2023 continues to dust off old glories of the PlayStation 2 generation, allowing younger players to experience them for the first time and veterans to experience them in a new light. And next April 7, 2023 will be the turn of a little gem developed by a group of artists famous for their artistic vision: I’m talking about GrimGrimoire OnceMore, the remastered of Vanillaware’s real-time strategy title coming to PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.
Released in 2007, the original GrimGrimoire was intended as a particular experiment that united the strategy of strategists in real time with the mastery of the Japanese software house in create colorful and original 2D worldsand that with Odin Sphere it had already achieved a remarkable level of detail and beauty. However, the final result, although beautiful to look at, sinned from a technical point of view between questionable design choices and technical limitations of the Sony console.
What better way to celebrate the studio’s upcoming 20th anniversary than to renew the magical adventure of Lillet Blanc with this reissue, reworking it both graphically and technically with new and important additions, but will GrimGrimoire OnceMore really be the definitive version of the work? Classes are about to start again so let’s grab our favorite summoning book and find out!
GrimGrimoire: magic like there’s no tomorrow!
The story of GrimGrimoire Once More has as its protagonist Lillet Blanc, a young apprentice witch of humble origins and recently arrived in the peculiar school of magic of the Silver Star Tower, a tower capable of piercing the skies and specialized in teaching the various evocations of beings enchanted through the use of runes and divided between them according to different schools of thought: Glamor linked to nature and fairy-tale creatures such as fairies, elves and unicorns; necromancy specializes in manipulating the spirits of the dead; Witchcraft, an art connected to the lowest depths of hell and used to summon infernal demons, bewitched cats and dragons; and finally – in complete antithesis to what was introduced before – Alchemy folds magic and puts it at the service of technology to give life to homunculus, steel golems and chimeras.
However, what promises to be a peaceful and fun stay becomes a real nightmare after just over 5 days. The academy is invaded by chaos, professors and teachers fall one after the other and without any explanation Lillet remains the only person still alive in front of a shady dark specter, who swears revenge against the Silver Star Tower and is preparing to kill the young witch. Except that… Ding! Dong! Bells ring throughout the school and cover everything in darkness. Agitated and panicked, Lillet wakes up in her room and realizes she has gone back in time to her first day of school. Confused and looking for answers, Lillet Blanc races against the passage of time in search of the final resolution that will return everything to normal.
The narration is presented as a fairy tale even before the reading of a single line of dialogue, with each chapter divided into tomes and dissecting each day into phases of drama and narration, followed by practice sessions in the field and dedicated to the pure gameplay that we will cover further on. Returning to the narrative, while the “time loop” trope doesn’t leave the secondary characters many opportunities to shine in their own light, each of them still manages to not only stand out and play an important part in Lillet’s growth as a witch and a person. Whether it’s the handsome Bartido Ballentyne or the mysterious and disturbing demon Advocat, each of them will play a fundamental role in providing the young woman with a piece that will bring her ever closer to solving the mystery. All of this is packaged in a smooth visual novel style and over the top voice acting that manages to entertain from start to finish, even when it tries to introduce some “superfucks” and themes that don’t (at first) seem to fit together. well with the fairy tale theme of the game.
But what do you do during these “practical tests”? The gameplay of GrimGrimoire OnceMore is in fact placed in a sort of “limbo”, a hybrid between RTS and two-dimensional side scroller, in which the player uses the resources at his disposal to create turrets, summons or support tools and complete the schemes or ” the problems” that accompany Lillet Blanc during his vicissitudes in space-time. At the beginning of each mission the player has a limited number of minions and mana and a single rune from which to start summoning further minions and progress in the scheme, each of which sets before a single goal to be achieved and which varies according to the narrative needs. In general, however, most of the gameplay sessions are based on the destruction of all the enemy runes scattered on the different floors of the tower.
How can you add more mana to your arsenal? Using the various commands provided by the graphical interface and selecting a minion with the “Y” key, it will be enough to direct the latter near a crystal from which to extract this resource, necessary for the evocation of new runes, turrets and above all evocations that they will have to move around the map. The clashes revolve around an “elemental” balance based on the four previously mentioned schools of thought: glamor beats necromancy, necromancy beats sorcery; sorcery beats alchemy and alchemy beats glamour. Each of these categories has at its disposal different types of tomes and which, according to the needs of the case, perform different functions and do not always lead to a landslide victory against a specific element. For example, necromancers are able to easily dispatch spirits such as wraiths or ghost riders, but cannot counter most other summons; on the other hand, units such as dragons or the ferryman of souls Charon are able to move between imposing walls and difficult to overcome by all the others; and even when it comes to exploring the planes, homunculus are great scouts to scout. The secret therefore lies in the correct use of the tools available to carry out strategies capable of overcoming the enemy defenses in the blink of an eye, in order to then obtain a final grade that will take into account the number of summons made, lost and killed, as well as the time taken.
