Presented by the Academy of Magic Potion Arts and Sciences

As with other books, I’m going to begin at the beginning of the GrimGrimoire OnceMore. Skipping to the end just ruins things.

GrimGrimoire OnceMore is a port of a PlayStation 2 game from 2007. It’s billed as RTS (real time strategy), but it feels like a mashup of a 2D side-scroller and a tower defense game. I do like a good tower defense game, so I was intrigued, but my enthusiasm was met with some mixed realizations while playing the game. More on that later.

First, let’s look at what we have before us. GrimGrimoire OnceMore’s 2D artwork is good, and the level of detail and rich color make it very pleasant to view. There are interesting characterizations with several kinds of familiars (from workers to warriors), intriguing designs, constructs from runes to weapons, and so on. The only place the visuals fall down is the stairs.

Of course, we don’t want people falling down the stairs (that stuff hurts); it’s really the backgrounds which left me wanting. The whole adventure unfolds in a castle, so the playing field is always very similar staircases, hallways, and alcoves. The architecture is interesting, but you get just about the same thing for the whole game. Even though the setup is a bit same-y, I get it—this is basically a tower defense from the inside of one tower. You do get to see more game areas with some of the more advanced levels, so this restriction is something I can live with fairly easily.

Unlike some other tower defense games I have played, this game makes good use of the ol’ Fog of War feature; you won’t know what is lurking in the shadowy alcoves until one of your units gets close to it. I liked this feature as it keeps things from being too easy. You have to keep your eyes on things or the baddies might build up their forces and hit you hard.

Next, we turn to the audio, because what we hear is important, too. The background sounds, music, and voice work are all clear and clean. The music is what one might expect with this kind of game; it isn’t great, but it sticks to the mood of the scene and isn’t overbearing. Some of the other audio effects are not as well received. The footsteps are a bit too much and started to get annoying, but there are some settings in the controls to turn them down.

The other less-than-stellar audio experience was the voice acting. The tone was OK, but some of the dialogue delivery was over the top. Generally speaking, the sound is good enough to not be a negative, but not so good as to rave about it.

Now, for the story. Our heroine, Lillet Blan, is new at the Silver Star Tower Academy for Magicians, and she quickly finds herself having to live her first five days over and over. This time travel trope is tested and true, but a tad tired. Even so, the spin here is workable. It may feel a bit like “Groundhog Day,” but it does allow the player to pull out extra details and elements you can weave into your strategy. There is intrigue and tension. There are allies and adversaries facing frustrated romance and self-doubt…and all that’s just amongst the faculty. We get some decent story-telling, but some of it could be left out. I know the game was originally written in a different time, but some of the dialogue—especially with one male faculty member—is oversexualized to the point of being a bit pervy. Give it about 15 minutes and you’ll see what I mean.

Of course, Lillet needs to sharpen her skills so she can save the academy. To help her, you will need to learn how to use three grimoires for each of four schools of magic: glamor, necromancy, sorcery, and alchemy. You will learn to conjure various things to help fight your battles, collect enough mana to upgrade them, and organize your forces to defend the castle from the big bad guy everyone fears. If all this sounds familiar, it should; just ask your new professor, Gammel Dore (say it a couple of times fast…yep). The first few rounds act as the tutorial. They are thorough, but feel a little plodding.

I mentioned there are four branches of magic, and each branch has three grimoires. You will need to do some work to become familiar with and master the tools of your craft. There is a skill tree at work, and you will need to use your points well to make sure you have the skills needed to defeat the enemy before you. If you don’t have your skills lined up quite the way you want them, don’t worry—you can rework things and replay levels to gain the resources you need to refine your spell libraries.

The controls are fairly easy to use. I say “fairly” because there are some things you will need to watch out for, such as remembering to use some of the secondary controls when taking account of things. With the limited field of play, multiple friendly units, and multiple enemy units, the various elements might appear to be stacked on top of each other. The cadre of four imps might actually be seven with only four visible and three hiding behind them. You can use the left Joy-Con direction buttons to scroll through units, but this takes time.

Speaking of time, the game also includes a feature I have found in several other tower defense games, a “go faster” mode. This helps to speed through the mana grind so you can get to the more detailed planning and combat phases. If you need more time, you can slow things back down to normal speed and even pause the action to figure out your next steps. And once those steps are completed and the levels have been won, you’re rewarded with still images created just for the fun of looking at them. They are—after the fashion of the rest of the game—a bit cartoonish, but well done.

GrimGrimoire OnceMore has some very minor play issues, exhibits some odd behavior, and contains dialogue for which some groups might excoriate you (and some of it is a bit out there…). On the other hand, it includes some nice artwork, solid gameplay, an interesting story, and a nice, vertical twist on tower defense games. The first pass at the first five days is a bit tedious with the training routine, but this game has plenty to keep you entertained once you’ve learned all of its tricks. Keep that in mind if you try out the demo first.