For me, Grand Guilds is a game of many firsts: it was the first SRPG that Drix Studios developed, it was the first Filipino SRPG I’ve played, and it was also the first deckbuilding SRPG I’ve played. It also happens to be the best SRPG I’ve played this year. I really should make more of an effort to keep up new indie SRPGs because, for the most part, I’ve been delighted by what independent studios have been able to accomplish.
The two most compelling things about Grand Guilds are 1) its storytelling and 2) its unique gameplay. On the story-side, it’s nothing extraordinarily original, but it’s told with finesse. Characters are decently fleshed out. There are several witty moments throughout the story, as well as some twists. You spend some time exploring the game’s various locales, which run the gamut from scorching deserts to murky caves. You have a bevy of full-blown cutscenes which all look splendid:
This sort of ties in with the graphics, which are consistently good. Although the graphics that you see here aren’t groundbreaking by any means (considering Grand Guilds was released in 2020), it’s the simple thought that counts – that Drix Studios spent the time and effort to make their game the best it could be. Surely, they didn’t need to include extra fluff like this. But the fact remains that they did, and I think the game is all the better for it. Grand Guilds is an indie game, but it certainly wasn’t made with an indie work ethic. My intention isn’t to throw shade at games such as Spaceland or Super Dungeon Tactics – they’re fine games in their own right – but when it comes to story and presentation, Grand Guilds is the clear winner.
As anyone will tell you though, the fluffy bits can only take you so far. A game is nothing without good gameplay, after all. Here, too, am I glad to report that Grand Guilds does not disappoint. In fact, I’d argue that the game goes above and beyond here as well. The basic premise that drives all of Grand Guilds’ gameplay is the simple fusion between deckbuilding games and SRPGs. It’s a simple premise, yet a relatively unexplored one. And it’s executed with flawless precision.
This might surprise some people who know that I’m not a big fan of customization in SRPGs. Generally, I prefer SRPGs that give you prebuilt units, rather than ones which give you total freedom in how to build your units. After all, isn’t strategy supposed to be about your in-battle tactics and grand vision of the battle flow, rather than the logistics management between battles? Yet with that being said, I loved every aspect of Grand Guilds’ customization, which was all driven by deckbuilding. The key here is that the customization is transparent. As in, you can freely see every possible card that you can unlock. Compare this to a game like Final Fantasy Tactics, where you have zero idea of how to unlock potential classes, which then leads to all sorts of dreadful and repetitive grind… no, Grand Guilds does customization right. Because you can see every card that can be used, you can then build your deck and formulate a long-term gameplan for unlocking cards. If there’s a card that I really like, then I’ll save up coins to unlock it. Simple as that. No blind guessing about what I might unlock if I level up x amount of times. Nothing like that.
Deckbuilding is really addictive, too. In addition to offering transparency, it offers no shortage of options when it comes to building your units. One of my favorite units is Lyria, who has options for healing, dealing damage, applying debuffs to enemies, pushing/pulling her enemies, summoning familiars, and buffing her teammates. There are so many possibilities, but her deck can only hold 15 cards. Consequently, you must consider your possibilities, her limitations, and then strategize accordingly. Some other characters are a bit more straightforward, but even then, there’s customization when it comes to what exactly you want them to do. Rei is a straightforward damage dealer, but you still have options in whether you want her damage to be physical or magical, whether you want her to have more mobility-based blink skills, whether you want to have more armor-piercing skills, and so on.
Unfortunately, the game still has a few elements which betray its nature as an indie game. Controls can feel slightly clunky (at least on the Switch port), the camera isn’t the greatest, and a couple of cutscenes have framerate issues. This can be forgiven though, at least if you ask me. My only substantial complaint about the game is that later chapters could’ve used more complexity. Most of Grand Guilds’ battles only have one objective: kill all enemies. None of them permit you to bring any more than three characters to a battle. Although there’s no shortage of strategy, owing to how rich the deckbuilding system is and how much stuff is going on under the hood, I still felt that the game could’ve given us more. What if we had some battles that let us use six, or seven units? What if we had more goodies, like terrain bonuses, alternate victory objectives, and the like?
Even so, Grand Guilds is easily the best SRPG I’ve played this year. Part of me regrets not playing this last year when it came out, but I was busy playing Langrisser HD at the time. Here’s to hoping that Drix Studios comes out with another SRPG; they’ve certainly proven their mettle and grabbed my attention!