Review: Grand Kingdom

After NIS's Grand Knights History on PSP failed to make it west, it has been a long wait for something similar. Now Grand Kingdom is finally here to pick up the slack, putting us in the tough leather boots of a bunch of mercenaries who can influence the outcome of kingdom wide battles by sticking those toecaps into the ribs of many enemies.

With the usual nations in peril and at each others' throats backdrop, at its most basic, Grand Kingdom see your party running around a mission map with a range of objectives, collecting, fighting or exploring.

Some "traps" litter the map, like rain, storms, thunder, weak bridges, rocky ledges and so on to slow the party down, and the clock is usually ticking in the form of move limits. When the squad comes across an enemy, we enter turn-based combat mode which is split over three rows to give some depth to proceedings.

With limited turns, each party member can move, attack, defend, cure or use spells or ranged weapons, depending on their class. Defeating the enemies is down to tactics, or in the early going just plain thuggery as you pummel everyone in sight. Soon, the need for tactics becomes apparent, your big sword or hammer wielding types can swing their weapons reining havoc down upon friend and foe. Then, just wait until the dragons or support artillery get started, running away can be a useful option.

Being in the right place at the right time can be vital, and battle maps too can be littered with tricks, traps and obstacles on both sides to make winning trickier. Ranged weapons have an extra component of timed aiming to get right. As you gain experience you can perform party combos

Complete a mission and you get some goodies, with more resources, treasure chests and other extras tucked away in corners of the main map. Find these while completing the main mission, usually find x items, defeat x warriors, protect so and so, and you rank up, gaining new skills. There are lots of customisation options, so the game has plenty of depth, but we're digging with a teaspoon here, not a shovel.
Among the interesting features in Grand Kingdom is some actual encouragement to avoid combat, giving you options to sneak past or delay opponents. That's a refreshing change, however, many things bug me about the game, from major annoyances to peculiarities or quirks. I'd compiled this little lot with just a few hours of play, so I'd imagine there's more to uncover...
  • Loading screens make regular and annoying appearances throughout Grand Kingdom. They're always a few seconds too long, especially between relatively data-light parts of the game, like jumping from one menu to another. 
  • Also, menus are all over the place, with base menus, quests, party, nations, and many more, none are really laid out best for the Vita's screen, thank the PS4 version for that. Most of them bury information several levels deep too. You want a healing potion, that's Quest Menu, Use Supplies, Choose Item, and the menu vanishes so you have to repeat those steps to treat a badly shot-up party. 
  • Fighters fall over, all the time, even mighty high-level oaks, which is ludicrous! 
  • Another dumb feature is Assist Mode where one team member, who was seconds ago useless, turn-limited and can't move, can suddenly leap across the battlefield to deliver a killer blow, that seems to break most of the rules of the game, but since its a benefit, I can grudgingly live with it. 
  • Going from an experienced party back to a new team of level one noobs is a galling experience, which quickly gets boring. Fortunately, you can send them out on assignments to other kingdoms to gain some skills automatically.
  • Lose the last battle and you fail the quest - which is not fair or funny! Especially when better enemies get first shot and can cripple a mis-arranged party. 
  • Finally, it is too easy for a slip of a finger to make one of your party attack the wrong way, beat up an ally, or move the whole team the wrong way on the map. Similarly, you can be making a move with one character and tap the wrong button when the next character comes up, causing chaos or mucking up your plan. 

Having been playing Odin's Sphere at the same time, it is harder to love this game due to its lack of polish and the distinct lack of joy within. Exploring the different cities and creating alliances feels to much like hard work to be fun, even the dash of multiplayer through alliances fails to light the game up. Everything feels a little forced or generic and despite plenty of tactical depth, I'm struggling to love it. 

There's little inherently wrong with Grand Kingdom, it perhaps just came out at the wrong time against some gorgeous competition and feels rather bland in comparison.

Score: 7/10
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Price: £29.99 (PSN)
Developer: NIS
Progress: City breaks!