However, on the PS2 version of GrimGrimoire this game loop was too slow and frustrating, especially during the endgame phases in which the CPU began to use an iron fist and propose more demanding and longer challenges; but it is precisely here that the changes proposed by this remastered come into play. By fulfilling certain side missions or testing yourself in the bonus levels that can be unlocked during the adventure, it is possible to obtain a finite number of tokens with which to enhance your runes and evocations through a dedicated skill tree, capable of improving performance or completely overturning the operation of a unit. For example, elves can become healers capable of alleviating the wounds of bigwigs such as dragons or demons, or even fairies can transform themselves into astral ghosts to overcome walls or surround enemies en masse with a barricade of arrows from high damage. Furthermore, the possibility of forwarding the game action via the “fast forward” with the right back button almost completely eliminates the dead times that in the original appeared as soon as the mana extraction operations started. In short, with GrimGrimoire OnceMore Vanillaware has done everything it could to address the critical issues that risked undermining an experience which, despite everything, has found its niche of enthusiasts and who with this new version will find new ways to pick up the controller, even thanks to the different levels of scalable difficulty, suitable both for players new to the genre and for those with strong nerves and able to act quickly.
Modernize a classic
We know, picking up a fairly old title and reworking it to make it attractive to new players can prove to be not exactly an easy task, with the software houses commissioned to do this feat not always able to meet expectations. But GrimGrimoire OnceMore is one of those rare cases in which the remastering work is carried out by the same company that brought the game to life and that knows every single secret hidden within its source code. And in fact the result obtained reflects the care and love for two-dimensional art that characterizes Vanillaware’s works and which characterized the appeal of GrimGrimoire when it was released on PlayStation 2 in 2007.
But let’s start step by step. As mentioned before, the addition of the “fast forward” function, to make the game progress faster by simply pressing the right back button, has managed to make a game loop less heavy which could be anachronistic towards of other more modern RTS titles, thus lightening the waiting times for the creation and – through a skill tree for each available tome and various scalable difficulty levels – dramatically increasing the options available to customize the experience and give the player a some sense of tangible progression, beyond the narrative. Lightening that doubles if you think of the new camera and support for widescreen resolutions and which therefore allow a complete view of the battlefield, compared to what was seen in the original work. In fact, in the latter the player’s view was almost choked by the various UI options, too large and unwatchable even on an aesthetic level and which fortunately has been completely redesigned in this version.
A new shot suitable for admiring improved 2D graphics, and which in high definition – even on Nintendo Switch at a resolution of 720p at 60fps – is clean and spectacular, able to stand up to the “fairytale feeling” of the Vanillaware story and faithful to the small details not visible in the original release. Without bringing too much porting of other games that make their two-dimensional background one of the main components, it is that most of the time they are mistreated or “upscaled to the good and better” (*cough* Atlus with Persona 3 Portable *cough*), this is exactly how a remastering process should be carried forward, trying to keep faith with the work done in the past and improve it. To conclude the complete package we find the original soundtrack accompanied by 7 new unreleased songs of all respect. What can I say, GrimGrimoire OnceMore is a port to frame and take as an example.
PIATTAFORME: PLAYSTATION 5, PLAYSTATION 4, NINTENDO SWITCH
PUBLISHER: NIS AMERICA
RELEASE DATE: APRIL 7, 2023
After almost a year of waiting compared to the oriental version, GrimGrimoire OnceMore is finally ready to enchant the “libraries” of physical and digital stores and it does it in the best possible way. The remaster goes to solve several problems that plagued the original release, and although the title still carries with it some of those intrinsic flaws in its design, this new version 100% represents the vision that Vanillaware wanted to communicate to gamers already 16 years ago. Of course, the narrative component leaves much to be desired and can be set aside if you are a fan of pure and simple strategic gameplay (which is able to offer hours and hours of fun and experimentation), but in the end the end result is more than satisfactory. Too bad for the Nintendo Switch version, penalized by the now dated technical capabilities of the hybrid console.
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