Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software and Vanillaware
N Amer - 06/25/2007
I love Command & Conquer. Let me say it loud and clear. But I haven’t been excited by the abundance of C&C clones that have come out of the real-time strategy genre. Nearly every RTS is set in war times – past, present, or futuristic fiction. They follow the same path set by EA’s classic, apparently too afraid to venture off into their own unique territory.
I’m also upset by the genre’s disregard for console gaming. Other than Command & Conquer and a handful of rarities, what do console gamers have to look forward to? Developer X is too afraid to port Game Z to Console C when they peruse the sales figures of previous RTS ports. Aside from the times EA is attached, the games are rarely a success.
These comments, though seemingly out of place in a review, are necessary to give proper credit to one of the few developers that knows how to venture. Vanillaware (the studio behind this game and the impeccable Odin Sphere) is a studio that knows how to dream. When deciding to create a real-time strategy game exclusively for PlayStation 2, they did not follow the tracks of other RTS titles.
Doing so would have led them into a jungle more convoluted than any place Jack or Kate has visited on LOST. Instead, these developers shot for a game that could realistically utilize the PS2’s assets (controller, graphic engine, etc.). The resulting title is GrimGrimoire, a strategy game of epic, challenging battles that are conducted on a 2D, side-scrolling playing field. Surprised? Read on – the camera perspective is only the beginning.
Set in a fantasy world where young men and women are gifted with the power to control monsters (no, this isn’t Pokemon…), GrimGrimoire is a dark adventure with a host of evil characters. The game is dispersed in two forms: mission and story, the latter consisting of short to moderately long non-interactive sequences. The story is interesting but the voice acting is mixed – some characters are dead on, while others are a little shrill. It’s nothing a Cartoon Network anime hasn’t forced us to endure, but that’s hardly a reason to accept it from a video game.
Though you may be compelled to see the story through, the game does not make it a requirement. All sequences can be bypassed via the pause menu. The battles, on the other hand, are not something you’d want to skip even if you could. They start off with a brief explanation of how battles are fought and won. GrimGrimoire uses a portal device called Runes, which may be built for the purpose of summoning new minions (individual units). The cool thing about the Runes is that each one offers different minions, and each minion belongs to one of two groups: Astral or Substance. Hades Gate contains ghosts and phantoms, who belong to the Astral group. Phantoms are not affected by imps, who are of the Substance group and can only attack those who belong to that group. Phantoms can attack both Astral and Substance minions, but there are some who can only attack one or the other, as evidenced by the imps.
To summon minions, you must first gather energy from a nearby crystal. That task is delegated to a non-combative unit, such as an elf, whose sole objective is to increase your Rune energy. Elves and fairies (of the Substance group) are spawned from the Fairy Ring. Fairies have the ability to fly through the game’s tiered stages and the advantage of using a projectile (bow and arrow) attack. By comparison, minions without wings must take the long route, which is more likely to put them in danger.
Players are free to summon as many minions as they can, but there is a limit to how many can be in battle at one time. Each minion takes up a specific amount of unit space. The limit varies by stage, so I’ll use 50 as an example. Minions that gather crystals, such as ghosts, often take up one space. Weak attack units take up two spaces, as do talismans that guard your area with continuous blasts of enemy-killing power. Larger units are much more demanding.
Chaos Nest summons cats and dragon eggs. Cats have the strange ability to put enemies to sleep. They’re a useful distraction but won’t help you win a battle. Dragon eggs, which eat up six spaces, will hatch an immensely powerful beast that can take out most small enemies in less than five seconds. His massive size and thick skin make him nearly impervious to a single attack. You need either a few dozen small minions – or another dragon – to ward him off.
However, that power only becomes available after hatching. When in incubation mode, dragon eggs are extremely weak. Lay eggs early, hatch them as soon as possible, and guard them with everything you’ve got. The losses incurred during that time are nothing compared to what will happen if the enemy is allowed to kill your eggs. If that happens, you might as well re-start the battle.
