Gorgeous characters and swift strategy: You should be playing Grand Kingdom

(Image credit: NIS America)

What is it?

A strategy RPG that drops the slow-paced grid fights for a new style.

Play it if you like… 

Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea but don’t have the time for 2-hour battles.

Format: PS4/PS Vita 

Price: $59.99/$39.99, £33.83

Release date: Out now

The problem is that I still love Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, Disgaea and every other Japanese strategy RPG from the past 20 years. I like building up a party of different classes, kitting them out with the best gear, and taking them out on a blocky field of artfully arranged tiles to engage in slow, steady warfare. Time, however, is not something I have in the same quantities as I once did. Even a light SRPG like Onimusha Tactics for Game Boy Advance is too sluggish, too staid. When the developer Monochrome announced Grand Kingdom, a spiritual successor to the gorgeous but Japan-exclusive Grand Knight History, I thought that it would be yet another game I’d have to admire from afar. After taking a chance on it, though, I’ve discovered an SRPG perfectly suited to quick but no less affecting action on PS Vita.

Here’s how Grand Kingdom flips classic SRPG design on its head: rather than a grid, fights play out on a field with three rows. There’s a top, middle and bottom row with your band of mercenaries stuck in a four-kingdom medieval war arranged around it. Moving across the board or between rows uses up a meter for each character, their class and stats determining how far they can go and how many actions they can take on any given turn. Blacksmiths, giant hammer wielding tanks, are prone to short movements and hitting hard while bow-wielding Hunters are more nimble. An initial crew of four mercs can be supplemented with two extras after a certain point in the game, and you square off against similarly equipped squads with obstacles and traps between you.

Now if that was it, Grand Kingdom wouldn’t be much more than Final Fantasy Tactics seen from the side. The fights, however, are far more action oriented than your average SRPG. Attacking with ice magic, for example, involves timing button presses as a reticle passes over a specific area, and timing multiple hits for a more damaging combo involves real precision - especially if a member of your team is close by. Friendly fire is a real worry in Grand Kingdom. If your sword-wielding Noble is on the bottom row wailing on an enemy Gunner, you better not have your Medic on the row above them because your sword swipes will hit them as well. Strategy then becomes not just matter of pitting specific classes against each other and and jockeying for position, but managing territory in a more intimate sense as well. It almost feels like Final Fantasy Tactics by way of Odin Sphere, which is fitting since Vanillaware was the developer who worked with director Tomohiko Deguchi on Kingdom’s predecessor Grand Knights History.

Moving your team across a tight world map, getting into fights, and finishing a chapter of the main campaign takes about an hour total; the perfect length for anyone thirsty for a more breezy strategy role-playing game. If you want more meat, it’s there. The main campaign takes just 12 hours to finish, but the additional campaigns added here that were released as DLC in Japan bring the total story content to around 40 hours. Plus: you can bring your squad online and fight against other players, a much trickier challenge than fighting the AI. Online fights almost feel like a fighting game. Maybe I won’t ever have time for a full run on Tactics Ogre ever again. Thankfully Grand Kingdom can soothe my inner strategy beast.

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Anthony John Agnello
I've been playing games since I turned four in 1986, been writing about them since 1987, and writing about them professionally since 2008. My wife and I live in New York City. Chrono Trigger is my favorite game ever made, Hum's Downward is Heavenward is my favorite album, and I regularly find myself singing "You Won't See Me" by The Beatles in awkward situations.