Although I enjoy the occasional manga and have watched various anime series throughout my life, I’ve never really delved into the world of JRPGs. So, when I began playing Grand Sphere I had absolutely no idea what to expect.
Developed by the celebrated Japanese company Silicon Studios, the company behind Age of Ishtaria and co-developer of the Bravely console series, Grand Sphere is a TCG-JRPG hybrid that requires tactics, strategic gameplay and a hell of a load of patience.
Throughout you play as an immensely powerful legendary Grand Sphere knight, exploring the medieval-fantasy world of Astrum, accompanied by an assemblage of heroes who are represented as anime-inspired cards. With over 150 cards to collect, there are absolutely loads of characters in Grand Sphere, many of which are voiced by famous Japanese voice actors, including Aya Suzaki of Kill La Kill and Toshihiko Seki of Naruto. Whilst the voice acting is incredible and immersive, there is a lot of dialogue so be prepared to read through a novels-worth of English subtitles unless you actually speak Japanese.
Your primary quest is to rescue the people of Astrum from the Dark Spheres with your childhood BFF Princess Stella, her associate Eioh and your robotic sidekick Comette. In true video game trope form, Princess Stella is kidnapped early on, and so your new mission is to rescue her.
In order to save your damsel, you must progress through a number of stages, each of which has a unique theme and a specific set of enemies you must defeat. It’s during combat that Grand Sphere really begins to shine, as you are required to arrange your party before and after each turn to ensure you are optimising each card’s unique skills and abilities.
When entering a battle you must select four cards to use, and it’s essential that you choose wisely depending on the level you’re on. You can work out which cards is most suitable using the game’s element system. Each card is either fire, water, Earth, light or dark, and each of those elements is both superior and vulnerable to another specific element. So, for example, if you are embarking on a stage where your enemies are mostly Earth-based, you should pick your most powerful fire cards as they will cause the most damage.
Once you’ve figured this out, you can then choose another card to join your team for each stage from a randomly generated list of other players’ cards. Once you commit to a battle by sacrificing energy (AP), you will receive a random collection of Spheres – think of them as Power Ups – that will roll out at each turn. Before each attack you must rearrange your cards so that their individual attacks and the Spheres you’ve received combine to cause the most damage. As Sphere-enhanced attacks are the most destructive, choosing the right combination can have a huge effect on whether you win or lose. Finally, each card also has its own Skill, which will become available once their SP bar is full.
But how do you get cards in the first place? Well, that’s where the inevitable IAPs come in. Grand Sphere utilizes a Gacha Summon System referred to as ‘Scouting’, where Scouts will go out into the big wide world and return to you with cards. To summon Scouts you must spend the games’ premium currency Gems and Link Points, which you receive when you are triumphant in battle. If you choose to spend 300 Gems – bearing in mind you receive 10 – 30 Gems for each stage you complete – you can summon Rare Scouts who’ll bring you random 3 -6 Star rated cards to add to your collection. If you spend Link Points however, you’ll summon the lame regular Scout who can only find 1 – 3 Star rated cards. Gems can also be traded for AP and the ability to expand your Unit List, and so most of the IAPs are Gem packs, which range up to £39.99 or 6000 Gems.
Engaging, colourful and complex, Grand Sphere is undeniably an exceptional mobile game. The story-driven, tactical gameplay is incredibly immersive, and the combat system has so many layers that it never feels like you’re grinding through the levels. My one issue with Grand Sphere is that it lacks the crucial mobile gaming element of remaining casual. Grand Sphere is not a game you can pick up and play for thirty seconds whist you’re waiting for your coffee, you have to set aside specific time to play as the battles can be lengthy. If this isn’t a problem for you though, I certainly recommend giving Grand Sphere a go.
Is it Hardcore?
Although Grand Sphere may not be suitable for casual gamers, it’s still one of the best mobile games I’ve ever played.