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Grim Grimoire
Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Vanillaware
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Real-Time Strategy

Graphics & Sound:
Who says real-time strategy games don't work on consoles? Okay, well, most people do and, with reason - with the exception of EA's duo of 360 RTS entries, the genre really hasn't worked on consoles, making Grim Grimoire an even more interesting prospect.

Although the choice of genre is enough to generate interest, art style is the first thing that will turn people's heads. Although the look may seem a little low-key after the release of Odin Sphere, Grim Grimoire's visuals are still stunning and give the game its own identity. All of the characters, who range from an easy-on-the eyes necromancer to a white-bearded wizard are beaming with personality, most of which comes through during cut scenes. During battle, units have their own little "ticks" that give them their own "life." These short animations even show up during story sequences.

Units also have their own sayings and quips, giving them a little more personality. Localization is generally good and up to NIS's usual standards. I wasn't overly impressed by the soundtrack, though it is still better than most other games.

Lillet Blan is a young witch who has just been accepted to a school for the magically inclined. From day one, things don't go the way Lillet would have hoped; only five days into her first semester an Archmage who was imprisoned in the school is released. Just as Lillet is about to meet her end by the Archmage's hand, she blacks out only to awake five days in the past. With the events of the next five days fresh in her mind, Lillet decides to change the future.

Although the game's story borrows heavily from a particular book involving a certain wizard at school with other wizards, Grim Grimoire offers several unique twists, not only in the story, but in its approach to how real-time strategy games are played. Although that other wizard takes a hands-on approach when it comes to battling evil, Lillet instead chooses to stand back and let others do things for her. However, this doesn't make her job any easier or less dangerous.

The first, and most noticeable, twist Grim Grimoire takes is that rather than presenting everything from a top-down view, the game is played from a side-scrolling view. Levels feature multiple floors connected by winding staircases. If you can picture fighting on Hogwart's staircase, you should have a pretty good idea of how things look. Levels are comfortably large and require just as much scrolling as top-down maps, though it is a little tricky in Grim Grimoire since there isn't a super-effective way to scroll around levels - or at least quickly get to a particular spot.

Scattered on each floor are crystals that act as your main resource type. Before you can harvest crystals, you first need to train workers who will then construct a structure around the crystals so they can begin harvesting. Each type of magic has its own structure and worker type, and workers of one type can't harvest from another structure - so imps can't harvest from the same spot as elves. It is a different approach to resource collection and, at least for me, was something that took a little adjustment. It simply requires a little more planning, though it is certainly doable. As the game progresses, micromanagement like this becomes even more important and prominent, so the earlier you get your mind wrapped around the concept, the better.

Once your economy is running, you can then cast spells from your spell books, called a Grimoire, or from runes. Runes act like a barracks from summoning monsters to do battle. Each magic type has its own summons that have their own special abilities, advantages and uses in battles. Workers collect resources but have other uses as well; elves can also summon turrets while ghosts are immune to physical attack and can pass through floors. Other units can fly, heal or do massive damage. As you move up the tiers, summons get bigger and more expensive. Like the types of magic, summons share a "Rock-Paper-Scissors" relationship, giving each type its own counter, adding more depth and a few more decisions.

Battles are largely about nabbing more resources than your opponent since most of the time you are both after the same limited resources. You have to make sure you have a sizeable defense force that can patrol between resource points and quickly respond to attacks.

Grim Grimoire follows the same bumps and curves that come with any RTS, even a side-scrolling one. New mechanics and tactics are introduced through the first couple of missions, beginning with how to collect resources then moving on to selecting units, combat and special abilities. Progression is handled rather well and it doesn't take very long to learn what you are doing - especially if you are familiar with how strategy games tend to go. If not, you may have a slightly more difficulty time, though you should not have that much of a problem learning the ropes after a few missions. Otherwise Grim Grimoire is probably not for you.

After learning what to do, there is a matter of strategy. Simply knowing how to do all this stuff isn't going to get you very far, it is knowing how to use it well. First off, there is resource management and knowing how the different branches of magic relate to one another. Combating one type with a type that is dominant is the quickest way to having to replay a mission. Combat is also about more than amassing a large army of powerful units; you have to learn their abilities, how they relate and integrate them to create an effective force. You also need to learn how to manage the cap placed on how many units can be in play at one time.

Game Mechanics:
Though audience tastes have a part in it, control setup has always been the biggest obstacle in the way of RTSs making their way on to consoles. Grim Grimoire's unique approach gives it a little leeway in trying different things that work for consoles.

The most striking aspect about the setup is how accessible it is. Moving the cursor over a unit and hitting (Square) selects a unit. Clicking the (L1) and (R1) buttons select between different options and, with another press of (Square), your unit is off to work. The only problem comes with selecting units out when they are bunched up. It is extremely easy to choose all units of one type, though trying to pick out certain types does take some practice - and even then it doesn't ever feel completely comfortable.

Like Odin Sphere, Vanillaware's other recent PS2 offering, Grim Grimoire is a game that everyone should experience, though only a niche group will probably appreciate and really get into. Still, it is departure from the norm and worth a look if you are in the market for something a little different.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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