Monday, June 20, 2016

Grand Kingdom (PS4)

Prior to getting my hands on the full version of NISA's "Grand Kingdom" I was on the fence about it. I really was. At first I saw little promise due to the game's overall indie appearance, and deviation from the NISA norm, but going back into it during it's BETA phase I saw some potential. A glimmer of hope, if you will. I think it was the combat system that intrigued me the most of all during that time. The fact that it was a tactical RPG built around multiple forms of lane offense/defense, and strategy really made it stand out from other games in the genre. While the combat was simple in a lot of ways it harbored a much deeper functionality, and role in the provided gameplay than I imagined it would. Not only do you have objective war oriented quests to play through, but as the title suggests everything about "Grand Kingdom" is grand in scale within the finalized product. I liken it to a complex, and decisive chess game in which there are four warring nations moving their pawns about on a continent sized chess board in order to achieve ultimate victory, and/or global domination. In fact the game itself is heavily war focused with lengthy skirmishes/wars playing out at your direct command or through AI driven troops sent out in your stead. You have plenty of tasks to take on in the form of detailed troop management, campaign initiatives at the capital of your chosen nation, and even field operations with battles that will sway your influence over the shattered continent on which you, and your guild take on mercenary tasks.

Story content, objective tasks, and party management are the three base features, or driving forces within Grand Kingdom's infrastructure. You will be doing fairly equal parts of each throughout your time spent with the game though the character management is alone the life force of said experience. For those of you looking for that deep seeded story in "Grand Kingdom" you may be slightly disappointed in finding that the game is kind of basic in those terms. You are given a basic back story at the beginning of the game regarding a continent without a true leader which was a result of an all out war that divided the nations while leaving them looking for power through hired hands. In fact you, and your single guild member companion come into focus during the tutorial phase of said intro plot as a duo looking to find work with anyone who would benefit from your services. As fate would have it you stumble upon a kingdom, and it's princess with whom you form an unlikely business relationship. Of course most of your time spent with the princess, and said kingdom's elite is divided into completing various tasks similar to those you'd venture into when you choose a kingdom to side with outside of the main plot. You'll be doing plenty of that as well as some character relationship building along the way. As far as tasks (Quests) go you'll collect resources for the kingdom, build defenses, aid in defense, and fight off enemies using the gameplay mechanics provided.

When it comes to the tactical, and objective gameplay in "Grand Kingdom" you'll find that everything in the game is micro-managed from the base, war, and quest menus. Once you side with one of the four available nations (Linderth ...) via a contract that can last through up to 5 wars you will be able to take on "Quests" of varying types (Campaign, Resource, Single, Travel ...) as well as help with the war efforts therein. At the base menu listing you will find "Quests", "War", "Policy", "Shop", "Information", and "Go To The Capital" sub-menus in place, and in a descending order. Quests, which are at the top of the main menu are usually objectively driven outings that will reward you in one way, or another should you come out victorious. Within the "Quests" sub-menu you'll be able to continue through the campaign via "Campaign" quests as well as help the war initiatives through "Resource", and "Single" quests. The latter being tied to warring efforts with the other three nations, but on a lesser scale of involvement. As far as the "Travel" quests go they do not have a turn based limit like other quests, and will afford you some materials for use at the nation's capital. Things like artillery improvement, and even trading can be done using the collected resources, or materials you have gained. You can also battle enemies on those quests for leveling purposes, and even find treasure to loot.

Aside from quests you can also access the "War" sub-menu for war contributions. It is here that your formed teams (up to 6) will engage in hands-on, or hands-off combat. You'll fight the enemy through tactical points outlined, and highlighted on an overhead map in which currently warring nations are depicted through their respective flags, stats, and social standings. By choosing either "Dispatch" to manually control your troops in the various combat scenarios, or "Troop Detachment" to assign AI functions to troops, and send them out unattended you can help the online community's collective efforts. The game, while mostly offline does still contain online interactions that are depicted through war/nation standings on various leaderboards found within the main menu's "Information" sub-menu.

