Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Vanilla Ware
Release Date: June 26, 2007
The plot in Grim Grimoire is a rather bizarre mix of "Harry Potter" and "Groundhog's Day." You take control of Lillet Blan, a new student at the prestigious Silver Star Academy. The Silver Star Academy is the school for witches and warlocks to learn to control their innate powers, built in the ruins of the castle of the Archmage, a deceased and incredibly powerful evil wizard. Naturally, this Hogwarts-like magic school is populated by a wacky cast of characters, including an alchemy teacher who accidentally turned himself into a lion, a mysterious ghost with a grim reputation who wanders the halls past lights- out, and even a sorcery teacher who is actually a devil summoned from hell itself.
Unfortunately, Lillet barely has time to meet the cast before everything goes terribly wrong. A scant five days after Lillet arrives, she wakes up to discover that the Archmage has somehow been revived and has killed everyone in the tower. Just as he is about to finish her, a suddenly flash of light sends Lillet five days into the past, with her memories intact. As the only person who remembers the terrible events that occurred, Lillet has to figure out how the Archmage was revived and prevent his bloody return. Lillet has to continually relive those five days until she discovers a solution to her predicament.
Magic in the world of Grim Grimoire is done by petitioning the aid of familiars, magical spirits who can be summoned with the aid of Grimoires, enchanted books of great power. Magic is divided into four types: Glamour, Sorcery, Necromancy and Alchemy. Glamours are functionally "good" magic, using creatures like Unicorns and Elves and with a number of powerful healing magic. Sorcery uses the powers of hell itself to summon massive demons and fire-breathing dragons to smite your foes. Necromancy, rather unsurprisingly, uses the power of the undead and ghosts, while Alchemy focuses on the power of human-created creatures such as Golem and Homunculi. Each of these spell sets has its own strengths and weaknesses that form a sort of rock-paper-scissors element. For example, Sorcery monsters have a difficult time harming Necromancy undead because the devils from hell require flesh to inflict their pains and pleasures. However, Sorcery is then extra useful against Alchemic familiars, since they are created by man instead of God and thus more vulnerable to the wiles of the underworld.
No matter what magical realm you choose to focus on (you're not limited — you can use just one or all four, depending on your playing style), the real challenge comes from battles. In a bit of a change from the other Nippon Ichi offerings, Grim Grimoire isn't a turn-based title, but instead a real-time strategy game! All combat takes place in real time (although combat pauses for a moment when issuing orders), and battles are won more by numbers than by power.
However, there is a twist to this RTS setup: The entire game is in 2-D. That's right, Grim Grimoire is a side-scrolling, real-time strategy game, as strange as that concept sounds! Combat takes place in giant multi-floor arenas, and the only way to go between floors is to have a flying familiar or find stairs. Naturally, most of the field is obscured by fog of war, so exploring the map is a must. Despite being 2-D, Grim Grimoire honestly feels very much like other RTS games, and vets shouldn't have a huge problem jumping right in.
If you've ever played a Warcraft- style game, Grim Grimoire is going to feel quite familiar to you. You have Mana Crystals, which you then mine to get Mana, which functions as currency for your team. Each magical class has its own Mana farming class, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, but when a particular familiar begins farming a Mana crystal, only that sort of creature can continue mining for Mana, unless the "sanctuary" they place around the Mana crystal is destroyed.
Once you have enough Mana, you can use it to summon more powerful familiars to do battle for you. Each Grimoire that you get functions as the "buildings." By building a portal, you can use that Grimoire's abilities, including summoning new monsters, granting new abilities to your old monsters or simply making a new waypoint to which Mana gatherers can return. Each Grimoire you build also has levels, and by upgrading its levels, you gain access to new abilities and familiars, rather like a central castle in Warcraft. The maximum level of a Grimoire increases as you go through the game, so don't expect to be sending fully powered demons to smite your enemies right away.
Once you've got a base set up and money coming in, the rest is up to you. You order around your familiars in real time, using the analog stick to move a mouse pointer around. You can shore up your defenses with Talismans, create a number of massive screen-crushing dragons to rush your enemy base, or just hold out until your familiars are so powerful they can tear through anything in their way. The only limitations are your maximum familiar-summoning capability and your Mana income. One bit of warning based on what I've played: As a console RTS, Grim Grimoire's controls are a bit more unwieldy than its PC counterparts, and in the version I played, a number of seemingly simple features, such as setting waypoints for your created creatures, were missing, and it was impossible to select multiple creatures of different "species." It doesn't prevent the game from being fairly simple to control, but it is something that I hope to see implemented before release.
The graphics in Grim Grimoire are sure to make fans of 2-D artwork drool. The artwork is beautiful, both in gameplay and in the storyline segments. The story art consists of still pictures, but they each have various elements that seem to bring them alive. They fidget, breathe and generally look almost animated, which is a surprising effect that works exceptionally well. The gameplay is full of beautiful, large and well-animated sprites that simply look stunning in motion. While all Nippon Ichi games have made great use of 2-D sprites, this is without a doubt their best-looking game to date.
Grim Grimoire is a real departure for Nippon Ichi. Unlike their Disgaea or Atelier Iris releases, Grim Grimoire takes away the obscene number of levels and powerful equipment and replaces them with huge armies. However, for those who are worried about this departure from the norm, don't be: The trademark Nippon Ichi cheerful humor and memorable characters are still present in Grim Grimoire, and those eager for another foray into the wild and wacky worlds that Nippon Ichi creates are sure to enjoy their five days at the Silver Star Academy.
More articles about Grim Grimoire