Back when I first played Odin Sphere in 2007 (holy crap am I old), I was floored by the amazing visuals, challenging Action-RPG gameplay, and incredible writing. Sadly, that game was a niche hit at best and didn’t really get it’s developer, Vanillaware, the kind of recognition it deserved. Of course, years later when they released Dragon’s Crown, Vanillaware would finally get their much-deserved fame… though perhaps not by the best means (no publicity is bad publicity, I suppose).
But as it happens, Vanillaware had been working on two games simultaneously. That other game, GrimGrimoire, was released earlier the same year. Now, fifteen years later, we return to that title with a remaster, and a question: can a game be too detailed?
What Is It?
GrimGrimoire OnceMore is a remaster of the cult classic 2007 release by Vanillaware, one of the first two games that now storied developer released (though due to various factors, GrimGrimoire ended up being the first to see release, with Odin Sphere after). Vanillaware, headed by artist and designer George Kamitani, is famous for their lush and painterly visual style as well as complex narratives that are typically loaded with references… and fanservice, lots of fanservice. Although not to the shameless level of Dragon’s Crown, GrimGrimoire definitely has it (among other things, we’ll get there.)
The game itself is about a young witch named Lillet Blan who has decided to attend school at a magical university called the Tower of the Silver Star (which coincidentally looks an awful lot like the Tower of Babel). During her first week at the school, she meets her teachers and fellow students. The professors include the lion-headed alchemist Charteuse, the vampish necromancer Opalneria, a literal devil from Hell named Advocat, and the bearded grandmaster Gammel Dore (remember what I said about references). Her fellow students are also equally as diverse (and spoiler heavy). However, during the first week, a plot is put in place to resurrect an infamously power mad sorcerer from the dead, which inevitably kills everyone in the tower… except for Lillet, who wakes up right back at her first morning at the academy. Caught in a magic time loop, she is forced to try and manipulate events and use her knowledge of prior loops in order to save herself, her fellow students, and the world.
Why Should I Care?
Kamitani himself one said that he wanted to make Vanillaware’s own version of Starcraft…and it shows through the gameplay. Outside of the visual novel story bits, GrimGrimoire is an Real-time Strategy game that takes many of the classic mechanics of old-school Blizzard-era strategy games and gives them a Vanillaware twist: whereas in other RTS games a single faction is rarely allowed more than one series of units to use, in GrimGrimoire the player character is given a variety of different categories at their disposal, all organized by the part of magic they occupy (‘Glamour’ magic includes things like fairies and unicorns, ‘Sorcery’ includes summoning demons and monsters, ‘Necromancy’ includes the summoning of ghosts and spirits, and ‘Alchemy’ includes the summoning of golem and chimeras) and each having an effect on the other types in a Rochambeau style. Said units have different functions (some are resource gatherers, others can fly, others tank, etc.) and different strength levels. Each battle is fought on a vertical 2D plane (mirroring the structure of the Tower itself), with multiple floors connected by staircases and bridges, and these battles can be visually spectacular (sometimes to its detriment, but we’ll get there).
Of course, just like in other RTS games, all of this stuff costs resources. In GrimGrimoire, those resources take the form of magic, which can be harvested from large crystals on the field. One specific unit category can claim and harvest a crystal (although the magic points harvested can be used for everything else). This magic fuels runes, which are summoning circles used to summon units of a specific category onto the field. Each rune is specific to the kind of magic being used, but multiple runes of any kind can be used as long as there is magic to fuel it. No crystal is infinite, and will eventually be depleted. Some larger units (such as dragons) require magic both to summon an egg to the field, and to eventually hatch.
At the end of each battle, you are awarded points which can then be used to upgrade the strength and numbers of your army. Outside of the main campaign, there are challenge levels that can be attempted in order to grind for points.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
So first things first: Ever played an RTS game on a console? Yeah, that’s the first issue here. Even though Kamitani and co. tried their best (and I’d argue that what they came up with is among the better examples), RTS games just do not translate well to console play. A keyboard and mouse is simply far more flexible and dynamic than what can be achieved on a controller, even with modern tech like the PS5. There are some quality of life features like pausing the battle, speeding up events, etc. that make it somewhat easier, but still: trying to cycle through units on a D-Pad are just not a smooth experience.
But arguably the single biggest issue with this game is simply the amount of chaos that can happen on screen, turning an already problematic control scheme into a serious chore. Vanillaware is known for their lush visuals, and that’s true here as well, but in later battles the sheer number of units on screen at once can overwhelm any semblance of order. In a normal, three dimensional RTS game this would be easier to handle. But with a flat, vertical 2D plane? So much can happen at once that it essentially degrades to absolute nonsense.
Still, with all of these issues, I did enjoy my time with this game. The story was an early example of Kamitani’s scenario writing abilities (with the type of multi-thread plots that would come to define some of their best titles), and still: it’s a Vanillaware Game. It’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, even if you aren’t really sure what you’re looking at.