July 23, 2007

Real time strategy is a divisive genre among gamers. On one hand you’ve got people like me who can’t complete StarCraft without cheating and get annihilated by Kain every time he boots up Red Alert. On the other you’ve got Korean StarCraft champions that can win a match with nothing but SCVs and absolutely adore the myriad of build possibilities brought to fruition by carefully micromanaging each and every unit available.

Vanilla Ware has managed to create an RTS for the common man. GrimGrimoire may be an RTS, but it’s different from every other RTS you’ve ever played. First, the game is viewed from the side. That’s right; it’s a two-dimensional real time strategy game. You’ll still need to gather resources and amass an army, but the process is streamlined and simplified. Units battle each other in a manner similar to rock-paper-scissors, and if you take the time to study the fight ahead there’s always a smart solution. “Throw more units at it” is never your only option.

GrimGrimoire features only one resource – mana, and it’s used for the only build action available: summoning magical creatures to fight for you or gather more mana. What unit you summon depends on what grimoires (magical texts) you’ve studied and what runes you’ve placed on the battlefield. It sounds much more confusing than it is, but it all works really well and the game’s pacing is such that you won’t be juggling multiple runes until you’re ready for it.

And when you do find yourself in control of dozens of creatures, the game doesn’t need to slow down. Vanilla Ware put some serious time and effort into GrimGrimoire‘s control system, and it shows. Battles will eventually get to be fast and hectic affairs, but selecting every bow-toting fairy on your team is as easy as selecting one and pressing up on the directional pad. Never again will you need to send one fairy, then another, and then another into battle. Repetitive pointing and clicking (especially with a controller) is time-consuming and not at all fun, and the removal of that particular mechanic is both welcome and efficient.

GrimGrimoire‘s story will at first seem familiar to fans of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. After all, the main character is a witch in training dealing with shenanigans at the magic academy whose headmaster is named Gammel Dore. Unless Rowling writes an eighth book – Harry Potter and the Cursed Time Loop – setting is as far as the similarities go. After being in school for five days, everybody in the school save Lilett Blan (your hero and mine) is killed. Luckily for us, Lilett is, for some reason, sent back in time to relive the last five days Groundhog Day style. She remembers everything that has happened, and she’ll need to in order to save her teachers and fellow students.

It’s not news to anybody that the PlayStation 2 is a dying platform. It’s from a generation back, and it was the weakest of that generation to boot. Well, it’s still possible to coax some gorgeous visuals from that little black box, and Vanilla Ware is as good at sprite work as anybody I’ve ever seen. Character sprites are large, detailed, and a joy to look at. The character design fits the game’s magical theme wonderfully, and NIS America, known for their great localizations, hits another one out of the park. The dialog is snappy, and the story – although a little complex at times – is very well-written.

Altogether, GrimGrimoire is a wonderful title, and for anyone looking to give their PS2 a little last-gen loving, this is an absolute must-own game.

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.