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GrimGrimoire: The Forgotten RTS Classic From Vanillaware

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim was a sleeper hit of 2020, but what fans don’t realize is that there was a predecessor in 2007 that was just as good.

2020’s 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim was met with critical acclaim and sold about 500,000 copies, no small feat for a small game developer like Vanillaware. Fans and critics have lauded the game for its engaging story, beautiful 2D visuals and music. The gameplay was met favorably, but it was criticized for being weaker when compared to the game overall, with common complaints of the gameplay suffering from a lack of polish.

Vanillaware primarily specializes in action RPGs, with 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim breaking the mold a bit by being a real-time strategy game. However, this is not Vanillaware’s first RTS game. In 2007, Vanillaware released a little-known 2D RTS game, GrimGrimoire, which, while a financial failure, features similar gameplay elements as 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. It is a shame that GrimGrimoire has not received the same attention as 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim; despite its flaws and somewhat simplistic narrative, there is more than enough charm to make this unsung gem worth revisiting today.

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GrimGrimoire is about Lillet Blan, a witch-in-training who attends the prestigious magic school Tower of Silver Star. While our plucky heroine explores the hallowed halls of what is essentially an anime version of Hogwarts, she realizes that time is looping and she is living the same five days over and over again. With her magical studies in tow, she must learn the secrets of the academy, why time is looping and solve the mystery behind the Philosopher’s Stone that caused the entire mess. While a bit choppy at times, the gameplay is rewarding and straightforward enough to pick up but takes a little time to master. As the player progresses in the story, new grimoires and amulets are obtained, allowing the player to do more while on the battlefield.

Battles consist of setting up runes, which act as bases for your familiars to summon them when needed. Familiars can do all kinds of things like attack, defend, heal, patrol or gather resources such as mana, which can be extracted from the crystals on every map. As more mana is collected, the player will be able to summon and control stronger familiars, giving them an edge in battle. For fans of RTS games like Command & Conquer or StarCraft, this is familiar territory, mainly for the western gaming market. Aside from games such as the Kessen series, RTS games were not a big hit in Japan. It was a risk for a small company like Vanillaware to make a game like GrimGrimoire, to say the least.

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Unfortunately, the lack of experience in making an RTS game rears its head from time to time with GrimGrimoire. Battles can come across as tedious, with some gamers stating that the gameplay’s wonky controls and repetitive nature bog down the experience. This was unfamiliar territory for Vanillaware, so some leeway should be given.

Another common complaint is that the story can be somewhat derivative, with other fantasy franchises such as Harry Potter being a source of inspiration. However, it was not gameplay issues or a derivative plot and characters that led to the failure of GrimGrimoire. It just came out at the wrong time. GrimGrimoire was released during the same time as games like Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, which highlighted a market shifting away from console RTS games.

The director of GrimGrimoire, George Kamitani, stated that it was the only game he worked on where he wanted a direct sequel. However, the game only sold about 26,000 copies, which is an abysmal commercial failure. It is good to know that games such as 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim allowed Kamitani to scratch that RTS itch he had been having for years and succeed commercially with it. Despite the low sales and minor gameplay grievances, GrimGrimoire is a charming, simple and fun game that gives fans of 13 Sentinels plenty of reason to step into Tower of Silver Star at least once.

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