For those looking for a different type of RPG experience, Grand Kingdom fits the bill. While it's not perfect by any means, the game ha some mechanical differences that set it apart from the majority of titles in its genre even if it does so without taking too many risks.
The Grand Kingdom story casts the player as the leader of a mercenary group of soldiers that solicits its services to the highest bidder. While the premise is about as un-original as they come, it does set up what a logical reason for the countless battles that players will encounter. The story is weak, sure, but gameplay and a nice take on combat mostly makes up for it.
While on the topic of combat, Grand Kingdom has a nuanced tactical feel to it. Set up on a multi-level 2D battlefield, everything from simple unit movement to combat actions all have depth to them. Players more-or-less have freedom of movement in the game's turn-based system, but everything has its cost. Should a unit exhaust its stamina meter, that's all that unit can do until its next turn. While early on the game is fairly forgiving, planning ahead and anticipating possible enemy scenarios proves a useful tactic as the game progresses. Positioning, spacing, and even timing are critical to finding success on the battlefield. Even knowing which enemy combatant to focus most of your efforts on is important as wiping out the enemy party's leader greatly decreases the opposing forces strength. Really, it rather interesting.
Part of the fun in this game is being able to recruit your own battle party. Grand Kingdom offers more than a dozen classes from which to choose and each class has its own abilities. Those character classes, however, basically boil down to three overall categories: ranged, magical, and melee. Parties are comprised of four members at a time, so there are plenty of combinations with which players can experiment to find the right mix. Part of what isn't fun, however, is that the game gets increasingly grindy as players will likely find themselves under-leveled as the game gets later and later along. Also, players can't save while in the middle of a mission. That means that if your troupe is felled in battle, you have to do the entire mission over again.
Outside of battles, there are dialogue sequences that serve the purpose of progressing the storyline as well as an overhead map that plays much like a board game. The dialogue sequences are often times quite dull and do little to add any character or personality to the game overall. While they do serve a purpose in that it puts things into context, they're largely a diversion away from the game's actual appeal. As for the overhead map, it seems overly simple. With each move your party makes, enemy parties also move. Furthermore, hidden enemies pop up from time to time to provide a little unpredictability to traversing the game world. Visually, however, it's nothing to write home about and probably could have been done much better.
Beyond the single-player core campaign, Grand Kingdom also offers players an online multiplayer mode known as "War". It's here that players take part in nation-on-nation conflicts and the opposing troops are comprised of mercenaries sent out by other players. Unfortunately, you aren't actually playing those other players. Rather, the A.I. takes control of a user-created army. The end result is gameplay that feels almost exactly like that found in the core game and, really, that's quite a disappointment.
Visuals in this anime-styled video game are quite striking. This should come as no surprise seeing as the man behind the game is Tomohiko Deguchi (formerly of Vanillaware) who's had a hand in stylistic Japanese-made games such as 2009's Muramasa: The Demon Blade. While the game may take place in what could easily have been a generic fantasy setting, the art direction and overall visual appeal Grand Kingdom provides is a real treat for the eye. The same cannot quite be said for the game's audio, however, as the oft-upbeat soundtrack could have been found in nearly any decently-made JRPG. The voice acting, however, is on point and battle sound effects are well done.
While not being amazing in any regard, Grand Kingdom is a worthy RPG title on the PlayStation Vita though it's also available on PS4. It's a refreshing take on a genre that is all too often left stagnate thanks to tried-and-true formulas, tropes, and all-around genre-generic components. The game has its flaws, sure, but it offers an experience that gamers will have difficulty finding elsewhere.
At the very least, Grand Kingdom is worth giving a go.
Final score: 7.5 out of 10