns blasting away until one side or the other is destroyed; you actively control most attacks, meaning you can time melee characters’ strikes to juggle foes or carefully aim your mages’ and archers’ long-range attacks to strike enemies behind cover. Friendly fire is also fully enabled on both sides, meaning you’ll have to be extra careful with area attacks, on top of making sure that you don’t knock enemies into allies or accidentally heal your foes!
There are plenty of different mercenaries to pack your squads with, and that’s going to have a big effect on how battles play out. Your basic fighter/archer/mage/healer combo is pretty effective, allowing you to strike at a variety of ranges and keep your warriors alive, but there are more esoteric options available as well. Arcanists, for instance, can sacrifice their health to empower allies, while Challengers fight using explosive barrels and can give up their lives in a last-ditch suicide attack. Hiring the best mercenaries and assembling them into effective squads is key to victory. What’s more, there are plenty of customization options so your heroes look just right, plus equipped gear actually shows up in-game – that’s a favorite feature of mine, and any game that does it automatically earns bonus points from me.
You can take on missions both on and offline, though most of my experience with the game has been in the latter mode, largely because the game isn’t available in the wild in North America yet so pickings might be a little slim – the game’s already available for EU players, so they’ll have plenty of folks to play with. Online wars have you representing one of the four kingdoms and battling against others; you can handle this actively, in which case the game plays out as described above though it’s quite a bit harder, or you can passively send mercenary squads to get the job done in the background. You’re not going to hurt for content even if you’d rather not play online, so don’t let that steer you away from giving Grand Kingdom a try.
Grand Kingdom’s defining point, of course, are the gorgeous sprite graphics. The game is available on both PS4 and PS Vita, and having tried both I can say that they’re both gorgeous, with the PS4’s edge largely deriving from the console’s increased screen space. There’s a save transfer feature that allows you to take your mercenaries on the go as well, and that’s greatly appreciated as this is a game that’s well-suited for mobile play but graphically shines on the big screen. Sound and voice acting are also fantastic, with soldiers on both sides shouting little voice clips back and forth as they engage in battle. Really, my sole complaint is that the game can be a little difficult in general, but careful play and practice can make up for this.
I’m surprised that a strategy-deficient player like myself could get as much out of Grand Kingdom as I did, but there you have it. The active aspects to combat certainly help, as does the gentle pace with which the game introduces you to its many strategic elements. I can only imagine that a diehard strategy aficionado would enjoy it even more, so with that in mind you ought to give this one a shot. Oh, and if you’re looking for a kingdom to sign up with, I’ll go ahead and also suggest Magion. Trust me, we’re awesome.