NIS America claims that Grim Grimoire is their attempt to pull in a more casual audience. While I question their decision behind choosing RTS as their genre of choice to bring in the casual gamer, I applaud their efforts. Coupled with developer Vanillaware, NIS America has brought out a game that I would never have expected to work so well on the PS2, both in practice and execution. Grim Grimoire is a title that continues to tell people to shy away from the Next Gen consoles, there is still plenty of life left in the PS2. Behind the cutesy façade this game displays there is a great story, amazing music and graphics, and above all else a lot of fun.
The story feels like some J.K. Rowling Harry Potter recyclables with a few characters swapped out for more stylized counterparts. Lillet Blan is a new student at the Silver Star tower, a place where magicians teach children who show promise in the magical arts. Five days after Lillet’s arrival, all of the staff and students are killed, and just as she is next on the list, she wakes to find herself back at the night she arrived, with all her memories intact. It’s a fairly dark story with lots of twists and turns as Lillet tries to find out the answers to the mysteries of the tower. It’s all told through cut-scenes that look amazing and have some of the best art I have ever seen on the PS2. All of the characters move with an eerie liveliness that really has to be seen in motion.
Once you get underway and start learning the ins and outs of magic you’ll see that this game is highly detailed and yet it manages to hold solid and doesn’t get bogged down with a ton of sprites on screen. Some of these sprites are really large and detailed too. When you’ve got demons or golems on screen, take a second to look at them in motion and just watch them breathe. It’s quite a work of art and is something people who want to make 2-D games in the future should take a look at. As I’ve said before the character’s themselves are fairly animated during the cut-scenes that take place between battles. This is a nice change of pace when compared to other RPGs that use static character art when trying to convey emotion and progress the story. For a 2-D game there is only going to be one to rival Grim Grimoire in the looks department for a long time, and that’s going to be Odin Sphere. So until someone like Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi comes along and says, “The next 2-D Castlevania must look better than this!” don’t hold your breath for something better.
Musically I’m very particular about who handles a Japanese title these days, if it’s not someone like Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy series) or Yasunori Matsuda (Chrono Cross and Xenosaga) I tend not to make a note of it. But I would be doing a disservice to Hitoshi Sakimoto if I did not say that he did a superb job on the music for Grim Grimoire. It fits the game very well, and despite using a lot of the same music in battle it holds up very well and is probably worth importing. The voice acting in Grim Grimoire is also a standout and is one of the best dubs in recent memory. This game shares a lot in common with the recent Atlus release Odin Sphere, both games have a soundtrack by Hitoshi Sakimoto and both have amazing voice acting.
The PS2 controller does not lend itself well towards the control schematics that one would be used to in a Real Time Strategy game, no, this is something you would expect to play with a mouse and keyboard. But somewhere along the way the developers took a look at the PS2 controller, determined it would be a pain in the ass and still came up with a stellar control scheme. Kudos to whoever thought up this brilliant control scheme. Selecting units can be done by highlighting them and pressing square. Or you can hold square and move the targeting cursor over the same type of units to highlight all of them and issue commands. If the screen is looking a bit crowded, use the left or right on the directional pad to select an individual unit. Scrolling through menus is done with the L1 and R1 buttons and the camera can be moved with the analog stick. It has a very short learning curve and you should have the hang of it after just one or two stages, well before the action gets out of hand and tougher to manage.
To call this game a Real Time Strategy title might be a bit of a misnomer, because with this control scheme the game does have to take a moment to pause the action while you are trying to find a particular unit or issue a command. This can lead to abuse which at times makes this game a little too easy but this is a small complaint in an otherwise stellar title.
Progressing through the game will place more Grimoires into Lillet’s command and will allow her to cast higher level magic, which is divided in to four disciplines. The first discipline you’ll learn is called Glamour magic. This is composed of elves and fairies. This type of discipline is strong against Necromancy. Necromancy is strong against Sorcery, and Sorcery is strong against Alchemy. To round out the circle, Alchemy is strong against Glamour. Even with the obvious advantages you can never count out an opponent who is using a discipline that you may be strong against. There is a good balance that comes with each discipline. While Sorcery is weak to Necromancy you will gain units who can damage the ghosts that Necromancy commands. The game will also slowly ramp up your power and then challenge your new abilities by throwing combinations at you that may not seem to immediately work.
The game will clock in just shy of twenty hours or so, and that’s just going through the main levels. There are also bonus stages that can be unlocked over the course of the game. However once the game is fully completed that’s about it. This is a title that could have used some one on one online play, though I’m just being picky, truth be told I would much rather play through the story again because it’s a really good story. The only other small complaint I have is that the game was a little too easy. Granted there were a few levels where I was at a bit of a loss on what to do, but once I figured it out then the stage was a breeze. Even on “Normal” difficulty this game wasn’t horribly challenging. Unfortunately the game also seems to be like a race for large units like dragons or chimeras or morning star units. Once you get them they are difficult to stop. If there were a harder difficulty setting where the computer knew to use morning star units against dragons and chimeras I think I would have been a little happier.
Grim Grimoire does so many things right that it’s hard to be critical of it. It has a great balance though is a little too easy at times and could have received a huge benefit by having a multiplayer option, though the single player experience is great for what it is. The game looks and sounds amazing with superb voice acting and highly detailed character sprites that prove that the PS2 is no where near ready to step back and let the PS3 take the lead in graphics and sound. This is going to be another one of those sleeper hits that squeak out just before a consoles life comes to an end. A true gem that should be picked up before it becomes one of those sought after titles long past its short shelf life.