Grim Fandango

GrimGrimoire blends quasi-real-time strategy with gorgeous sprites and an awesome story. Interested yet? Well shut up, you should be!
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: April 3, 2007
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Outside the hardcore collector crowd, it's certain that nobody has heard of Vanillaware. The Japanese developer, renowned for their 2D art and a little SEGA Saturn game called Princess Crown -- an awesome hybrid of a beat-em-up and an RPG -- which is just about as rare as the equally awesome Treasure shooter Radiant Silvergun, is virtually unknown beyond Japan. Oh, how we hope that will change with the tag team of GrimGrimoire from NIS America and Odin Sphere from Atlus, both some of the most exemplary bits of 2D gameplay on the PS2.

It's either fitting or a shame that a game like this is hitting the PS2 at the end of its lifecycle. Sony Computer Entertainment America notoriously cockblocked publishers from porting games from the PS one/Saturn era to the PS2 for fear that it would lessen the image that the PS2 was a 3D powerhouse (and, sadly, it's been mirrored almost perfectly with the American approach to the PSP), but now, as the PS2 fades off into the sunset as the single best selling video games console in the history of man, apparently Sony is cool with 2D again.

Case in point: GrimGrimoire, a crazy mélange of elements from just about every time loop storyline (but, yes, we're gonna have to go with Seven Days because it's especially geeky for the cancelled TV series factor), real-time strategy staples and... crazy ass Japanese madness. Seriously, devil girls that shoot fire while wiggling their butts? How is that not awesome? Devil girls! Butts! Fire! If you've already checked out because that somehow offends you, it's probably best that you don't read on. But do it anyway, because the game is awesome.

Yes, we know, previews are supposed to be objective and even-handed, but when was the last time that you saw an objective preview on TPS? That's right, never, so let's explain why we're geeking out so much on this game.

The whole idea of a time loop is actually a pretty good idea for a game. Shadow of Destiny, a horribly underrated Konami game from near the PlayStation 2's launch, did it pretty well, albeit in an adventure game setting, and we all know how well those turned out in 3D (no, shut up, Grim Fandango doesn't count). Essentially the breakdown is that Lillet Blan, an aspiring magician, has just arrived at the Tower of Silver Star Academy (yay for her), which is apparently the crème de la crème of magician schools. It's all very Harry Potter as she meets the teachers, all of them specializing in various forms of magic, from alchemy (headed by an apparently transformed lion-man) to necromancy (taught by -- who else -- but a devil) to sorcery (led by a heaving-breasted matriarch) to, uh, "glamour."

Each of these schools create different creatures that help you do your thang, but all of them mirror a handful of basic changes. For one, everything in the world is governed by mana, which is harvested at crystals. This is the singular currency for summoning anything into the world and thus raw crystals are something of a commodity when you get into dueling with classmates and creepy crawlies. To do so, you have to send a harvesting character out to do things; glamour uses elves, necromancy uses ghosts, alchemy uses little blobs and sorcery uses imps. Spawning helpers to stock your mana means you can summon plenty of underlings to do your bidding, but there is of course a level cap for how many things you can generate, and everything, right down to the mana collectors (who in some cases can become attackers too), occupy slots on that limit list; bigger guys (like, say, huge ass tower-climbing dragons if you like more awesome) obviously require more of a population count.

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