VanillaWare is having its moment. The developer’s games always exude luxury and passion. However, some of them ended up not always getting the widespread attention they deserved due to influencing factors. The original GrimGrimoire fits. A console real-time strategy game with visual novel elements is a pairing that faced quite a challenge in 2007, and it didn’t help that it launched around the same time as the company’s golden child Odin Sphere. Now it’s 2023! Visual novels are embraced worldwide! VanillaWare feels like its gained more mainstream notoriety due to 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim’s success! With some minor touch-ups to improve its pacing and appearance, it feels like it is GrimGrimoire OnceMore’s time to shine.
Lillet Blan’s been summoned to the Tower of Silver Star magical academy to become a mage under the tutelage of Gammel Dore. She’s a young woman from the countryside who’s rather unexperienced. However, she seems quickly accepted by other students like Amoretta Virgine, Bartido Ballentyne, Hiram Menthe, and Margarita Surprise, and she begins to meet and interact with other professors like Advocat, Chartreuse Grande, and Opalneria Rain. However, this isn’t some casual slice-of-life affair with RTS battles helping a young witch enjoy her school life. On her fifth day of school, everybody but her dies and things suddenly rewind back to her first day at the university. Fortunately, Lillet has the memory of everything that happened before and can begin furthering her magical studies and using her knowledge to attempt to break the loop.
As a hybrid between genres, GrimGrimoire OnceMore rather evenly breaks its two sorts of gameplay up. The visual novel elements tell the story as Lillet meets people at the academy, learns from them, discovers more about who they are and what they are capable of, and pieces together what leads to the onslaught on the fifth day. It’s all very straightforward as you read along, with each round offering opportunities to better get to know and understand the people around you. I especially appreciate how it subverts expectations of certain characters. Someone’s actions may be influenced, so they aren’t exactly the sort of person they would normally be. It’s aware of certain types of tropes, but also will occasionally play into that. The result is a story with more than a few twists and surprises. Enough time had passed that I’d forgotten some story beats, which mean they still felt fresh and handled well when they came around again.
As Lillet takes classes and proceeds through the story, there will be mandatory story battles. (More challenging bonus ones also exist, if you enjoy the systems.) These rely upon Grimoires, which you use to place Runes. Different Runes allow you to implement certain constructs or deploy certain units, provided you’ve gathered enough mana and haven’t hit your deployment limit. Each has their own advantageous properties, which can make them desirable against certain opponents or in particular situations. However, some fights will do things like restrict Grimoire usage, forcing a level of familiarity with every school of magic. The foundation always tends to begin with successfully setting up a Mana pipeline from your crystal, using that to level up your Runes for greater unit availability, and then mounting offensives and preparing defenses so you can take out your opponents’ Runes. This version of the game also introduces the ability to further improve units from a skill tree, so the ones you find most useful are better in battle, and Grand Magic that can act as something of a pinch-hit move.
Now, visual novels function well enough regardless of platform. It’s never too taxing to play one. I found GrimGrimoire OnceMore especially suitable on the Switch, which is already a proven way to enjoy these sorts of tales on the go. But RTS games are often a bit trickier on platforms other than PCs. However, GrimGrimoire OnceMore’s control scheme and shortcuts make it manageable. There are hotkeys to make it easier to select both groups or individuals swiftly. The menus are easy to parse, and onscreen notations make it easy to see what units are in the pipeline. It’s also not difficult to see where opponents are in the field, to make it more simple to settle things.
Much of what’s new in GrimGrimoire OnceMore makes the PlayStation 2 classic look and sound much better on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5. As a remaster, everything is now in HD and remastered. VanillaWare games always greatly benefit from these sorts of updates, as we’ve seen with Dragon’s Crown Pro and Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir. Of course, the hand-drawn visuals and incredibly intricate characters and environments look even more amazing after all these years. The fresh voice acting and remastered audio also do it plenty of favors. I’d also say the new aspect ratio, besides making it more comfortable on modern screens, also allows someone to better appreciate the artistry and plot their strategies.
Speaking of which, I’d almost say that the main draw here is all of the quality of life improvements present in GrimGrimoire OnceMore. When it debuted on the PS2, it absolutely stood out as a lavish and lovely take on the RTS genre. This remaster, however, seems directly geared at making a gem of a game one that will be more widely appreciated. The UI is more well-defined, so when you’re summoning units it’s clear in the forefront and easy to understand. The original version had some pacing issues, with some fights potentially plodding along.
This is especially true as the balancing adjustments include both built-in and optional additions. The Skill Tree that lets you improve your units and Grand Magic that allows you limited instances of AOE heals or AOE damage both can allow for quicker immediate responses to situations. These are built into the existing framework in a seamless way. Meanwhile, some of the functions are ones people might not even use if they’re happy with those new features. You can speed up during a fight by fast forwarding. I found it very useful during my first two weeks. You can also save if a fight seems to be taking awhile, which I definitely took advantage of in the end-game. It’s like there’s a better understanding of pacing here, and it didn’t take that many adjustments to make battles even more enjoyable. Though that honestly also speaks to the foundation upon which all these alterations are built.
From the very start, GrimGrimoire was a strong game, and with GrimGrimoire OnceMore VanillaWare made a once niche title even more appealing to a wider audience. With visual novels more appreciated, I feel the story of Lillet and the loops she jumps through at Tower of Silver Star will be better appreciated. Not to mention the solid strategic elements feel like they flow better with the latest adjustments. Combine that with VanillaWare’s always stunning presentation, and GrimGrimoire OnceMore feels like a mandatory inclusion in the libraries of both strong story lovers and strategy enthusiasts.
GrimGrimoire OnceMore will come to the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 in North America on April 4, 2023, in Europe on April 7, 2023, and in Australia on April 14, 2023. It is already available in Japan.