Combat, no matter which in-game outlet you choose comes in similar forms. When you choose to go with a quest, for example, a pawn representing your team will be placed on a semi-overhead map with plotted points of interest, and various markers depicting enemy strongholds, enemy artillery, enemies, treasure, obstacles, and even hidden things. The pawn avatars, in particular represent both your troops' team, and the enemies as well as said enemy's strength level. In regards to enemy pawn avatars they come in a select few colors, and shapes with the lighter colored ones being the more basic, and the red or purple being the more formidable. Aside from markers, and pawns your efforts in the map-like environments are a governed ordeal. What governs most of these map based objectives is a set turn limit with which you have a coinciding movement limitation, or goal. That, and any given objectives that are disclosed in the quest, or war menus beforehand. In most cases you are suppose to complete all given objectives, or clear conditions within those set amount of turns. At turn equaling a single movement in any of the cardinal directions.

With the quests, and war efforts at the heart of Grand Kingdom's gameplay you can probably guess that party management is the key focus of everything. It is in effect the game's life source, it's blood. Even in the campaign portion of the game it is the characters driving everything forward. When to comes to managing your party, or your troops you will find that you can have up to 6 assigned teams with up to four characters in each (depending on character type). Gaining these characters is done mostly by hiring them through the base menu's "Policy" sub-menu. Here you can hire a variety of different characters whose availability changes with each after quest visit. The characters, as you can likely guess are class oriented and include classes such as medic, paladin, mounted/dragon rider, dark knight, fighter, witch, gunner, archer, and shaman, among a few others that vary according to gender and base appearance. For a specified price you can select, and hire a character with a set ability, and field ability. One thing I forgot to mention is that all character classes have an inherent in-battle ability as well as a field ability that will help the team when out on the battlefield maps.

Another aspect of hiring comes in the form of "Character Creation". You can change many features of your character including the name, head, hair, body, voice, and pitch. This helps to make the otherwise limited selection of characters unique outside of their base abilities, and field skills. Characters are also upgradeable as they level up in battle. Through skill points you can upgrade various attributes that in turn effect battlefield performance, strengths, and things such as additional learned skills. Initially when hired a character has a specific number of skill points to apply to these attributes. The more costly the character the more skill points they'll come with. Aside from aesthetics, and functions characters also come in melee, ranged, magic, assist, and specialist archetypes. This basically means they are meant to be used in a certain way when out on the battlefield. Melee characters, for example are more up close fighters while ranged characters can do their fighting from afar. Specialists, which are unique to this particular RPG though can do alternate functions such as hide, or place objects in the path to help their teammates stay safe.

The shop that is located on the base's menu, and in the nation's capital sub-menu can also help to better form a team fit for combat. As usual characters in the game can be assigned equipment according to their class. In this case each character can wield one weapon, and two accessories. Sometimes said accessories, and weapons have slots in which boost items can be placed to enhance the characters' performance. Not only that, but weapons that have been collected, or bought can also be taken to the capitol's blacksmith to be forged into something stronger. Equipping your troops with the best possible equipment, and weapons will, in most cases mean the difference between victory and failure. It should also be noted that all equipment bares a unique appearance change meaning that some applied armor will change the way your character looks. Even the weapons change in appearance.

Now that we've got all that out of the way let's talk about combat ...

Combat in "Grand Kingdom" is at base level the same throughout all instances. Whether you are trying to fight enemies, artillery units, or forts you will be placed in a combat layout based around lane, and character management. There are a total of three lanes that stretch from right to left across the stage. On either side are your troops, and the enemy's troops. Underneath said lanes, and troops are two gauges that reflect movement, and actions. Along with these indicators the lanes themselves are highlighted in full, and shortened as you move a character forward or backwards across them. Needless to say a characters' movement is limited as are their actions, accordingly.

