Title: Grand Guilds
Available on: PC, Nintendo Switch
Developer: Drix Studios
Publisher: Keybol Games
Official Site: Grand Guilds
Release Date: March 26, 2020
Where to Buy: Steam, Nintendo eShop
If you’re looking for an RPG that combines card game mechanics and traditional turn-based fighting, Grand Guilds is quite unique. It’s got everything you’d find in a game like Final Fantasy blended with interesting cards featured in Hearthstone, but put them together and you’ve got a tactical RPG with a great story. Though it doesn’t seem to have everything in order as it is buggy and glitchy. However, tucked behind the sluggish controls and lack of direction, there is a game hidden amongst the mess.
Grand Guilds follows protagonist Eliza as she and a team of two guild members travel the continent of Irin. Their quest begins when a mysterious figure steals a grimoire from the guild headquarters and vanishes. From there you are sent on a lengthy journey to find out who is responsible and why. The story is straightforward and simple. You are presented with a bunch of dialogue, are told where to go and who to find, fight some baddies, and move on. The game is segmented into cutscenes where you chat with numerous characters to gain information. From there you are dropped into combat and must fight to move on or get knocked out and start again.
The narrative is the best aspect of Grand Guilds. The cast of characters you interact with is extensive and they all have their own reasons for joining your group. Every party member has lines of dialogue but the voice actors and actresses portraying them don’t get a chance to show their skills. They may have a few choice sentences here and there but you’ll hear them shout battle cries more than they get to speak full conversations. On top of that, the lines they do speak are overused and there are not enough phrases. After a while, everyone is just yelling their superhero catchphrase and you’ll yell along with them.
However, for the lines that did make the cut, the voiceover is solid. Where Grand Guilds would benefit most from is adding full dialogue rather than walls of text. It’s a game that leans heavily on its story and showcasing the voiceover team would benefit it greatly. Reading walls of text isn’t horrible but when the game already has actors and actresses lending their time to it, it wouldn’t hurt to throw in more lines of dialogue.
You only control characters during combat and don’t get that freedom you’d find in other RPGs. The only freedom you get is when you travel between missions. Your group flies across the world on a massive airship, which looks great. The map is large and features several side quests where you can meet new characters and level up.
As for the combat, Grand Guilds features a unique and interesting system that ultimately falls short in the end. Each battle takes place on a grid (imagine Dungeons & Dragons) and the characters start a few spaces away from enemies. The combat is turn-based, quick, fast-paced, and at times difficult. Each character can pull from a pool of card effects to aid them and others in battle. Some characters are healers and focus on long-ranged attacks while others are brawlers or swordsmen who prefer to be up-close and personal.
Before the fight begins, you can choose to keep your starting hand or draw new cards for each character. Cards vary by their cost and you only have five points to spend each round. Characters also have access to a single attack that costs two points if they don’t want to use a card that turn, however, this effect can only be activated if you have at least one card, as far as I could tell. I tried multiple times to use this effect when I had no cards but still points to spend, but it never worked.
The combat is quick but overall falls flat as battles can get quite repetitive. Though the game does look excellent and runs smoothly on the Switch, as does it on PC. Grand Guilds is stylized and colorful and when you’re in a groove in combat it feels great. It’s also quite challenging to take on multiple enemies at once as battles typically involve your three guild members taking on up to five opponents at a time. It’s this aspect that brings a bit of challenge to Grand Guilds. You have to think each turn through before acting in order to pull out a win. You will also run into boss battles that include one larger enemy against your group. Boss fights in Grand Guilds are difficult, engaging, thought-provoking, and fun. They also hit like a truck so you’ll have to focus on placing each character and choosing the correct attacks.
Grand Guilds is, however, also buggy. If you move a character and switch to another mid-run, the original will teleport to the newly selected one and continue moving. Enemies can also stop doing anything which gives you time to attack them without remorse. So, it was difficult to say it my skills were improving in some cases but overall the combat is refreshing and engaging when it works.
Decks and Customization
Each character gains access to their own deck as they level up. You can then customize their deck to your liking but Grand Guilds never lets you know when you can do this. You have to figure it out by yourself. Customizing each deck is a great way to build new combat strategies but you can’t name the decks so it’s difficult to discern which one is which. You can also give each character boosts to their stats. These improvements can raise attack power, health, and healing. It’s like a skill tree but a bit easier to understand as there isn’t a lot of options for each character and you can only select a few at a time.
Sound and Art
Typically with an RPG, you’d get a memorable soundtrack with songs you hum along after the fact. Alas, that is not the case with Grand Guilds. Don’t get me wrong, the music that does show up is great but it never feels exciting. Plus, it only shows up during combat. Any other time you’re in a conversation, the soundtrack is nonexistent and it stands out because there is no sound at all. Grand Guilds would benefit greatly from a wider selection of music.
The art matches that of a Hayao Miyazaki film but doesn’t stick around long enough to enjoy its full effect. Outside of a few cutscenes, it switches back to gameplay graphics, which aren’t terrible to look at but it’s not consistent. Overall, the game looks great aside from a few glitches and tears here and there.
Verdict: Grand Guilds has all the proper ideas in place to become a stand out in the RPG world. However, it’s far too many glitches that make it difficult to tell if you’re improving or getting lucky in combat. When it does work, the combat is challenging and fun, the voice acting is solid but could use more, and it’s stunning to look at.