Okay, let me just start by saying that I have never had such a polarizing experience before with any other game than I did with tactical SRPG deck-builder Grand Guilds on the Nintendo Switch. It started off quite promising in terms of story and gameplay but after encountering glitch after glitch, I called it quits about halfway through. The real tragedy is that underneath it all, there is an excellent game just waiting to burst forth and entertain RPG enthusiasts. Let me break it down for you.
Before you get to the main menu, an intro movie plays and sets us up for the world we are about to enter. The world of Irin was at war. The Triton Empire was on the losing side of a conflict with the Kingdoms of Dunbar until the guilds came along and turned the tides with their feats of valor. Out of respect for their contribution to the war effort, the Triton Empire gave them vast freedom to operate their guilds in Triton territory. Over time, many guilds popped up around Triton, each with their unique modus operandi and creeds. The game focuses on one of the main players in such a guild: Eliza Halfort of the Lux Deus guild. After failing as the Captain of the Royal Guard to protect someone close to her, she leaves in a self-imposed exile. The plot then jumps forward several years as Eliza returns home after a year-long absence; only now she is one of the de facto leaders of the highly regarded Lux Deus guild. I’ll stop here to avoid spoilers but a series of events lead the guilds to come under siege, setting Eliza off on an adventure to get to the bottom of things, all while helping people in need and gathering up new companions from various guilds.
The plot, characters, and setting are top-notch. The story is fairly mature and is not afraid to go to some dark places. I was genuinely interested to see how plotlines in the story worked out; this was one of the driving factors pushing me to play as much as I did, despite the issues that we will dive further into later on in this review. The character dialogues are often fun, too. It’s enjoyable seeing your ragtag bunch of guildies interact with each other and seeing the varied personalities clash. My favorite example is when Skyla (a bloodthirsty member of the assassin guild Shadow Vox) is accused of going soft by another party member and she responds by graphically describing how much she likes blood and gruesomely killing her enemies. Monico hails from a guild of talented engineers and is a new arrival to the group, therefore unaware of Skyla’s peculiar fun-time activities. Upon hearing this he goes wide-eyed and exclaims “what the hell is wrong with you people?” I think it’s refreshing to see a normal human reaction to someone making outlandish statements, even in a fantasy setting. I’m not a big fan of games where the characters drop their lines and keep chugging along as if someone didn’t just say something totally crazy. Your party members are both unique by design and interesting. The clever part here is the sense of individualism of each character is not only heightened through their personalities and dialogue but also through their character design and unique card decks that reinforce their character theme and playstyle. We’ll go over this as I explain the combat next!
You battle with up to three of your party members in a turn-based tactical battle set on a grid. It’s a common setup for the genre. Your party has 5Ap each to use up for moving into position and attacking before you end your turn and allow the enemy to go next. The main bulk of Grand Guilds’ combat is based on a deck-building card system. Each character has their own special set of cards which invoke abilities and attacks unique to them. Eliza is a firm believer in justice and protecting the weak and her deck matches that by gearing her cards toward damage dealing, taunting enemies, and abilities that grant herself and her teammates armor and resistance to protect them from physical damage and spells. Normally, dealing damage will subtract from a unit’s hitpoints until they die, but a unit can have armor and resistance shields to block incoming damage from those sources. You’ll have to either deplete those shields by dealing damage or bypass them completely by using attacks and spells with a piercing damage modifier. As I mentioned, the personality of the character often carries over to their cards and battle styles. Kadmus is a level-headed magic-user who focuses on water magic like ice for attacking and healing mists for...well, you get it. By contrast, his brother Raze is a big brute with a bad temper that tends to focus on fiery magic and fist attacks. The card system is not that complex, which I see as a good thing. You are dealt a small random hand at the beginning of the battle and given the option to redraw some once if you don’t like the selection. On each turn, you draw an extra card and you are also given the option to redraw once every turn. Each card has a different AP cost for using them, while a few special ones cost zero. You can mix and match whatever you want, as long as you have the AP to act. What I really like about this system is how every party member has a basic attack that can be used at the cost of 2 AP. This is a nice feature since the game doesn’t leave you at the mercy of the random card system to deal damage each turn.
The deck-building isn’t that convoluted, either, when it works properly. Each member of your party has about 20 different types of cards to choose from. The game limits how many of a certain card you can have in your 15-card battle deck at any given time. Some of the more powerful cards must be unlocked by spending Trils, the in-game currency that is earned by completing missions and guild quests. You can create and save multiple decks per character, though I’ve had a weird issue where my decks would reset back to the default for whatever reason. Even getting the customizer to work is annoying. You have to click on the custom deck slot and cancel a few times before the option to swap cards in and out finally appears. I also had a few glitches where the prompt to unlock a card would refuse to disappear no matter how many times I pressed the buttons. I was forced to shut the game off and restart because of it. Another time I selected a party member to customize, the game kicked me out of my game and back into the main menu. I honestly never had a glitch like that happen to me before in all my years of gaming. While it doesn’t sound like a lot of cards, it is a pretty versatile system that can accommodate multiple character playstyles. There is also a passive deck for you to mess around with. The passive cards offer a chance to customize your characters further by giving them slots to equip cards with a variety of special passive effects. While you only start with two slots, you can unlock a new slot every five levels you gain.
While I have a huge list of gripes, I’m just going to list my two biggest. First off is an issue that has occurred to me more than a few times. The battles consist of a square grid for you to move across. Imagine my surprise when lo and behold, an enemy moves into a square up against the wall of the battlefield and no matter what, my party members cannot target him with attacks, even if they are adjacent to him or using ranged skills. This has led to a few game-overs due to not being able to hit him and them not wanting to move away from that no-go zone. Needless to say, it is frustrating to have a close battle end like that. My second biggest peeve is how the controls are so counterintuitive and just plain old broken sometimes. Some inanimate objects can block your cursor, forcing you to move the camera before you can select your target. The B button is listed as the cancel button, but it often doesn’t work. One of the most painful examples of this is when the card selector pops up and selects a card, but you can cancel out back to the default cursor position. You can’t press A, that’ll use your card. The B button doesn’t work. The X button ends your turn without asking for confirmation. Y brings up your basic attack. My only option is to change back and forth between units until I come back to the character in question. I’ve gotten so angry wrangling with the controls during the heat of battle that I’ve lost a few turns because I’ve inadvertently pressed X while trying to get it to work properly. Over ten hours into the game, you should have the controls down already, seamlessly controlling your units without thinking about it. This was definitely not the case with Grand Guilds. I could go on longer about a bunch of smaller issues but I’ve said what I need to.
Grand Guilds is a fun and interesting game at its core, but only when it works smoothly. The whole experience is drastically bogged down by a myriad of glitches and problems which, unfortunately, stops me from heartily recommending it to people. If you have nothing better going on, you may be able to eke out some fun but I would advise you to wait and see if some of these issues are resolved through later patches.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 4.5/10
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