In order to come out victorious in any given combat scenario you will need to completely drain all enemies of life through strategic turn based attacks. At the same time you will need to mind your own troops' life by strategically placing them on the lanes, and using their battle abilities to your advantage during your character's turn. As far as said abilities go each character can have up to 6 base abilities as well as an assist ability. The base abilities are accessed through a shoulder button menu, and can be activated by pressing the assigned face button. Depending on character class that ability's reach may be limited, or extended. Regardless of reach all attacks will effect all characters. Meaning friendly fire is a part of battle. Universally for all characters though you'll have a chance to use team points gained through battle to perform a last ditch action known as 'Player Grit" once your character is fatally hit which will in effect resurrect your character from certain death with a tiny amount of health remaining if you beat the dial timer, and pressed (L1) in time. This, in itself is based on RNG, and is not certain in every instance. Along with that added feature the character assist which comes into play when you've wounded an enemy to the near death status will help you finish off an opposing character using a second character. This is done by pressing (X) when prompted to do so.

In certain battles there will be different variables at play which will alter your approach to the fight. In artillery, or war based skirmishes, for example you'll find that artillery units can fire volleys of arrows, or catapulted rocks in your or your enemy's direction. You'll know that this is about to take place when your characters or the enemy's characters are highlighted with red crosshairs. It is imperative that you distance your characters away from these danger zones before the artillery units have a chance to fire as they deal heavy damage in comparison to character weapons. If you play it intelligently you can sometimes dupe the enemy into moving their characters into harm's way.

Another element tied to in-battle character function is the formation option located in the character management menu. It is here you can organize your troops in an invasive, and defensive formation giving you an advantage in certain circumstances. You can even place objects (signs, barrels, traps ...) which will aid your characters in the fight. I almost forgot to mention that characters can also learn skills through purchased, and collected grimoires. These items can be assigned to characters in the base's menu system via the appropriate vendor, and can be very beneficial when you don't want to use one type of character over another. Characters can also be upgraded in the same menu system using scrolls that are found out on quest, and war maps, or through certain character interactions such as that of the kingdom's ruler at the capital as well as through NPCs (Non-Playable Characters) in the capital plaza listings.

The ultimate goal behind all wars, and quests in "Grand Kingdom" is to win against all other nations. Through the binding contracts you can help any given nation come closer to total domination, or you can switch things up as contracts come to an end, and fight for once rival nations. Speaking of that Your efforts during each contract period are broken down into great detail. Percentages of varying sorts tied to things like your wins, losses, and alphabetical grades are tallied in an end score that could bank you big bucks at your designated nations capital as well as some additional rewards. It is in your best interest to check in, and participate daily as other online players' efforts are also being tallied with or without your presence. All of which is noted on various leaderboards, and rankings within the "Information" menu at the base. Also in the "Information" menu you'll be able to join up, and follow fellow gamers through search terms that can be assigned to your profile. A profile which harbors your in-game stats, and nation standings among other things.

Thus is "Grand Kingdom" ...

The Verdict ...

Though I was once turned off by the game's visual approach, and indie-like setup "Grand Kingdom" has become a favorable game, in my eyes. It is complex, and hard to pick up on at first, but if you continue to dedicate time to it you can get a lot out of the experience. I wouldn't say it was a pick up, and put down game like I said before, but more so a game that demands dedicated daily effort. It is very much like an ongoing chess game, or a decisive war being laid out through maps, intelligently applied strategy, and proper troop management. There's certainly a lot of layers to manage as you fulfill contracts with the nations of your choice. With each war that comes to pass the game also bares the fruits of your labor if you are indeed victorious. That way your continued participation is not in vain.

For those of you looking for an easy JRPG you won't find that here, but if you do fancy a proper challenge that will last a good while then "Grand Kingdom" might just be the tactical RPG you've been looking for. I personally liked it, and found it to be worth the retail, and special edition asking price. Definitely get it if you are an RPG enthusiast looking for something new, and well thought out. Don't forget that this game is going to be released on the PS4, and the PS Vita and that it will be cross-play across both consoles! The release date for the US is the 28th of this month! 

Be sure to stop by my Youtube channel for gameplay videos & explanations of said gameplay!

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