Learning magic is full of danger. One day you’re just getting your head around the basics of summoning different creatures and the next you’re stuck in an inexplicable time loop to prevent a trapped Archmage from reclaiming an artifact of unimaginable power. At least, that’s the way things go in GrimGrimoire OnceMore as Lillet Blan tries to survive her studies at the Silver Star Tower.
A remaster of 2007’s GrimGrimoire by Vanillaware, this game does a lot right in its attempt to capture the action of a Real Time Strategy title. Things begin as Lillet Blan arrives at the Tower to study magic. The “new student at the academy” setup is familiar enough that players will feel at home in the first few minutes of the game. Lillet is sent to various professors, each specialising in a type of magic that she must learn. These lessons take the form of RTS battles that make up the gameplay in GrimGrimoire OnceMore.
Players take control of different summoning runes, each of which can bring different creatures into battle. Demons can do heavy physical damage, while ghosts can bypass physical attacks entirely but are weak to magic. Learning the strengths and weaknesses of the different schools of magic and using them effectively is the core gameplay loop players will find themselves in.
Speaking of loops, the story here is one big time loop that Lillet is doomed to repeat. Five days after she arrives at the Silver Star Tower, a powerful mage who had been sealed away within the tower is freed and Lillet dies a horrible death at his hands. Don’t worry, though; she is immediately sent back to the first night she was in the school, complete with the knowledge of what will shortly come to pass.
It’s a fascinating setup for the narrative and is easily the best part of GrimGrimoire OnceMore. As in the original, the five days in question play out differently each time Lillet tries to avert the catastrophe that only she knows is coming. Each loop offers a bit more information about the world and what side both the students and teachers are on. There are enough twists and betrayals that we had a lot of fun on the journey. Similar to 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, another Vanillaware title, mastering time and finding a way to break the seemingly endless cycle make the journey worthwhile.
Fans of RTS classics like StarCraft will spot a lot of familiar mechanics. Certain units harvest mana, which can be used to summon familiars, establish new runes, or create defensive structures. Each level has a limit on how many units you can create, so you need to be strategic in how you build your small armies. Even the mighty dragon unit can be stopped in its tracks by a single sleep spell, so you can’t rely on simply overwhelming your foes with brute force.
However, every single map is frustratingly similar to each other. Because the entire game takes place within the Silver Star Tower, the backgrounds are always the same, just with some slight variations on enemy placement and type. These changes don’t do enough to make the maps feel unique, though. In a setting that is literally brimming with magic and otherworldly creatures, this is a massive opportunity that has been completely missed. It is an issue made even worse by the fact that the background is so plain, wasting Vanillaware's visual talents, that you can’t always see the small details that have been changed.
Despite inheriting the repetitive maps of the original, GrimGrimoire OnceMore otherwise does a decent job of improving on the PS2 title. Players can now purchase upgrades to the different schools of magic through the use of the game’s Skill Tree, but this feature feels so basic that it is surprising the original shipped without it. There is also Grand Magic, which allows you to rewind time to an earlier point in the battle without restarting completely or to unleash powerful spells on your foes once per map. Both of these additions help the game’s pacing massively and save GrimGrimoire OnceMore from feeling nearly unplayable by modern standards.
The biggest improvement to the game, however, is the ability to fast-forward time in battles. Characters move painfully slow at normal speed and battles will otherwise take half an hour to complete even without potentially failing to complete the objectives and having to start over. This will probably happen at least once per map as you get later in the story as you try to figure out which runes to place to counter what the enemy throws at you.
The visuals have had an upgrade, with art that feels perfectly at home in the fantasy world established in the game. Cutscenes play out like visual novels, with a single linear path that Lillet follows in each time loop. The animations of the characters are largely static and subtle but their designs are distinct enough that you won’t completely forget them between loops. The voice acting has been completely re-recorded and the music is perfectly adequate as background noise to the battles, neither getting in the way nor standing out as you play.
It’s a shame that the maps of GrimGrimoire OnceMore feel so repetitive because there is enough here for fans of Real Time Strategy games to get sucked into. The addition of the Skill Tree allowing you to upgrade your units and being able to speed up time during combat change what could have been a slog into a relatively fast-paced title. You can get through most of the story in around 10 hours and you can go back to complete some of the challenge maps if that’s your thing. The story structure, however, is the star of the show here and remains well worth the uninteresting maps.
