By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW) Amy Groupie
Any online gamer interested in brawlers or platformers alike has probably come across the name Grand Chase at some point over the years. Most might not know that this gem is one of the grand daddy’s of the genre, carrying a long and varied history since it first appeared in Korea back in 2003. Now being a front runner has its perks, but it also comes with a long list of challenges that caused Grand Chase to falter quite a bit over the years. Yet something about its playstyle kept Brazilians and Americans captivated enough to keep the game going strong in the west.
Now that the game has been active in the US for a whopping six years, and is back in the direct control of its developers, KOG Games, it seems the perfect time for a grand revival of the never ending chase. I entered into the Season 5 update with only limited experience in Grand Chase prior expected to find a title honed and sharpened through years of development. And while the core gameplay is arguably some of the best the sidescrolling genre has ever experienced, there’s still lingering issues rooted from the earliest state of development holding some elements back like a puppy tripping over its oversized paws.
Playing the Manhua – Story Review
First things first, I have to tip my hat to KOG on the character and story development in this game. It’s rare you’ll find this kind of dedication to the progression of a central storyline outside of single player titles. But the fact that they manage to incorporate an ever growing cast now consisting of nineteen playable characters as well as countless friendly and adversarial NPCs is quite astounding. It’s nothing fancier than text boxes presented at various points in dungeons, but it does wonders to build out personalities and progress the story archs while introducing new characters throughout.
Yet it’s also the first oversized paw that throws off immersion. See with KOG Games at the helm, they reversed a decision on the way character slots are dealt with. In the old days Grand Chase started you off with one of the three starter characters: Elesis – Elsword’s big bad older sister, currently in a bit chibier form, Arme – A purple haired mage with an ego problem not unlike Aisha, and Lire – Who to no ones’ surprise is a blonde elven girl that set the standard for Elsword’s Rena later on. Players would then unlock the ability to utilize more of the cast as they reached the point of the story where each character entered, making the Grand Chase feel more like a grand talent recruitment program.
In Season V, you’re now limited to four character slots with extra slots purchasable in the shop. The silver lining of this dark cloud is that you can begin your adventure with any of the nineteen playable characters. From a gameplay perspective this is certainly a welcome plus for improving the new player experience, but the storyline remains the same and you will typically end up feeling like an awkward fourth wheel keeping your mouth shut as the three girls bicker and bumble through the story. Story rewrites aren’t unheard of in Grand Chase’s history, and I’m hoping something is done to bring some sense of this change in the storyline.
Jump, Dodge, Hack, Slash, Cast – Gameplay Review
Considering how old Grand Chase is, you’d expect gameplay to be slow and clunky. This couldn’t be further from the truth as Grand Chase has aged better than 95% of MMOs on the market, consistently standing as a guinea pig test subject for new control improvements by KOG Games. Now that’s not to say it’s perfect. Platforming after all is a huge part of gameplay in both PvE and PvP and Grand Chase carries a distinct lagtime in movement of roughly 0.4s You quickly become accustomed to subconsciously incorporating it into your timing, but if you’ve grown up playing other platformers like Maplestory or even Elsword, it can throw you off while rushing through some of the more complex jumping rooms in dungeons.
The combo system more than makes up for this and is my favorite in the genre. No other platformer I’ve experienced has captured the arcady feel of Grand Chase’s combos. I’m talking crisp animations that clearly differentiate combos, and perfect recognition of which combos you unleash by keeping most combos on a character different enough apart to prevent accidental activation of the wrong moves. Special abilities further accentuate the system by letting you surprise attack an enemy or flat out finish one off with a massive blast of colorful devastation.
Grand Chase was held back for a long time though due to the stupid, slow, and weak enemies littering its PvE atmosphere. This of course put players through mindless button masher courses only to pit them eventually into PvP with no real concept of how to use their characters. And nothing says diminishing new playerbase like an untouchable elitist band of PvP masters picking apart the new recruits in a room-based PvP system. Thankfully now us novices are forced to get a better taste of utilizing the invincibility frames of our skills and how to use combos to dodge while attacking to counter the tells and attacks unleashed by the smarter “hoppier” enemies.
Season 5 furthers this by introducing a new dodge skill you unlock at level 10. It works the way you would expect it to, with a resource bar separate from your skill resource letting you dodge left or right (even while airborne) a certain number of times in rapid succession. The bar refills quite quickly, adding a much faster element to combat and some pretty wild new ways to clear jump quest maps in record time. I’m rooting that this system is soon added into PvP as well as it would do nothing but increase the skill cap by giving players a new method to spot and escape from the more devastating spells.
And while speaking of PvE only elements that could improve the PvP experience, Grand Chase offers one of the slickest class systems of any brawler on the market. Rather than totally abandoning your old ways upon reaching the next tier of progression, you can switch between the two fighting styles before dungeons as easily as changing your weapon type. Once you get a decent ways into progression, you can even learn to swap weapon and fighting styles mid-dungeon to truly open up a wide variety of fighting styles, ensuring your repertoire is only as limited as your own skills and knowledge of your character. And keep in mind that many of these classes offer special stance switches, as well as transformations, that swap not only your combo patterns but also your special skill sets.
It might be a bit overwhelming, but opening up all these styles to swap between on the fly in PvP would open up all new heights of epicness. The only drawback is that some of the newer characters don’t have four classes available yet, and that’s a tough situation to balance properly.
Mushrooms, Treents, and Samurai? Oh Mai! – PvE Review
I love the looks of Grand Chase. The game just has a style that sets it so far apart from everything else on the market. Character models, monster models, and background all mesh together like some kind of anime water-painting. And with the AI improvement, you can now appreciate the massive wind up animations of their attacks as crabs steamroll, harpies divebomb, and giant trolls force you to time a jump to dodge taking an earth shaking damage attack. What makes it even better is taking on the same levels a second time with a different character, and feeling just how impactful their individual strengths, weaknesses, and combat solutions make resolving every level.
