When NIS America sent out review code for Grand Kingdom a few days before E3, I thought they were insane. When I saw that they sent me a PlayStation 4 code the day after the show, I knew they were. That being said, Grand Kingdom probably ended up being one of the best games I played during the show, not to mention one of the most unique RPGs I've played in a long time.
Grand Kingdom is one part board game, part tactical RPG, and another part MMO. The game boils down to players creating their party, accepting requests from one of four gigantic kingdoms that are currently at war with each other, and then heading out to fulfill these requests. During missions the world map is shaped like some medieval game of Mario Party - enemies move across the board in set patterns, while your party explores along the board's pre-determined track. Some levels are more linear, some wrap around on themselves. Most levels include a variety of secrets to find and a variety of event tiles that will have an effect on your parties movement or status.
Some tiles might be within range of artillery fire, meaning that any fights that take place within a cannon's range will inevitably have shells rained upon them a turn into the fight. Some paths on the board will remain invisible until you walk right up to them. The graphical representation for the party also gives clues about hidden items and pathways, as when you walk past either you can see it graphically represented. Gathered during battles, players can use TP to use a variety of skills to either heal or help with traversal across the map. Various NPCs can also be found on different maps, giving you the option to recover.
In battle, players take control of a party of four along three lines. Here, the gameplay shifts to something like a 2.5D Valkyria Chronicles. Players use energy to move their characters, and then use separate energy to attack enemies. Each class of character has access to a variety of different combat skills, and every class feels unique. A standard fighter can use a combo of attacks on a single enemy while a spear-wielding party member might be able to attack multiple enemies at once thanks to increased range. Classes like Mages might have access to several different magic attacks that have different ranges or different mechanics to utilize them actively.
Many attacks have a timing element to them. Mages and Archers have attacks with a range, where a marker might slide from the potential area of effect while players will have to activate the attacks while the marker is close enough to the enemy. The idea of timing your attacks isn't just limited to ranged units, either - fighters might be able to juggle enemies in mid-air if you time your combo attacks right.
Various obstacles on the map restrict movement and some battles might even include some traps that players must hopefully avoid. Essentially, for many battles jumping between each of the three planes are invaluable, and sometimes even required.
The game's art style and aesthetics are fantastic. I remembered reading when the title was still being developed in Japan that the games' developer managed to pick up some of the artists that worked at Vanillaware. While the game doesn't look as fantastic and fluid as Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir, it's still oozing with style and is one of the best-looking games to release this year, especially with its character portraits. The game includes both English and Japanese audio tracks, and while the soundtrack isn't the best it's certainly decent at worst.
Once players return from their quests, depending on the quest's affiliation both the rewards and the effects on the world will change. It was hard for me to test out the multiplayer aspect of the title, especially since reviewers were the only ones with access to the servers. Essentially, the idea is that the four countries will warp in shape and size, as well as their influence as players continue to fight for or against them. In Japan, the game didn't come with any "story" missions for each of these countries, but rather added them later as DLC. Thankfully, for players that want a reason to fight for their kingdom, NIS America has included all of the DLC missions with the Western version of the game for free.
Although I can't vouch for how the game's multiplayer will play out, I can say that Grand Kingdom is an enjoyable game. Whether you're looking for a title to scratch some sort of tabletop game itch, or you're looking for a different type of TRPG, Grand Kingdom might have something to offer players when it launches
Grand Kingdom was previewed on PlayStation Vita with a code provided by the publisher. The game comes out on June 21st digitally, and June 28th for physical copies due to a delay with the companies distributor. The title will also be available on PlayStation 4.