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• GrimGrimoire

developed by Vanillaware/published by Nippon Ichi
1 player/1 DVD/SONY PlayStation 2, PSN/2007.06.26

GrimGrimoire is a real-time strategy game that takes place in a magic school.  You play the role of Lillet Blan, a new student who arrives just five days before everyone is massacred.  Saved by a mysterious power, Lillet is sent back in time and has to prevent the same course of events from playing out.  With characters like the wise old wizard Gammel Dore and suspicious teachers, the general feel owes much to the Harry Potter universe, but the game itself is fairly unique.

Strategy

Unlike traditional real-time strategy games, the game map isn’t seen from an overhead perspective.  Instead, each mission takes place in the 2D cutaway of a tower.  Floors are connected by stairwells, but certain units can pass between floors by flying.  And unlike a true RTS, you can pause the action when you need to sort things out.

As usual, you have to farm resources in order to build up an army of units.  In this game, there is only one resource you need to worry about: Mana.  Mana can be mined from crystals by the base units from each of the four types of magic (Glamour, Sorcery, Necromancy, and Alchemy).

With enough Mana, you can begin to summon units from your runes.  Runes are stationary portals which can be placed on the map.  If this is sounding a little complicated already, the game provides several user-friendly tutorial missions to get you started.

You’ll command elves, fairies, unicorns, ghosts, phantom knights, imps, demons, slimes, golems, and more!  Each type is strong and weak against another, so knowing which units to send into battle is essential.  Once you’ve built up enough units, you can send them out to destroy your opponent’s runes.

Presentation

As expected of a Vanillaware game, GrimGrimoire is brimming with beautiful hand-drawn artwork.  The story is presented with huge character portraits which have a bit of animation to bring them to life.  Of course, being as detailed as they are, animating them any more fluidly would be a monumental task.  The actual in-game graphics have a great deal of character and the designs are awesome.

The story scenes which bookend each mission are fully voice acted.  It’s somewhat disappointing that the characters don’t sound British, but the acting is generally pretty good.  And as with Vanillaware’s contemporary titles the soundtrack was done by Hitoshi Sakimoto’s studio Basiscape, and is quite good.

Challenge

During your first play through you can select from three difficulty options.  Most missions aren’t too hard, but if you find a mission is too challenging on “normal”, you can always make it easier on yourself.

Most missions require that you find and destroy all of your opponent’s runes.  This is made a bit more difficult because of the fog-of-war, which hides enemy forces until you get within a certain range.  Other missions require that you build a heavy defense to withstand an onslaught for thirty minutes.

There are also more than 20 optional challenge missions which aren’t connected to the main story.  These have a wide variety of mission objectives and rules associated with them and can get pretty tough.

Conclusion

Seasoned veterans of real-time strategy games such as Star Craft will likely find that GrimGrimoire is too simple.  And there’s no multiplayer option, which limits you to playing against just the computer.

On the other hand, that simplicity makes this an ideal introduction to the genre.  While missions can certainly provide a challenge, the actual mechanics are never too demanding.

As someone who doesn’t usually play RTS games, it struck the right balance of complexity and difficulty for me.  And throughout the 20 hours or so it will take to solve the magic school’s problems, you’re treated to a pretty entertaining little story.  Optional challenge missions add an extra 10 hours of content.

Quick Run Down

PROs:

  • Gorgeous presentation
  • Fun story & setting inspired by Harry Potter
  • Many missions (20~30 hours of content)

CONs:

  • Too simple for RTS fans
  • Single-player only
  • Difficulty spikes dramatically near the end

One Sentence Review: A simple RTS that will appeal to fans of fantasy and role-playing games.
One Word Review: Good!

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