The name of the game is Chase and the overall speed and accuracy you’ll want to clear levels with each time is so real. Every instance you tackle is timed, rated, and even the bonus quests thrown your way are designed to test your skill rather than tax your time. A few examples included completing levels while only taking a set number of hits, unleashing a set number of combos on foes from behind, and finishing levels under a certain time frame.
Believe me when I say these challenges get progressively more brutal as you progress further. Going full offensive to finish in a set time can often leave you dead as enemies combo attack you from full health to 0 in one five second span of time. It’s not uncommon for boss monsters to punish you for a third of your health after a single mistake either.
Universally Inaccessible – UI Review
As fun as the combat stages of the game can be in the heat of the moment, Grand Chase’s age again trips you up as soon as you’re dealing with the world UI. This saddened me as UI was one of the major focuses for improvement in Season 5, yet it still feels quite clunky. Hotkeys to useful menu options are half accessible from the overview, while many other vital functions are hidden under a Windows 7 style start menu. Tutorials are almost entirely focused on teaching you how to fight, leaving you clueless on how to navigate and utilize a large majority of these menus.
The new united character menu further confuses new players by separating gear not usable by your character while throwing gear you can use into a mosh-pit of random crafting materials and other event tokens. Your character’s equipment is then broken down further between consumables, trinkets, gear, fashion, and more. So many tabs. So many options. How do I do anything? What is everything?!
Mix in the random upgrade options on trinkets and monster card embedding system and you’ll be discovering new pieces of the puzzle well into your second week playing. And that’s if you’re inquisitive enough to detract time from the fun dungeon runs and PvP battles to slog through the menus in trial and error fashion.
But perhaps the biggest offender of the entire system is the placement of the GP shop on the world map. Now Grand Chase is surprisingly against pay to win. But for a confuddled novice stumbling through menus, they may make a clutch decision to disagree and leave the game before figuring things out fully. See the symbol for GP is shiny enough to look like a cash shop currency. Meanwhile k-ching looks like it would be the standard less shiny version of currency. Now mix that the cash shop UI looks exactly like the GP shop and that you can sell your gear from your inventory screen and all parts combine for a pretty awkward puppy.
This issue comes to a head at level 20 when even the most hardcore dungeon rushers reach the realization that they have no idea how to obtain their next job class unlock. A quick visit to the cash shop showcases a scroll to unlock the next job with bonus fashion and what not. My immediate reaction was ‘They think people are going to cash shop to unlock their class update content? That’s insane!’ Now turns out this scroll can also be purchased for GP in the GP Shop, if you realize it exists. But considering your first taste of leveling up skills involves getting locked out of certain variations of the skills by a k-ching skill key, it makes sense that additional job classes would be the same way.
The whole thing left a foul taste in my mouth and should be an automatically acquired quest the same way it’s done in even Elsword. Just include the GP charge in the quest line with an ‘accept or don’t accept’ parameter and be done with it.
One unrelated piece of the system that shows the game’s age is the room-based systems. Queue timers would be so much more convenient, but this may be due to server population issues, or the lack of a party system existing outside of rooms.
A Taste of Glory – PvP Review
There’s no doubt that Grand Chase shines gloriously in PvP. Despite the 2 dimensional limitations, the level of skill on display here trumps most any point and click MMORPG on the market. Tons of platforming elements, pitfalls, and walls add movement skill and positional knowledge into the fold to separate the men from the overpowered pop idols on the ranking chart.
The burden of knowledge can be quite intense with so many characters and subsets of characters on tap. But that’s just another part of the attraction here. Even after so many battles, you might come across new tactics you’ve never faced prior and have to adjust your fighting style on the fly to compensate. Playing smart is king and during a GM event I managed to take on veteran players with a GM leveled Rin wearing level 7 gear and only two real skills through proper positioning and opportunistic ambushes.
The balance of character survivability and movement speed is key to making 2D combat work and Grand Chase has it on lock. One would expect ranged characters to dominate in this field but the majority of Season 5 nerfs are focused on reducing the attack range of melee characters, showing that if anything KOG heavily fought to avoid this and now is toning their own decisions back to a more moderate stance.
Perhaps the most exciting element of PvP comes through in the Fatal system. Players with no hp still can have plenty of fight in them as this system forces you to perform a knockdown skill to finish them off. This typically means wasting a decent amount of mana to unleash a power attack or getting up close and personal to snatch and throw your target. It’s an adrenaline rush reversing a fight from the fatal status, and one that doesn’t seem to fade after numerous battles either.
Grand Chase isn’t the perfect game. Some of its flaws in UI can be downright harsh and scare less patient players away at the outset. The peril of a community that has outlived its welcome and looks at any changes or new blood in the community with disdain also threatens longevity. Yet the sheer fun factor of its gameplay, charming visuals, spot on sound effects, and massive amount of content updates added over the years seems to shine brighter than its faults. They hold the WoW card on the genre of having survived countless competitors and adapted their title to absorb the strengths of each and push forward. PvP, and now even PvE, is fast and furious in Season 5. Extensive ranking systems for individuals and guilds alike help ensure a long and engaging end-game. Grand Chase ensures its players can fight on even terms whether they cash shop or not, and there’s even events where players can win the k-ching keys to unlock the full potential of their skill tree.
All-in-all I find myself voting Grand Chase as my favorite 2D brawler on the market, though I do so with a migraine and massive friends list grateful for explaining elements to them that should have been made obvious through game tutorials and demonstrations. Give this game a proper Season 6, and I doubt anything that we know of is going to top it. For now though this puppy still has some growing to do.