Once upon a time, Vanillaware wasn’t a well known company. They hit their stride with Dragon’s Crown in 2013 and before that they were known for their 2007 title Odin Sphere.
In the shadow of the impending release of Odin Sphere was a fresh take on the real time strategy (RTS) genre, GrimGrimoire. At the time, the game received mixed reviews and mediocre sales. But perhaps it was ahead of it’s time?
Now that Vanillaware has cultivated a fanbase and more creative gameplay is in vogue, GrimGrimoire OnceMore seeks to reintroduce the story of Lillet Blan 15 years later.
Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software
Platforms: PS4, Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
Release Date: April 4, 2023
Price: $49.99 USD
GrimGrimoire OnceMore isn’t your typical RTS. Traditionally, RTS games take place on an isometric map; instead players are fighting enemies on a 2D map with stairs. Lots and lots of stairs.
Throughout each stage, players will summon “familiars” from one of four schools and support them with Grand Magic. These familiars will fight and cast spells at your direction.
Due to being made for the PS2, GrimGrimoire OnceMore plays unlike other games in the RTS genre. All the basic controls are there, clicking and dragging to select units, indicating targets; but thanks to the game’s singleplayer nature the game pauses when making these selections. This helps compensate for the slower control scheme of consoles over PC.
GrimGrimoire OnceMore features new HD graphics and with Vanillaware’s unique art style we’re getting more of a great thing. Lillet is cute and the monsters and familiars are detailed. Vanillaware also solved a big complaint with the original game and zoomed out the camera. Now you can see more of the battlefield without painstakingly moving the camera around.
Outside of a graphics upgrade, there’s added gameplay like Grand Magic. These spells have drastic effects but can only be used a certain amount of times. There’s also a new skill tree that lets you customize your playstyle and specialize in the four schools of magic.
Glamour is the magic of fairies and elves. Units here are relatively weak but provide good mobility and coverage with Fairies. There are also Unicorns which are decent physical attackers and lastly the Morning Star which is a strong magic user but relies on MP to attack.
Necromancy is the magic of the dead. Units here tend to interact mostly with the “Astral” mechanic. When a unit is Astral it can only be affected by magical attacks. Phantoms are ghostly units that can defensively patrol. Skull Mages can easily clear enemy Astral units; and Charon is a support unit that can ferry allies faster than they can normally move.
Sorcery is the magic of devils. Sorcery familiars are powerful in the right hands. Grimalkins are spellcasting cats that can put big enemies to Sleep. Demons can attack physical and astral units. Meanwhile, the Dragon is arguably the most powerful unit in the game with a big drawback. Dragons spawn as vulnerable eggs and have to wait to be hatched before being fielded.
Lastly, Alchemy is the magic of… well alchemy. Units here are fragile and slow. Homunculi can cast Clairvoyance to expose Astral units to physical damage. Golems can do heavy physical damage. The Chimera is strong and fragile and constantly loses health because of its abominable nature (seriously, this thing is gross looking).
Different schools can and should be combined for maximum effect. Use Charon to shuttle slow or earthbound units in the back of your enemy’s base. Use patrolling Golems to protect your side of the map while using Fairies to skirmish with faster enemies. GrimGrimoire doesn’t offer a lot of unit choice, but it’s deep enough to build your own strategy and play the way you want. But let’s talk strategy.
The AI is ruthless even at normal difficulty and has some cheeky tools. Early missions you’ll get constantly rushed by Imps and other worker units. You can fight with your own workers, but at the start of the game you won’t have the attack command for workers like Imps; you have to move your imps and then they attack. It’s a bit more micromanaging than combat units and an AI opponent will unfortunately be better at it than you.
Then there’s the limited choice of units and 2D map. The game lacks a lot of depth you’d expect from a conventional RTS, but this lack of depth is actually to its credit. Because of how small in scope the game is, it feels more like an arcade game. Even in the toughest maps, I felt compelled to keep at the challenge because it’s just so easy to pick it back up and get going.
Despite this perceived lack of depth, I do want to point out that GrimGrimoire is hard. Call it a skill issue but once I got passed like mission 10 I was struggling, but that’s part of what makes it fun.
The unfortunate foibles of the game come from it being on console. Maybe I’m spoiled as a primarily PC gamer, I’ll admit I don’t think I’ve ever played any RTS with a controller before this one. So to that I’ll admit my lack of experience. I feel GrimGrimoire OnceMore does the best job it can to do an RTS on console, but it still feels far more awkward than PC.
However, that awkwardness is part of the game’s design. Don’t mistake this for an outdated port; GrimGrimoire OnceMore feels like a modern day game in terms of quality. Part of that has to do with the game’s timeless artwork and updated graphics. If you had told me that this wasn’t a port of a PS2 game and just a new product of 2023, I’d have believed you.
On top of a solid and unique gameplay experience and artwork is the story and voice acting. The game is fully voiced in both Japanese and English and features a story of magic and mystery. Our heroine Lillet finds herself in a time loop to try and stop the resurrection of the dreadful Archmage.
Forced to grow into her power as a witch quickly, she has to take what clues she learns through each loop and hopefully put a stop to it; lest she live the same five days over forever or worse: let the Archmage roam free.
Ultimately, GrimGrimoire OnceMore is a game you’re going to be taking a chance on – there’s nothing quite like it. RTS fans will probably have fun but it lacks the depth of classic RTS games like Starcraft 2 or Age of Empires.
Vanillaware fans will probably be sold based on the artwork and faith in the company alone. So if you’re sitting on the fence still, you’re going to have to trust your gut. All in all, I had a great time playing and my problems with the game are a symptom of how unique it is rather than an actual flaw.
GrimGrimoire OnceMore was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by Nippon Ichi Software. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. GrimGrimoire OnceMore is now available for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4.