Grand Kingdom is one of those games that I really want to like, from a developer that I really respect, and doesn’t even come off as terrible, per se, but rather that this game just reeks of mediocrity in the worst way. Given, yes, I know that I was not playing a complete copy of the game but this… it’s not unplayable. I know of people who will like it. I know that it’s just not for me, it’s not worth what’s being asked for it, and it’s just a shame that it’s even being sold the way it is.
In spite of that kind of dreary opening paragraph, there are quite a few good things about the game: as a game for portable platforms such as the PlayStation VITA and for – if it were ever released for this platform – cell phones, it would certainly feel right at home and it would feel even more comfortable at the usual price tags that are common with those kinds of games. The game is straightforward and only spends as much time as you want to in learning how the game works: it offers to teach you but I doubt you’ll need it, really.
Every stage in the game plays out much like a more in-depth version of the mobile platform game Blood Brothers in that each stage’s progression takes place on a kind of board game approach while combat takes place in a different way. Combat takes place on a small battlefield slightly reminiscent of the Tales of franchise of games but with a more tactical and turn-based approach. Members of both parties move alongside a long-ways grid and take turns beating the pulp out of one another with various skills and abilities. In an effort to require a level of skill to get the most out of combat, most abilities and skills require some kind of timing-based mechanic where you may miss your attack entirely or suffer missing out on a large damage bonus. Lather, rinse, and repeat until one side wins; then it’s back to the game board to move your party piece along the board, uncovering more enemies, treasures, or plot points. While the combat isn’t very compelling, it’s kind of a refreshing type of straightforward and conciseness that you don’t get from a lot of titles, these days: either the gameplay is trying too hard to be innovative or different or it isn’t trying nearly hard enough, piggybacking on other concepts.
This game really hits a lot of sore spots for me but I’ll leave it at a few talking points because I really could go on for a long time about this one: this game does not belong on non-portable markets. The fact that this game, which is clearly something that should be priced and marketed for the mobile market, is brought to the full line of popular home-based consoles is ridiculous. The price points for the game are insane. I’d be hard pressed to pay thirty dollars for this game, much less blow the fifty dollars they want for the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which looks to be literally unchanged from the PlayStation VITA version, which is priced at forty dollars, only ten dollars cheaper. It doesn’t end there, either, as they’re pushing a Launch Day Edition, a Limited Edition, and a “Grand” Edition, as well, all in relatively upwards scaling prices, which include a bunch of physical and digital stuff related to the game. I’m not complaining that these things exist for a mediocre game that hasn’t gotten more than a “meh” in reaction from me yet but I’m complaining that they’re so insanely priced for a game that doesn’t seem to have the reputation, demand, or dedicated fan base, that I’m aware of, to justify all of this. It just seems like Nippon Ichi and Sony seem to really have a hand in trying to create interest for this game and its greatest crime is that they’re trying to build more interest and hype than they are into polishing the game. It still doesn’t stop there, though – even though they have been pushing all of this like crazy, they still aren’t satisfied in stopping there in robbing you. No, right after the first tutorial mission and then your first serious mission, you’re presented with the blatant option to start purchasing your life away on in-game swag.
While there are moments in its art and musical direction that prove that Nippon Ichi knows how to really do things well, the rest of the game also reeks that it knows its main demographic: Japanophiles that have way too much money on their hands and video games and anime are their drug of choice. I also see references and methodology from other Nippon Ichi games that did well, such as Disgaea and La Pucelle Tactics where it was clear there was a niche among its fans that were dedicated but bored easily, sometimes. Perhaps the reason I feel the way I do about this game is because I’ve seen a million like it before, done better, done cheaper, done without placating to the obvious demographics, done without smashing the piggy bank and done without making a player like me feel like they had to review something like this without appearing to have a bias. Grand Kingdom is tired. I’ve been here before and it’s been done much better than this. Nippon Ichi has the resources and the ability to do much, much better than this.
It’s hard to criticize this game: there’s nothing this game does poorly. It’s just that this game could have been so much more and it should have been much more. There is literally no reason this game couldn’t have been on the PlayStation 2; coming from me, that’s saying a lot: this game is ridiculously dated in the way that it feels like Nippon Ichi traded in keeping up with trends and making games that the current gaming audience finds awesome for sticking with its niche audience that hasn’t changed in about ten years. All of the characters’ art styles all look dated, the animation is choppy and feels more proper on a low-budget cell phone game; the music, while competently done, could have been a lot less repetitive and varied; the story progression is god-awful, the voice acting is dialed in, the personalities and motives of the characters are just atrocious, everything feels like a mid-80s low-budget anime; you’re bogged down in menus with no real idea of where to go or what to do aside from go back into combat and smack things around for a half an hour… this game just feels like so many other games that I could go back and play, enjoy more, and spend less on.
I think I’d feel a little less miffed about this if it didn’t feel like Nippon Ichi is falling into a stagnating rut. Stuff like Disgaea was awesome when it came out but even that franchise grew tired with time and felt like more of the same and it seems like a lot of the stuff they’re localizing and making are just that: pandering to the die-hards that just simply don’t know better. I mean, hell, if it makes them happy, so be it, but I like to be challenged a little and this game is about as same-y as it gets and I’ll be damned if I’m spending fifty dollars on this. People practically staged riots because Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes was thirty dollars and felt like a “demo” but nobody seems to care about this? Hey, whatever. I get the feeling that the game probably really opens up and becomes interesting late in the game but I have nothing to confirm that as the game isn’t out yet and with the time this game likely requires just to get day to day stuff done, I don’t think I could make that kind of commitment to a bland experience just to get to the good parts.
Pros: Very stable experience. If you like cell phone RPGs, stuff like Disgaea, or generally anything that Nippon Ichi releases, you’ll be pleased with this game, as well.
Cons: This is just like everything else Nippon Ichi has released in nearly 20 years. This game could easily be ported to something like the PlayStation 2 and its pricing does nothing to reflect that. This should only be a portable game.
Summary: This preview’s gonna score eyerolls from fans and critics alike. I honestly didn’t know what I was getting into with this one when I signed up for the beta and it shows when I finally put a lot of time into it. It is solid at its core but there are many games better as well as many games worse. It straddles the fence by choice to please its core fans and I don’t like that one bit, especially considering the price for everything and the obvious microtransaction setup.