Turn-based role-playing games are a divisive subject. Some people enjoy the tactical aspect, which allows them to plan their attack strategy in advance. Others would rather get stuck into the action and have a more visceral fight. If you’re from the former camp and you are positively excited by the prospect of some hot turn-based action, Grand Kingdom will be like a lifetime subscription to Playboy for you.
With the recent Beta, we were able to play a small sample as to what the full release has in store. Grand Kingdom is a JRPG in a very traditional sense, featuring hit points, action points, and many of the elements we have come to expect from the genre. However, there are a number of twists on the formula that make the game stand out.
As mentioned, battles are turn-based, but so is movement on the overall map. Essentially, you move a square, then all the enemies on the map move a square too. Battles are only triggered if you land on an enemy’s square, or if they land on yours, meaning that you can avoid battles altogether in many cases by taking an alternate path, or using a skill to teleport to the square behind your opponent. To facilitate this, you have a limited number of action points when on the map screen. This means that you have to reach your objective within a certain number of moves before your party becomes too tired to continue. Battles will eat up your action points, especially if they continue for too long, so it is often in your interests to either finish battles in as few turns as possible, or avoid them altogether. In this way, Grand Kingdom appears to be trying to avoid level grinding, as dawdling and fighting enemies constantly to level up will result in failure. The potential drawback of this is that your characters may be under-levelled for later missions, so for now we’ll have to hope that the developers Monochrome have compensated for that eventuality somehow. For the purposes of the Beta however, it was a fresh take on the idea that pretty much eliminated repetitive battles.
Thirteen character classes will be available in the full release, but in the the Beta we got to experience four; Fighter, Hunter, Witch and Medic. These operate largely as you would expect. The Fighter specializes in close quarters combat, the Hunter uses a bow to rain down arrows, the Witch casts devastating elemental magic, and the Medic primarily heals your party. Combat takes place in three lanes, and it is perfectly possible to injure your own party members if you don’t position them correctly. For example, the Fighter needs to be right next to an opponent to hit them, but the Witch can cast spells from further away. This means that if your Witch attacks the same opponent from the same lane, you may deliver the same amount of damage to your Fighter. As your characters have different ranges and abilities, you have to make sure that you aren’t blocking them in or setting them up to hit each other. This adds a tactical element that provides a little bit of positive depth to the proceedings.
In terms of presentation, Grand Kingdom falls into many of the same trappings that other JRPGs suffer from. Annoying characters, ridiculous female costumes and extensively awkward dialogue sections punctuate what is otherwise a colourful, well-presented world. The dialogue is particularly uncomfortable, especially when one of the lead character throws in odd swear words in a desperate attempt to be edgy. It also contains asides that are meant to be humourous, but go on for far too long and add nothing to the game whatsoever. However, this is all largely ignorable and doesn’t detract too much from what we’ve played so far.
Speaking of the story, this ties in the main reason why Grand Kingdom is holding a Beta; the online multiplayer. The backstory involves four kingdoms that are in a state of constant war; where medieval mercenaries roam the land in search of glory and gold. With that in mind, after the game’s tutorial has been completed, you are required to choose one of the four kingdoms to work with, which gives you the opportunity to fight other players online. These “operations” are limited to three per day, meaning that after three online battles, you’ll have to wait 24 hours until you are able to fight again. It’s unclear whether this is for the purposes of the Beta or not, so here’s hoping that they remove this restriction for the final release.
The online aspect plays out similarly to the single player, only a human opponent is controlling the opposing party. With only four classes available for the Beta, strategy is key, as your opponent has all the same abilities and moves that you do. There is an incentive to try and take out the opponent’s party leader first, as this will reduce the movement of your opponent, but that comes at a risk as the leader is usually the Fighter; the toughest nut to crack. You’ll probably want to send your own Fighter in to take him out, but that leaves him vulnerable to attack. When the full game releases and you have more options with more character classes, this is likely to get much deeper with tactics designed for every outcome, but for now it seems like a balanced affair.
All in all, Grand Kingdom shows great promise. The game offers a tactical depth that is not often seen in JRPGs, and seems to offer a potential solution to the issue of grinding levels. If they can offer a fully fleshed out multiplayer mode, and the single player story doesn’t grate on us too much, Grand Kingdom could turn out to be a nice little surprise. We will endeavor to bring you a full review once the game is released.