KEMCO tightened its lock on iOS’ small traditional JRPG market this week with Grinsia (Out Now, $4.99 Release Sale), and it’s great to see the genre’s evolution continue — if haltingly. Grinsia’s tale of a treasure-hunting clan who bite off way more than they bargained for holds the promise of an offbeat family drama, but sadly it becomes a snoozer once goddesses and an evil empire predictably enter the mix. That said, KEMCO certainly gave the script their best shot and it came through the translation process just as well polished as the cliché overarching plot allows.
Gameplay-wise, Grinsia seems like it covers only the rock-bottom basics at first glance. Random battles every ten steps, turn based combat and skills learned automatically as characters level up, all the usual status effects and equipment to sift through — if you can think of a genre trope, chances are Grinsia’s got it.
Look closer, however, and you’ll find a few things that give Grinsia an edge. Most important is a time cycle that figures into situational puzzles. Mean imperial guard standing in front of a doorway? Come back at night and maybe he’ll have fallen asleep. Likewise, you’ll find different townsfolk present at different times of day. There’s also the “knockout” system, which fast-forwards you to the victory tally if your party is at a high level compared to the local flora and fauna that want to eat them. Shame it doesn’t kick in sooner when you visit a new area; players will still get plenty of use out of that “Auto” button in dungeons while knockouts happen with frequency on the overworld.
Once the player collects a few of the sacred artifacts that drive Grinsia’s story, characters can equip them to make use of Limit Break-style specials. Two artifacts can be slapped on a character at once, so a little experimentation with these reveals a whole additional layer of hidden spells that can be found through mixing and matching. This aspect of equipment management gives the player some welcome leeway over character skillsets. Oddly enough for the genre, there’s also a slew of Game Center and OpenFeint achievements to pick up in this one.
Grinsia’s dungeons feel cleverly designed, so it’s important to bring area minimaps purchased at village shops. It’s too bad these act like temporary consumables, as they make an awkward strain on the player’s in-game budget. I’m willing to accept that in exchange for the handy warp point system that cuts down on redundant travel though, and the fact that there’s a nice bulls-eye sitting over your next destination on the world map.
Grinsia is technically sound, offering a very responsive virtual interface or a robust tap-and-go option if the player prefers. The one snag it hits is slowdown in the config menu, but thankfully this doesn’t extend to the rest of the menu system. I have to give KEMCO credit for the effort put into all the beautifully redrawn sprites and animated dialogue portraits, which look slick on a Retina display — this is definitely the best looking of the RPGs they’ve brought our way so far. Now if we could get characters and enemies with a wider range of animations! Grinsia’s music makes much less of an impact than its visuals, and its sound effects are downright bizarre in some cases.
iFanzine Verdict: A day/night cycle and some help with random battle avoidance make Grinsia more interesting than your average retro JRPG, and it’s excellently polished to boot. If only it had a truly great story to go with everything else it does right!