I want to come clean about something. I am bloody awful at Real Time Strategy games. I would like to think that I, as a gamer, have decent skills. I love various genres and try to experience as much as I reasonably can. Real-Time Strategy has always been the category I consistently fail at. I get overwhelmed when it comes to all the plates you must twirl. Unit and resource management, split-second decision-making, tactics, and the threat posed by the fog of war are all things I dread in combination. But if there is something stronger than my fear of Real-Time Strategy games, it’s my love of VanillaWare games. Over the last few years, they have released their older games’ HD ports. What really makes VanillaWare stand out is its presentation, storytelling, music, and their willingness to try something different with each game. I fell deeply in love with Dragon’s Crown and Odin Sphere. The studio creates a captivating package I know I will enjoy. So with bated breath, I decided to jump into GrimGrimoire Once More. The magic is here. It’s powerful, even if I’m not the best wizard.
The tale of GrimGrimoire focuses on Lillet Blan. Lillet has been recruited to study the arcane arts at The Tower of The Silver Star. Lillet meets her fellow students and instructors as she begins her studies at the tower. She begins to learn the different schools of magic and more about her colleagues. But as all good stories must have, there is a plot afoot. At the end of the fifth day of her new tenure, calamity strikes, and an Evil Archmage, Calvaros returns to fulfill his goals. Despite this, Lillet wakes up in her bed, and returned to just before the first day, all her new knowledge intact.
Lillet then proceeds through a handful of time loops, learning more about her contemporaries and the situation at large. Each level covers a story segment and a level with a condition for victory. From a presentation standpoint, GrimGimoire is fantastic. I mentioned before that there are several areas where VanillaWare excels, and this title is no different. The characters and Familiars used in the main game are wonderfully imagined and realized. The menus in-game are easy to use and aesthetically pleasing. If I have any real criticisms on GrimGrimoire from a design aspect, it would be its severely lacking stage design. The stages in which you play are very repetitive in appearance and house only minor changes depending on what part of the tower you fight in.
GrimGrimoire is a little overwhelming at first. There are four primary schools of magic. Each school has its own Familiars and intricacies of their own. Some are grounded, and some fly or can climb over terrain. Each school works on a rock-paper-scissors format granting one school an advantage over another but having a disadvantage elsewhere. You can level up your runes and summon your familiars by gathering Mana. Thanks to simple controls and easy-to-use menus, managing everything is relatively easy. There are a couple of drawbacks inherent to this system, however. While the stage layouts are never the same, the level appearance makes navigating difficult. For the first hour or two, I had a devil of a time understanding where grounded units could and could not go to. It’s also 100% possible to get blindsided from a level despite knowing what schools you may already be up against. I had start overs because I went in the wrong way without the proper defenses and got wiped out. Apart from scaling everything to HD, GrimGrimoire has some additional features added to help with the issue. A new skill tree has been added for each school, allowing you to increase the stats of familiars by completing alternate objectives and optional challenge levels that grant you the coins to spend on skills. You can also refund the skills without penalty on a different tree. If you need to, you can constantly swap them to make one tree especially strong for your level. Lillet also accesses a robust set of spells known as Grand Magic. Once per battle, Lillet can utilize a powerful effect, such as mass healing, a sudden burst in mana, a screen-wiping explosion or even turning back time by a certain amount, after struggling to come to grips with the vast swath of information in the first couple hours. I genuinely started to have fun. I needed a couple of practice levels and a bit of compendium reading, but I began to enjoy the complexities, required strategy, and decision-making. Combined with the story’s intrigue, I felt I could keep playing despite my issues.
In the end, While I’ve come to like GrimGrimoire quite a bit, I feel conflicted about recommending it. The main reason is that the learning curve is pretty sharp, and unless you are familiar with the genre, it can overwhelm you. Outside of that, however, I cannot deny that GrimGrimoire Once More is a charming game with much thought put into it. If you can handle the sharp learning curve, please pick up GrimGrimoire Once More. The story, music, and art are worth experiencing; once you understand the system, it is quite fun.