The listed Runes are just a couple of what’s available in GrimGrimoire. Some of the other Runes include Hell Gate, which summons imps and demons; Wicca summons unicorn and talisman protectors; and Purgatory, which summons obelisk (who can heal ghosts) and Skullmages (dark, vicious creatures).
GrimGrimoire is not a turn-based game. However, there is one feature that goes against RTS lore: the game pauses when making a selection. This occurs not to simplify the experience but to give you a chance to think before making a decision. It also makes it easier to flip through the various options (attack, select all, build a Rune, etc.).
These brief pauses, though not consistent with the genre’s traits, do not pull the game out of RTS status. It is still very much a real-time experience with allies and enemies who move regardless of what’s going on. You can’t stop a fleet of imps and dragons from attacking – they’ll come even if you have failed to prepare. They attack relentlessly, only halting when their hearts stop beating.
GrimGrimoire is a spectacular title, but it is not without flaw. Most are negligible (whiny voices in and out of combat), but there is one that definitely stands out – unit AI. It’s good most of the time, but there are instances where you’ll come across what can only be described as a stoned minion. If an enemy attacks it will respond. However, there were times when my enemies were doing the same thing – or rather, nothing at all.
I came upon a scene where a cluster of enemies stood still while my dragon (who was nearby and not asleep) did nothing to wake them up. I had to personally guide him toward the enemies before he took action. Maybe that’s the point – after all, the player is the one who’s supposed to be in control. But this is a real-time strategy game, a genre where units are supposed to have minds of their own – and do for the most part, which is why it doesn’t make sense when the opposite is true.
Regardless of its imperfections, GrimGrimoire is a new breed of real-time strategy. It’s a gripping RTS that hangs on the essence of what we know and love about traditional strategy games while delivering the experience in an unexpected way. While the semi-cutesy characters have the potential to turn off some players, they are vastly overshadowed by the dark story, creepy enemies, and vicious monsters. GrimGrimoire is just as the title states – it’s a grim collection of slaughter-and-survive missions that will keep you engaged until there are no more enemies to be hunted.
Review Scoring Details for GrimGrimoire
Real-time strategy from a different perspective. While other genres move away from 2D, the developers of GrimGrimoire thought it would be interesting to build a strategy game using a side-scrolling style not unlike that of a 16-bit action/adventure. They were right in that assumption. Having created a game that’s as deep and addictive as most other, PC-specific strategy games, GrimGrimoire’s developers should rejoice in their success.
Similar to the art style of Odin Sphere, GrimGrimoire’s visuals are powered by intricate 2D artwork.
GrimGrimoire’s voices are a little whiny, but other than that the acting is pretty good. The entire story is interesting and contains some amusing moments that are worth a chuckle or two.
Musically the game is decent, though not as memorable as the other console RTS masterpiece, Pikmin.
You wouldn’t expect a game that offers two easy difficulty settings to be a challenge. But this is not a forgiving game (if you play it on the Normal difficulty setting). There is a certain amount of experience and awareness needed to get through the tougher battles, and that can only come in time. As a result, you won’t win every battle on the first try, which is the best kind of anger-inducing joy a game can deliver. Because while I may scream at the TV, “I can’t believe this, I was so close!” I am also excited to have a game that doesn’t like to be walked all over.
Classic RTS formula (armies of minions fighting other armies), a unique and inventive – and really fun – side-scrolling perspective, and a stellar collection of ghosts, monsters, and other dark creatures come together for one of the most original strategy games released in the past 10 years.
GrimGrimoire is a superb blend of battles that differ from the genre’s norms. It is a grim (and grand) blend of glorious missions that are fought and won in a 2D, side-scrolling environment. The controls are top-notch – not once did I think, “If only I had a mouse and keyboard…” Credit that to the fact that this game was built from the ground up for a console. PC purists may snub it (as they often do when a console RTS comes around). But if you love strategy games, you must put aside any ill feelings and dive in headfirst. This is not a game to be missed.
Real-time strategy from a different perspective, GrimGrimoire is a superb blend of battles that differ from the genre’s norms
Reviewer: Louis Bedigian
Review Date: 06/11/2007