The best accessory for an outfit like this is a grim-looking buddy by my side. --
Takayuki Ikkaku, Arisa Hosaka and Toshihiro Kawabata, Animal Crossing: Wild World, 2005,
Grim Grimoire is a darkly cute box lurking on your gamestore shelves with an interesting twist on some old ways of doing things.
It's not really grim (unless you consider Disgaea and Pikmin to be a dark commentary on our times). But it is at least about magical books. One of your teachers is a devil and he's out to get the Philosopher's Stone. Somewhere in your memories is the key to keep this from happening. The story is well thought out, and it really drives the gameplay. Just make sure you wear sturdy shoes, because you will trip over every cliche'd witch/wizard story out there (note the name of the headmaster). But keep at it, there's a mystery here and some of the twists and turns will surprise you.
My daughters were quite a bit more enthusiastic. Once they started playing, it pushed Naruto Shippuden, Inuyasha, and re-reading the sixth Harry Potter book completely off the schedule for three days. Any game that can do that deserves a second look.
The very creative approach to this game's art and story might mislead you into thinking it's an old-fashioned RPG. It's core is a real-time strategy game. Instead of herding harvesters to find some form of unobtainium to build units to go off and fight the evil minions of Whoever, you're herding Christmas elves and unicorns to gather mana so you can make dragons and clear the evil critters out of a fog-of-war-darkened room.
The game is conservatively designed with sprite-based graphics and a layout approach that brings to mind a side-scrolling adventure game. But every piece is beautifully presented. NIS America and Vanilla Ware are not going to win any mega-flop contests, but it's got a strong style that works with the story.
The game's controls are well suited to the PS2 controller. I was worried I'd miss a mouse and the classic conventions of the strategy genre on the PC but the game is scaled so that the simple commands are more than adequate to deal with the management of your summoned creatures in the course of a battle.
My daughters are my in-house experts on this one, and they had some input.
Who is your character?
You start out as the new kid named Lillet Blan in the haunted castle/ magic school and you soon start learning how to herd elves. Not only is that fun, but you also have one to clean your room (she is such a lucky girl"…).
This is a school, right? What are your teachers like?
Your first teacher, Gammel Dore is mostly sane except for the whole harboring demons thing. Then next is Mrs. Opalneria Rain who is, for lack of a better word, a witch. Then there is Mr. Advocat who has a very interesting and somewhat lecherous introduction to your character. Your Alchemy teacher, Mr. Chartreuse, has a lion's face.
What about the other students?
Your teachers are abnormal, but they are nothing compared to your fellow classmates. Margarita Surprise has an evil frog on her head. Bartido Ballantine is a major player. Ammoretta is a Homunculus. And Hiram Menth is in love with his teacher. With that to contend with, your character is pretty normal.
So how does the magic work?
Throughout the entire game you are learning how to control the four types of grimoires. First up is green magic; you can summon elves, archer fairies, unicorns, and what later on looks like the ghost of a mermaid. Next up is Necromancy or controlling Ghost's, Phantoms, and Acheron the grim reaper. After that is Sorcery learned from the Devil himself (referred to in the game as Mr. Advocat and even called Mephistopheles). You learn to summon Imps first and work your way up to Dragons. Last and least is Alchemy where the basic form of monster is a green blob and he is about a useful as the black cats (that is to say not at all).
The strongest kind of magic is Sorcery as it is almost completely offensive. The toughest summon is definitely the dragon although the Chimera are faster.
How do you fight?
The basics of the battle system; you start out in one part of the map and are provided with enough mana to get started. The map consists of a dark room that hides the opponent's runes allowing them to summon at will. The objective of most battles is to destroy the enemy's runes as well as protecting your own.
Manna is needed to summon anything. The first thing done when you get to a map should be to collect manna from the nearest crystal. Elves, imps, ghost's, and blobs are all the manna collectors. The rest are used for battle. It's really fun to wipe out your opponents with a stack of dragons.
The grading system after every battle is based on how many monsters you summon, how many got killed, how many you killed, how long it took, and manna collected. The best grade is full-fledged sorcerer and the worst is academy nominee.
What did you think of the story?
Although somewhat tedious in the battle department the story is entertaining. You have to keep this one thing away from Mr. Advocat, and you go through the same day over and over until you get everything to turn out just right. I guess if you get to slap around a few devils in the process then every cloud does have a silver lining.
This game isn't for everyone. There are fairies involved, for crying out loud. But I can think of several reasons why even a hardcore gamer might want to take a second look. It is an RTS on a console that doesn't stink to high heaven. If you want to sneak the basics of RTS strategy into someone's gaming life this is just what the doctor ordered. Or if you're of an age where you're looking to make Dragons, Chimeras, Fairies, and Ghosts tromp around the landscape hunting down your teachers then Grim Grimoire is perfect.