Also On: PS4
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Medium: Digital/Disc/Vita Card
To some extent, I love Grand Kingdom because of what it doesn't have. It doesn't have an impossible-to-follow story. It doesn't have impossibly busty schoolgirls wearing boob armor. It doesn't have brain-meltingly stupid dialogue. It doesn't have an ultra-complex turn-based battle system. In nearly every respect imaginable, it's very obviously a Japanese RPG, only it doesn't rigidly adhere to all the annoying tropes that go along with the genre.
What does it have, then? In a nutshell, the opposite of all those aforementioned flaws. It has a story that doesn't get bogged down in some needlessly convoluted mythology: you're the leader of a band of mercenaries, and you're selling your services to the highest bidder. There's a plot beyond that, of course, but if you just want the basics, that's what you need to know.
Further along that track, the characters here aren't atrocious, and the way they interact doesn't make you wish death on everyone involved. They may be a little thinly-sketched, to be sure, but they serve a purpose to the story, and they never get bogged down in squabbles or innuendo.
Perhaps because they're there to advance a plot rather than to…I don't know, be creepy waifus or something, Grand Kingdom's characters also dress in shockingly functional clothing. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's true to life or anything, but if you're the kind of person who doesn't want to get side-eyed by other people during your commute/just feel generally embarrassed by what you're playing, this will do the trick.
Perhaps the game's biggest positive, though, is its gameplay. Things are laid out here fantastically, adapting a board game-style layout in a way that seems totally intuitive, but that I don't think I've ever seen before. Likewise, the battle system is amazing — instead of existing in the same approximate space, like you see in most turn-based systems, the two sides here are placed on opposite ends of three tracks, and they move back and forth within a certain range. Attacking enemies is a little more demanding than the usual "press a button for a command and wait", but it makes for a much more engaging experience, as far as I'm concerned. It's also a little more frustrating, since this game features friendly fire, but on the whole it feels much more rewarding.
For that matter, everything about Grand Kingdom feels much more rewarding than your typical RPG. It sidesteps the genre's pitfalls, while introducing twists that feel entirely natural. Purists may not like the changes, but everyone else owes it to themselves to check it out.