There are few developers with an art style as distinct as Vanillaware. Ever since they released Odin Sphere players have associated that quirky style with the developer. However, Odin Sphere was actually their third game, with the other two being mostly forgotten. With NIS America pushing to bring their catalogue forward, GrimGrimoire was given second life with GrimGrimoire OnceMore. With amazing artwork, a touch of modernization, and well regarded gameplay, does it stand the test of time, or was it rightfully lost to the ages?
GrimGrimoire OnceMore starts with an incredibly simple premise. The adventure centers on Lillet Blan, a talented witch who was invited to the prestigious Silver Star Tower academy to hone her talents. She is slowly introduced to the various teachers, and students before disaster strikes. A mysterious spirit wants to exact revenge on the world, but before he can end Lillet she awakes to find herself at the beginning of her first day.
The adventure continues down this path with Lillet learning more about the world and those who inhabit it. Part of what makes this adventure work are wonderful character introductions. Characters are given intriguing details, contrasted with specific quirks. This leaves players wanting more, something GrimGrimoire OnceMore eventually expands upon as Lillet’s adventure progresses. While the narrative is great, gameplay is going to vary.
Unlike Vanillaware’s more popular titles, GrimGrimoire OnceMore is a real-time strategy title. Due to the complexity, and how unfamiliar these mechanics were when GrimGrimoire originally released, there is a painfully slow tutorial. Every detail is explained throughly throughout a number of dedicated tutorial stages. I applaud the thought, it just sucks when you’re five steps ahead or a stage is far longer than it needs to be.
You Can Be Both
These issues aside, GrimGrimoire OnceMore is surprisingly thoughtful for a PlayStation 2 title. At first stages have straightforward interactions. Elves collect resources that can be spent to summon Fairies who attack incoming threats. Overtime the number of units increase, along with the variety of threats.
What makes this system robust is forcing players to actually think about their strategy in, well, real-time. Fairies are strong, especially in a group, though this can be exploited by a powerful area of effect attack killing multiple at once. Phantoms are a step up from fairies, who are immune to physical attackers. While this gives them an edge, other enemies are specifically designed to kill these threats in seconds.
There are also certain mechanics that need to be mastered if you want to be successful. While creating more Elves seems like an ideal solution for resource creation, there is no benefit after six. Instead, you’ll need to venture higher in a stage to take advantage of multiple locations. This increases the risk that you need to mitigate by carefully placing units to defend against incoming threats.
All of this really comes together by anticipating common tactics. GrimGrimoire OnceMore will gladly punish anyone who doesn’t make use of runes, alternate forms, or a variety of units. Likewise, there are a plethora of mechanics that help defend an area, such as Phantoms having a patrol function, that you need to be aware of.
While the depth is great, controls didn’t age particularly well. Characters can be moved by either selecting a specific unit, highlighting multiple units, or grabbing the whole lot at once. It’s incredibly easy to mess up commands due to how things are set up. What you’ll often want to do is select multiple, move them, cancel out, select something else, alter their actions, cancel, and you get the point. Failing to cancel out will override previous commands; along with selecting the wrong units potentially hurting your current operation.
It sounds more complicated than it is. Just keep in mind there is a decent learning curve that will result in failure if you fail to handle it correctly. This is more so true on later stages, though even low level stages will give you a run for your money if you let them.
The Art Remains Lovely
Even though GrimGrimoire OnceMore is based off a PlayStation 2 title, it aged extremely well. The art looks as good as the original, with some changes that modernize the experience. This is a huge plus given a number of recent remasters/remakes have fallen short.
GrimGrimoire OnceMore Review Verdict
GrimGrimoire OnceMore: GrimGrimoire OnceMore is a fantastic revisit to the original. Not only does the art remain striking, gameplay offers more challenge than you might think. It's unfortunate certain elements didn't age as well, such as the long tutorial and weak controls, but the overall product is well made. So if you loved the original, or missed out on it the first time, GrimGrimoire OnceMore is absolutely worth checking out. – Grant