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Monday Fun #11 (review)

Well, according to the poll last week, people seem to want me to keep going on with these, and their was a fair split between just what exactly I should do. So I'll pretty much keep going, and probably alternate between what I was doing before, links to more commercial online games, and reviews of console/PC games, especially more obscure ones. Heck, maybe I'll even double-up some weeks and post multiple thingies.

But for now:

Grim Grimoire

Game type: Strategy/Resource game

Time demand: Probably around 10 or so hours minimum for a full playthrough (I haven't actually finished it all the way myself, despite starting a few times)

Platform: Playstation 2

What it is:

You start out playing as Lillet Blan, a brand new magic student in a wizardly tower in blah blah semi-generic fantasy setting. She's quickly taken under the wing of Ganda.. er... Gammel Dore and his fellow magical professors, and slowly starts to learn magic over the course of the next five days. Only the next five days, because all hell breaks loose at that point (somewhat literally), Bad Things Happen, and people die and all that other fun stuff. Not that it matters, because at that point, time rewinds.

Yes, it's one of THOSE games, where you basically get to play the same few days over and over again, until you finally figure out what's wrong and fix it. It's not quite as bad here as in other games though, IMHO, because the game is very linear. Which sounds a bit odd, but the point is you're not flailing around desperately, knowing your time is running out and all your progress is going to be reset. Instead, you're just steadily moving from one section of the game to the next, knowing you're following the game's design and not having to worry about if you're screwing up and going to end up mired in the same spot forever, due to the time reset.

Anyhow, to get to the meat of things, the gameplay consists of a battle in every day's worth of events, framed by small cutscenes that further the plot. In this world, magic is controlled by grimoires (hence the name), each different grimoire summoning a different rune, which in turn can summon steadily more powerful creatures/has different effects, based on the level of the rune. Levelling a rune takes time and mana, as does summoning a creature, or building a defensive construct (called an advent). Creating a new rune also takes mana.

All of this takes place on a playing field that is a 2-d sidescrolling background, with usually about six or more vertical levels as well, connected by a few stairs and sometimes with various obstructions or gaps in the floor in the way. Flying units can go basically where they like, and extremely large and powerful units can break through obstructions. Other, more land-bound units are stuck following where the floors and stairwells can take them. In addition there are both normal and astral units, astral being unable to be struck by many of the normal types, but in turn more vulnerable to attacks by yet other enemies that specialize in taking down astral units.

You start out with a decent to large pool of mana, and a certain limit of unit points that you can have in play at one time. Small units usually take up one "slot," while advents and slightly larger units take up two, up to about five or six "slots" for the largest, most powerful summons. Mana, used for just about everything in the game, is collected by the most basic units, and carried back to a rune of the unit's type.

Oh yes, as to types. You start out learning the simplest form of Glamour (or nature magic), with elves to collect mana and (flying) fairies to attack and defend, and slowly work your way up to collecting more grimoires and learning more spells for each. There are three grimoires in each school of magic, and usually (or maybe always, as I said I haven't finished) five levels eventually for each, which you slowly unlock over the course of the game. There is Glamour, which is strongest against the ghosts and spirits of Necromancy, which in turn is strongest against Sorcery (which uses demons). Sorcery is strong against Alchemy, which uses constructs, and this in turn is powerful against Glamour. Yeah, a glorified rock-scissors-paper system, not the most original thing in video games either. But it works, especially when you have the added complexity of things like land-based versus flying units, terrain, and astral versus physical.

Each scenario gives you a different actual goal, but after the first simple tutorial stages, it basically boils down to either a) hunt out and defeat all of the enemies, or b) manage to survive a certain amount of time against everything the enemy can throw at you. If you fail, you try again from the start of the stage, usually with a hint from the game as to how to win the scenario. And this is probably the weakest part of the game - for one thing, the stages can be fairly long, say half an hour or so once you get into the swing of things, which is annoying if you just want to pick up the game for a little bit and save and stop when you feel like it. For another, the game is a bit too linear, taking you from one scene to the next, and if you get bogged down on a certain scenario you can't go around and do something else, you just keep having to butt your head up against it again and again - or of course give up.

That being said, the characters and story are fairly interesting, if not stunningly original, and the gameplay is quirky and complex enough to be engaging for a while at least. In addition, there are bonus stages that are gradually unlocked and that you can play through in between the others, but these don't further the story and are a bit confusing to play alongside, as they usually involve all of the grimoires and levels being unlocked from the start, so that you'll hardly know what to do with yourself. But it can still be good for a bit of a change.

So to sum up: this is a fairly interesting game for a while, with a neat take on the whole resource management/real time strategy genre, but may drag on after a while. Good probably for a rental, or if you like this type of game and find it fairly cheap.