It was reassuring to see Grand Kingdom director Tomohiko Deguchi standing in front the room at NIS America's press event last night, his game headlining the publisher's slate for 2016.
His last game - Grand Knights History - was confirmed for a North American release by XSEED, but its localization was ultimately canceled at the last minute. Grand Kingdom, which is something of a spiritual successor, appears to be on course for a happier fate.
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NIS America featured it front and center for their event, leading their announcements with a trailer and bringing up Deguchi to say a few words. Grand Kingdom was also featured on several demo stations, and Deguchi himself was on hand for interviews.
NIS America is undoubtedly banking on Grand Kingdom's outstanding art attracting a larger audience than its usual fare, which enjoys a small but fiercely loyal following. Deguchi previously worked for Vanillaware, and it shows in his game's distinctive art style, which stands with some of the best-looking 2D games to date. The fact that it will be available on the PlayStation 4 as well as the PlayStation Vita will almost certainly help as well.
What will be interesting to see is how the gameplay holds up. Grand Kingdom's looks belie a complicated tactics RPG that one person at the event described as a "2D Valkyria Chronicles," in which two armies spend most of their time fighting on either side of a two-dimensional plane. The action is a hybrid of turn-based and real-time strategy, with movement governed by an AP gauge similar to that of Valkyria Chronicles. Outside of battle, Grand Kingdom functions similar to a boardgame, with pieces moving space by space toward an objective.
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I came away excited and intrigued by Grand Kingdom, which benefits from both its art and the fact that its different and interesting. Unfortunately, games like these don't demo terribly well - I only really got to see a sliver of the actual game - but it was enough for me to add it to my list of RPGs to play when it launches on June 21. Expect my interview with Deguchi next week.
The rest of the year
In addition to Grand Kingdom, NIS America highlighted the rest of their upcoming slate of games for 2016.
Among them is Touhou Genso Rondo - a competitive shoot 'em up slated for PlayStation 4 later this summer. Using various characters from Touhou Project - a series of bullet hell shooter from indie developer Team Shanghai Alice - you battle against other players in local and online with a mix of special bullets and melee attacks. Truthfully, the trailer doesn't do a lot to explain how exactly a competitive bullet hell shooter works, but I kind of want this to be an eSport.
On the Vita, NIS America is planning to release Yomawari: Night Alone, a top-down puzzle adventure game with psychological horror elements. Its cute - you are a young girl searching for her dog - but also pretty creepy. It'll be out in late 2016.
Finally, NIS America is working on a visual novel adaptation of the anime Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness for PlayStation 4, Vita, and PC this fall. Of all the announcements, Psycho-Pass received the biggest reaction from the assembled fans and journalists, which NIS America made a point of compared to Dangaronpa - a series of visual novels that have proven to be a breakout hit.
These games come on top of tomorrow's release of Disgaea for the PC, with htol#NiQ: The Firefly Diary and Criminal Girls: Invite Only due out on Steam in March and April respectively.
As usual, NIS America seems comfortable in their particular niche, their boldest efforts being their push on to the PC and the release of Grand Kingdom. Online distribution has been kind to NIS America and publishers like them; and as they expand their presence on their PC, they are putting themselves in a better position to expand their audience. From the looks of it, they are in for another successful year.