GrimGrimoire OnceMore takes one of the most under-appreciated RTS games of its generation and fixes some of its biggest problems, making this a worthwhile game for both new fans and those who have played the original. While the repetitive maps mean that most levels feel too similar to each other, the story is fun and the visuals have had a solid upgrade for the Switch. There is just enough depth to the strategy to keep you guessing without overwhelming new players.
I have the original. This remaster looks nice but I'm not sure it's doing enough to justify the price point though.
I tried the demo. The art and plot were cute but the gameplay didn't do it for me. I know it's just a game but I've never seen a game where the basic magic system was based 100% on slavery to quite this extent. These otherwise cheerful characters quite willing to be involved in this just did not work for me.
I think I have the original (unplayed), but I know I have the soundtrack. Hiroshima Sakimoto's compositions still get me excited.
Sounds intriguing, and I think I'll give the demo a try. The review always capitalizing "Real Time Strategy" is a bit odd though...
The development of this game is pretty wild. Odin Sphere being delayed nearly sunk them to the point they didn't have the money to make this. Vanillaware had to take out a big loan to work on this but then Atlas refused to publish it until they saw how well Odin Sphere was going to do (which was delayed). Luckily Odin Sphere did well and all worked out.
Visually, it looks gorgeous, but gameplay looks so boring unfortunately.
Oh wow it's already out in a week? Too many games!
I swear it is a game tsunami. Will get next payday though because vanillaware.
Edit: oh wait had it preordered and forgot.
I find it very easy to wait on the right prices for these over priced remakes.
I wish they'd bring Dragon's Crown to Switch :/
I plan to pick it up (never beat the original), but I will say that the English voice acting in the demo is absolutely awful. The intonation of nearly every line of dialogue is wrong. I'm so glad there's a Japanese voice track.
I think I’ll probably be able to sqeeze out all the fun this game has to offer by trying out the demo for 15 minutes.
(lol, a bit harsh maybe) 😄
@LastFootnote Oh! There's dual audio option support in the game, yes?
About all I remember from playing the original back in the day is that I bailed on it early. Started the new demo, but it still didn't hold my interest. However, I have never been much of an RTS fan anyway.
I think you're missing an indefinite article in the headline.
"QOL additions redefine reparative RTS" could be taken to mean that this game's QOL additions meaningfully change the otherwise repetitive genre that is RTS
Based on the review, you're trying to say that despite QOL additions making the game much better, it's still repetitive. For that, you would be more clear to say "QOL additions redefine [this] [a] [an otherwise] repetitive RTS.
@LastFootnote Oh! Thank you very much for this info and your reply!
@LastFootnote Thank you for telling us, I always go for Japanese voices when available so it's nice to hear that this game has them!
Interesting story and narrative structure, quality of life features to alleviate the original's issues, not too long... definitely will get this eventually, thanks for the review!
@JohnnyMind Most seiyûs from the original cast were changed in remastered version, because voice-overs from the PS2 original version were too much low-quality. That's sad, imo. From the original version, I can highlight Aiko Ôkubo(She's known for me by her role in UNIcl-r as Zohar. Besides it, she's widely known for her roles in H-anime and eroges), Hitoshi Bifu(I've seen his name more than twice, and he's still active seiyû), and Kanehira Yamamoto(I've seen his name more than twice, and he's still active seiyû). I don't know why they replaced Ôkubo, Bifu, and Yamamoto, 'cause they are still active seiyûs. Though, what's about new cast from the remastered version, well... I haven't heard of any of them before. That's sad as well.
@Vyacheslav333 On the other hand it's nice that new seiyū are getting employed because who knows, they might eventually become names that you recognize like the old ones (I certainly hope so for them)!
@JohnnyMind Yeah, I agree.
There is enough there to interest me. So I think I'll give it a try. I like this dev's works generally. Maybe on slight discount. Cheers for the review.
I REALLY enjoyed the demo but for 50dol it's just too much. Wait for sale. Can't wait to play though. Will grab NISA process of elimination. It has really fun demo that feels like it's worth 40dol and it's brand new game.
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