GrimGrimoire OnceMore Review – Professor, Tell Me the Truth

    Title: GrimGrimoire OnceMore
    Developer: Vanillaware
    Release Date: April 4, 2023
    Reviewed On: PS5
    Publisher: NIS America
    Genre: Strategy RPG

Every creator has projects that outshine others in their library. In the case of developer Vanillaware, that truth is evident when comparing their catalog of releases. With the success of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, it’s nostalgic to look back at their past adventures that may have been overlooked. A good example is GrimGrimoire, now making its way to modern audiences and platforms as GrimGrimoire OnceMore. This is likely one of the team’s most unconventional and ambitious efforts, resulting in a thought-provoking experience that may have a different target audience than their more recent releases.

GrimGrimoire OnceMore features protagonist Lillet Blan, a youth enrolling in Silver Star Tower, a prestigious magic academy, with the hope of becoming an adept sorceress who can better provide for her younger brothers. Her eagerness to learn about magic is borderline unparalleled, and she also meets a few notable students during her first week performing her studies. However, Silver Star Tower is far from your typical academic avenue; in fact, it’s rife with drama revolving around certain professors and their motivations.

Lillet is gradually introduced to these teachers, including one who’s a genuine devil. But a seemingly out-of-nowhere tragedy at the end of her fifth day kills everyone in the academy while also reviving a previously sealed treacherous figure. Somehow, this then causes Lillet to travel back in time to the start of her week, initiating a time loop where she must discover the truth about the revival on the fifth day to reach a more favorable future.

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GrimGrimoire’s premise is engaging, and that captivation manages to retain throughout the main story. Across each loop, Lillet gets to learn the ins and outs of select characters alongside gradual breakthroughs in how to prevent the fifth day’s tragedy. The relationships she forms with everyone are one of the collective highlights since she perceives the academy’s denizens in a far closer manner than actuality, contrasting the temporal linearity. As a result, Lillet’s loneliness becomes increasingly evident, and while it’s not addressed as much as I would have preferred since the mysteries take center stage, the circumstances make players feel pretty close to her as the plot progresses.

Gameplay-wise, GrimGrimoire has a lot going on. Firstly, battles occur in an RTS tower defense-like format, with players assigned various tasks rooted in the provided contexts. Most commonly, you have to defeat enemy units that act as spawning points for others, or to survive for a specific amount of time. As for the units themselves, there’s plenty to dissect, but they can essentially be categorized into distinct types, which are resistant to or weak against each other depending on the interaction. For instance, Glamour is highly effective against Necromancy but weak against Alchemy, and the other face-offs with these typings interact similarly. Familiars summoned from these schools can be either physical or astral, too, adding further strategical layers.

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The relationship chart of differing affinities can be challenging to grasp, especially since the tutorials are initially abundant, often causing more confusion than not. The gameplay cycle comprises using already-present familiars to gather mana and then using said mana to either summon additional mana-gatherers or other familiars of varying support and attack types. Knowing what to summon and where they should go is half the battle all on its own, though.

To be fair, the tutorials simultaneously elucidate how to control the UI, requiring a good deal of player patience. The D-pad and triggers must be used in conjunction to select the singular or group of familiars you’d like to direct, and it honestly doesn’t feel natural in the early hours. Yet another gameplay branch to take note of is how your mana spawners can be upgraded, enabling access to higher-tiered familiars that can turn the tides drastically. However, just because a familiar is ranked more highly doesn’t necessarily mean it’s inherently better than what you already have on hand. GrimGrimoire is not simply a game of larger numbers equating to success; it’s an experience reliant on playing the long con for victory.

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To sum all that up, the learning curve for GrimGrimoire OnceMore is steep and necessitates a decent bit of failure before you truly know what you’re doing. This philosophy extends even beyond the early stages since understanding enemy placements, and the map’s geography is paramount and simply impossible to be cognizant of during an initial attempt. Further, despite the choice in difficulty offering enhanced accessibility, such as for those solely yearning to go through the story, you still need to understand the basics. Brute-forcing isn’t really a thing unless the AI happens to act considerably in your favor.

What also warrants mentions are the skill tree and Grand Magic, neither of which were present in the original PlayStation 2 release. The former requires coins earned from completing optional objectives, granting access to magic-specific buffs, upgrades, and even strengthening for familiars. Additionally, these coins can be refunded at will without consequence, so if you’re ever on a mission where a magic type or familiar needs just an extra bit of oomph, then you can give the skill tree a gander. As for Grand Magic, it doesn’t become too prominent until the later hours, though it can provide inestimable aid in a pinch via immensely dealt damage or generous rejuvenation.

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While the sheer scale of gameplay choice may appear overwhelming, the missions sometimes only give you access to specific magic types, so it’s not like you always have access to literally every familiar possible. This design choice allows for more creative and challenging liberties due to players needing to focus on context-sensitive conundrums. Thankfully, a fast-forward mode is implemented, which is honestly much-needed since every summoned familiar or upgrade goes onto a queue with wait time, and moving some familiars around, like the dragon, takes a while.

I’ll be entirely candid here; I did not enjoy myself during the beginning hours. I was constantly overwhelmed, second-guessing myself, and unsure about what to do in subsequent attempts. But eventually, after careful experimentation and paying attention to familiar traits and behaviors, I grew to love the battle system’s intricacies. The appeal of every mission essentially being its own self-contained game of sorts really compelled me because it made the catharsis of successfully actualizing a theorized approach all the sweeter.

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This is self-evident at this point, but the presentation of GrimGrimoire OnceMore is stellar. Given Vanillaware’s track record, this should be no surprise, though it still does need emphasis. The character models are all gorgeous amidst their uniqueness, and the backgrounds, while admittedly lacking in number, play integral roles in amplifying the fantastical ambiance. On a personal note, Lillet’s design has become one of my favorites. Her classic witch-like attire is idyllic and adorable, further aiding in making her a memorable protagonist.

As for the voice acting, the English dub is cheesy yet charming, and mostly everyone’s voice fits their roles abundantly well. The sole, almost comically massive exception to this is Amoretta Virgine. Regardless of direction, her deliveries were sometimes painful to listen to, as they lacked any and all punch. This, unfortunately, stands out when compared to the otherwise terrific cast.

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GrimGrimoire OnceMore is not a game for everyone. Even if you’re a fan of Vanillaware’s other works, this title’s gameplay approach is distinct, comprising a continual cycle of inevitable failure and growth that is not an all-pleasing cup of tea. Still, for those who manage to get into it, this is an addictive strategy RPG with numerous in-depth systems that make progress an always enjoyable affair. And the story is quite compelling, with an intriguing cast bolstered by a charming protagonist who you’ll find yourself rooting for. By the end, you’ll be wondering where all those hours went.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.