Back in 2007, when the original GrimGrimoire was released, it received generally positive reviews. The game was praised for its storytelling and adaptation of real-time strategy gameplay into consoles but critiqued for the controls and audio. The idea came from Vanillaware’s desire to create their rendition of Starcraft. Despite the game director’s plans to continue the series via sequels, Nippon Ichi Software didn’t view GrimGrimoire as a commercial success and thus didn’t greenlight more entries. A remastered version recently released on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch, so it’s time to dive in and see what magic awaits.
So what is GrimGrimoire OnceMore about? The story follows a young magician, Lillet Blan, beginning her enrollment in the Silver Star Tower magical academy. Her first week consists of attending lectures from varying professors and interacting with other students. On the final day of her first week, a great tragedy occurs on campus as every student and teacher is killed. Lillet is the only survivor, waking up to realize she has traveled back through time to her first day at the academy. This phenomenon sets the stage for Lillet to discover the truth behind her ability and stop the tragedy from happening.
The beginning of the plot is slightly slow, but there is an increasingly foreboding tone throughout the academy. During the final day on which the time-traveling dynamic reveals, the story turns up its intrigue. I had fun journeying along with Lillet as she tried to piece together the puzzle and discover the truth about what was happening. The biggest hurdle for many people will be progressing through the prologue of the plot. Once you make it, the story becomes much more interesting.
Earlier I said Vanillaware’s goal was to put their spin on a Starcraft-styled game. At its core, OnceMore is a magic-filled 2D strategy game that mixes real-time strategy with tower defense. Straying from the standard 3D arena format many RTS games use, OnceMore possesses a more unconventional and vertical 2D landscape. This uniqueness is both a blessing and a curse. Being vertical allows a heavy emphasis on tower defense, yet the levels all feel the same and bland because there are no changes in terrain or structures available like a 3D setting would offer.
The gameplay loop of battle parallels many other RTS titles out there. You begin by sending out drones to gather Mana. Mana is necessary for all battle moves and allows the summoning of familiars that attack an enemy’s base or defend your own. The familiars are summoned in different forms and possess differing strengths and weaknesses. Imagine a rock, paper, scissors format, and you’ll quickly understand the game’s balance system.
Honestly, the battles grew stale after a while. As I mentioned earlier, with the focus on 2D verticality, there is minor variation in visuals. New backgrounds and changes to the architecture would keep battles fresh and unpredictable throughout the experience. The battles prove to be a time investment, especially in the later parts of the game, but there is a speed-up button which I appreciated as an addition.
Aside from the main story battles, players can engage in trials. These trials comprise different objective and situation-based encounters. Once completed, you earn tokens that upgrade your summons and runes (bases) via a skill tree. The skill tree is a new addition to the remaster and complements the strategy aspects of OnceMore. I really enjoyed trials and the skill tree as they gave a break from the story and allowed the upgrade of my arsenal if story missions were too difficult.
The weakest gameplay aspect of OnceMore is the combat controls. There are many familiars to manage and it’s difficult to select which ones to move, attack, and defend. Being 2D means familiars are often stacked on top of each other. Even though the system assists by using shortcuts, there needs to be more options than simply selecting one specific summon or all of one type. It was hard to highlight units hidden by others and more playtesting could’ve led to solutions to alleviate that pain point.
Finally, let’s talk about the art of OnceMore. The visual upgrades of the remaster pass with flying colors. Vanillaware nailed that department as their signature style is both colorful and magical. They also include art illustrations made by different artists between battles, which is my favorite part of the game. It’s great seeing different interpretations of Lillet and the cast of characters in the academy.
Overall, GrimGrimoire OnceMore provides more than simply a fresh coat of paint. Vanillaware adding new gameplay mechanics and a skill tree helps the quality of life of new players to the franchise and fans of the original. The weakest parts are a control system that needs a rework and stale combat due to a lack of landscape variation. Collectively, though, it’s a worthwhile purchase, especially if you enjoy strategy games.
GrimGrimoire OnceMore serves as a solid remaster with a fantastic visual upgrade and new gameplay additions. Some control issues and repetitive gameplay hold it back but overall is a good strategy sim with an alluring setting.
- Great character design and setting
- New addition of a skill tree
- Art illustrations in between battles
- Combat is repetitive at times and can become stale
- The troop control and selection system is clunky