GrimGrimoire OnceMore Review
You Better Beware
If there is an aesthetic that I love, it’s dark academia. It’s a subgenre that encompasses elements of horror, mystery, and science fiction. In 2007, Vanillaware introduced the world to GrimGrimoire on the PlayStation 2, a real-time strategy game that offers dark academia vibes. Now, the game has been remastered to current generation consoles in the form of GrimGrimoire OnceMore. While there’s not a lot of new content with this rerelease, there are still plenty of interesting ideas to draw RPGamers in.
Players are introduced to Lillet Blan, a young mage seeking to become a magician’s apprentice. Recognized for her magical talents, she attends Silver Star Tower, an academy full of wondrous mystery. Sealed in the building are the former Archmage and the Philosopher’s Stone, and those who come into possession of the latter are promised unlimited power. Some of the teachers Lillet meets are on the level, while others will stop at nothing to resurrect the Archmage and take control of the school with the Philosopher’s Stone. Sure enough, five days into her studies, danger threatens the academy, and lives are lost… except for Lillet’s. Instead, she is caught in a five-day loop she must reverse or be forever trapped in it.
The story in GrimGrimoire is an interesting one, full of time loops, mystery, and glamour. Every character has their own ulterior motives for why they want to possess the Philosopher’s Stone and their need for more power. Whether it’s protecting the school’s reputation or destroying the academy to resurrect the former Archmage, every character’s motives are clear from the get-go. What keeps the story engaging is that in every instance that time loops back, Lillet is given more information by each of the characters, filling in what at first seems like plotholes. The characters that Lillet interacts with are compelling, and the overarching mystery behind the time loops and the Philosopher’s Stone, while not the most original idea, is presented in an engaging way.
While the story is entertaining, the meat of GrimGrimoire comes in the form of real-time strategy battles. Being a student of magic, Lillet learns spells through different grimoires, each offering unique gameplay elements. Players summon familiars and use spells to take out enemies and destroy the runes they are guarding. However, if the player’s runes are destroyed, it’s game over. At the beginning of the game, there are many tutorials that teach the player about different grimoire abilities and their corresponding runes. Each battle begins with a pool of mana and a few different familiars out on the map. Familiars such as elves and ghosts need to harvest mana from nearby crystals in order to keep Lillet’s mana pool flush for summoning. With each rune out on the field, players must then level the rune up to summon certain familiars out onto the field, with the goal of destroying enemy runes or holding out in a battle for a certain amount of time. There are also special objectives in each battle that if met, offer magical coins which can be used to buy new abilities for different grimoires. Every battle starts fresh, meaning players will have to level their grimoires all over again.
With over twenty different summons and twelve rune types, GrimGrimoire offers a lot of room for experimentation. All the runes have different strengths and weaknesses, and there’s no one single solution to every skirmish. Every grimoire is attached to a skill tree that can help power up units, whether it’s providing them with the ability to gather mana faster, increasing attack and defense, or even offering special boons such as being able to consume enemies or heal allies. The bigger the familiar, the more time it also takes to summon. Familiars like chimeras and dragons move more easily across the map, as they have the ability to ignore stairwells and walls. Other types of familiars such as astrals, golems, and demons, are large, but slow-moving, making them great for defense around player runes. Towers that shoot projectiles can also be built, which can definitely help when enemies lurk closer to player runes. New to OnceMore is the addition of Grand Magic, which allows Lillet to use one major spell per map. These spells include adding more mana to the mana pool, healing all the familiars on-screen, turning back time, or magical burst to an area. Using Grand Magic adds another layer to keep combat moving and can easily change the tide of battle.
One area that takes some adjusting to is the game’s controls. It’s very easy to get tripped up by familiar selection, such as only highlighting a single familiar instead of a group. It also doesn’t help that runes can be difficult to see and summon from if there are too many familiars on top of them. Crowded zones make it difficult to keep track of how many familiars are on the field at any given time, and there’s no roster for the players to see who is alive and who has perished.
The gameplay is a bit of a learning curve, but once it clicks, it’s addictive. Battles move at a brisk pace and challenge the player to be constantly aware of what is happening in every corner of the map. Thankfully, players can pause the game to gain precious moments to strategize and take in their surroundings. Battle difficulty can also be adjusted before each battle to the player’s preferred style. For an additional challenge, players can also take on trials for extra practice, earning coins to spend in the skill tree.
Being a Vanillaware title means high expectations for the game’s visuals, and it’s certainly the case that GrimGrimoire OnceMore is gorgeous to look at. In addition to the upgraded HD graphics, the remaster’s wider aspect ratio makes the map so much more accessible and easier to navigate. The character artwork, familiars, and story sequences burst with color and are full of amazing amounts of detail. Unfortunately, the maps, while they have been cleaned up, are fairly similar throughout and lack variety in terms of locations. Another area that is somewhat lacking is the game’s soundtrack. It’s serviceable, but there aren’t any tracks that are memorable or stand out. The game’s voice acting is better, with Lillet’s voice fitting her character perfectly.
I have to admit how pleasantly surprised I was by how much I enjoyed my time with GrimGrimoire OnceMore. I didn’t anticipate how much I would love the game’s overall atmosphere and real-time strategy combat. It’s also appreciable that the game doesn’t outstay its welcome, clocking in just shy of ten hours, though this can vary based on the difficulty and how much of the trial content is completed. It’s definitely not a game for everyone, but it has such a unique charm to it that it’s worth checking out.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Beautiful visual direction
Interesting gameplay mechanics
Controls take some getting used to
Hard to keep track of familiars late-game