Republished on Wednesday 31st January 2018: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of February's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Grand Kingdom is a good looking turn-based battle-'em-up that sees you getting to pick and command a group of mercenaries in order to fight for the future of the fantasy world of Resonail. Striving for power are several kingdoms augmented with not-at-all generic fantasy names: Landerth, Fiel, Valkyr, and Magion. Of course, only you can succeed and become the so-called Grand Kingdom.
Developed by MonoChro and published by the strategy JRPG specialists NIS America, this has a winning old school feel where you fight enemies on a 2D battlefield made up of three lanes taking turns to spend action points in a kind of Valkyria Chronicles on-rails kind of way.
When not in battle, the missions themselves take place in a game world that looks like a board game, right down to icon pieces representing your party and enemies to the target objective flag to which you must plot a battle strewn route. With a limited number of turns available, there are many perils to traverse including cunning traps and random disasters – it can be compelling stuff and requires at least some tactical strategy.
On first glance it can look quite easy to pick up and play, but Grand Kingdom is surprisingly deep under the surface. Once you feel the addictive bite of hard won victory, you'll find it hard to not want more, and thus comes capacity for the game to eat up many hours of your time as you work through the plentiful options. This release includes all of the paid for DLC from the Japanese version, too – not just additional maps and missions, but the previously pay to play advance mercenary classes, too.
Want to take the fight to your enemy up close and personal with melee swords and daggers? No problem. Rather build a squad of ranged archers or mages and unleash fiery hell on your opponents from behind cover? Go for it. As you level up your mercenary teams, you'll find out where each type of unit really comes into their own. There are a nice range of 17 characters to choose from including staples of the genre such as healers, knights, and magic wielders, and a lot of the fun comes from trying out different combinations to see which you find the most effective.
The combat system is a thing of wonder and sees you taking an active role in ensuring that your units make their attacks count. When firing from range you must time the cursor correctly or else miss altogether – or, even worse, damage your own characters as friendly fire is an ever present threat to the cack-handed player. It really keeps you on your toes in every encounter as battles involve arranging the positions of units into formations as well as executing their actions. Yes, it takes a bit of getting used to and some might be put off by the sheer unforgiving nature of the fights, but persevere and it will soon become second nature.
There are a ton of crazy Disgaea-inspired battlefield combos for you to master too, which can really turn the tide of any battle if carried out well. It is this skill level that is likely to turn off those looking for a simple strategic-lite battle-em-up – but if you're after a game that will allow you to customise not just your tactics but your weapons, armour, and even accessories to your heart's content, then this is nirvana on a disc (or download). Grand Kingdom's customisation changes the not just the stats but also the looks of the characters themselves, which means that you can find yourself changing and modifying armour and weapons just to see how they look.
Also, we'd be remiss not to mention the fact that you can take two of same base class characters and specialise them as they level up so you end up with really different powers and tactical fit to your squad. Ah, the hours of trying and refining battle strategy will keep you pondering the art of war for a long time. Indeed, there are five campaigns to play through, each with its own plot, and while they're not massively exciting – at least until their respective climaxes – it does mean that there's more content here than you'd expect.
Graphically Grand Kingdom rocks a great anime style that fits the game well and some of the cut-scenes are reminiscent of films like Howl's Moving Castle or games like Ni no Kuni. The musical score can get a bit overpowering as it's of the "all drama, all the time" type, but it can be turned down or off to allow you brain space to concentrate on the business of strategy.
The only real gripe with Grand Kingdom is that some of the battles can feel unfair when the odds are stacked against you and the enemy gets to move first. Losing a final fight – and thus the entire quest – is seriously anger-inducing, but the game is so addictive that it won't stop you coming back for more.
Then there's the ace multiplayer mode where you can team up to conquer territories together, and in a lovely show of PlayStation unity, PS4 players can work with or fight against Vita players on the same servers. The online multiplayer is brutal but immensely satisfying – especially if you've honed your skills in the single player and are ready to stomp enemies with traps, tricks, and sheer tactical brilliance.
Grand Kingdom is a strong tactical title that will ignite your inner sellsword. Some minor difficulty spikes can't upset the entertaining strategy action being served up here, and with tons of content on offer, this is a game that you could potentially still be playing this time next year.