Now I am become Battle Princess, the destroyer of worlds
Before going into Battle Princess of Arcadias, I knew its heroine was a princess, a redhead, and a sword-wielder—three things I love in my main character. Beyond those bullet points and what I could surmise from screenshots, my knowledge of the game was nearly nonexistent.
Being exposed to games we may have otherwise missed is one of the fun parts of this job, however—and I ended up glad that I didn’t miss Battle Princess.
I wasn’t sure that’d be the case as first. Battle Princess starts promising enough, feeling (fairly or unfairly) like a game that’s trying to resemble some next project from Odin Sphere and Dragon’s Crown developer Vanillaware—just minus the years of experience or artistic flair. After some character introductions and storyline setup, I was thrown into my first real test of sword and skill, controlling the game’s titular battle princess, Plume, as she cut down birds and giant panda bears, because that’s how she rolls. Gameplay felt like classic side-scrolling action games with some modern touches, and I was intrigued. With the stage completed, it was back to the castle to meet my brother, the king—who, for reasons to be explained later, is a talking goose—and my first two teammates, my new attendant Raltz and his trusty bow, and the magic-wielding royal artisan, Yuni. (Every stage lets you pick three characters to take into battle, and you can either swap back and forth at will, or inactive characters will automatically come in to replace whoever you were using at the time, should they die.)
Barely scratching the surface of what Battle Princess had to offer, I was whisked away to two types of gameplay I’d had no experience with at that point: Sieges and Skirmishes. Sieges are the game’s equivalent of boss battles, where instead of just facing off against giant monstrosities with your trio of chosen characters, you’re joined by a battalion of soldiers who help you take them down. Meanwhile, Skirmishes have your battalion face off against an opposing battalion in a stage’s background, while you directly go up against the enemy commanders in the foreground.
Both of these different stage types offer some interesting variety to the overall game, but their introductions come far too fast and too hard at a point that players will still be trying to learn Battle Princess’’ basics. Part of their difficulty stems from the way you give your troops commands: Hold R1, press Triangle to switch to the orders menu, hit Square or Circle to cycle through your various options, release R1, and then press Circle again to confirm the selected order. All this has to be done while avoiding enemy attacks yourself, because the game doesn’t pause while you’re doing all of this. When I was there, playing those stages for the first time, trying to get the hang of the whole system, figuring out how to manage all of that with no pause in the action was a genuine source of frustration. In time, I (mostly) got the hang of soldier control, and you will, too—but it’s hard to help feeling like there couldn’t have been a better way for Battle Princess to handle this particular element.
Another catch to both Sieges and Skirmishes is something I consider to be one of the game’s biggest flaws: a reliance on grinding I’ve not seen in non-MMORPG games in some time. Not only must your main character be constantly leveled up to meet the rising challenge that flows all throughout Battle Princess’ adventure, but so, too, must their soldiers. Those soldiers can only ever be at an experience level equal to the protagonist that serves as their commander, and when those new cast members join your party, they’re typically of a much lower starting level than the rest of your team. So, it’s off to earn experience to beef them up—but once that’s done, building up your soldiers requires not monster kills but cold, hard cash, a resource not given lightly in Battle Princess. The developers didn’t do a good job of balancing natural character progression with enemy difficulty, so expect to go back to previously played stages for another go at them—many more goes at them, to be specific.
Ah, but there’s a silver lining to that cloud. While Sieges and Skirmishes offer some variety to gameplay and can be interesting once you’re past that frustrating break-in period with them, the main meat of Battle Princess—the action-focused, side-scrolling Combat missions—are where this game really shines. While the fighting engine isn’t perfect—there’s a default lack of ability to cancel one move type into another that can make it tough at times to block or jump as you’re waiting for an attack to finish its animations—it’s still a blast. There aren’t any bad choices across the game’s roster of 10 playable characters, and as each levels up and unlocks new abilities or maneuvers, they only become more enjoyable to take into battle. This is another beat-em-up where you can feel the fighting-game influences, comboing and juggling enemies or even performing special moves as you would a fireball in Street Fighter IV. Had Battle Princess been nothing but those Combat stages, I would’ve been totally happy, and part of what makes me more forgiving of its reliance on grinding is that I never felt like I was being punished by having to go out and beat up more vicious (or viciously cute) creatures.
There’s plenty to like about the game in areas beyond its action. Sure, its graphics and animation might not be on par with the work of Vanillaware’s notorius lead artist, George Kamitani, but they’re still both welcome in this age of polygonal proliferation, and they’re pretty well done in their own right (even if I can’t get over the fact that Plume runs like she’s a marionette). The characters also turned out more endearing than I was expecting. Even as many of them play on typical Japanese videogame or anime tropes, each cast members has enough of a twist to their personality that I just couldn’t help but like them—especially the game’s wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing, Odette. Battle Princess’ story itself is also deceptive, and what seems like a straightforward JRPG story begins to show signs of something stranger and more sinister lurking beneath its brightly colored surface.
Battle Princess of Arcadias’ faults are clear and undeniable, and I can’t help feel that it could’ve turned out better under a more experienced team. Still, most of what it gets wrong can be forgiven or overlooked—and what remains is a solid, satisfying adventure filled with a mix of combat and comedy. While Nippon Ichi and ApolloSoft may not have always succeeded in what they try to do here, Battle Princess’ combination of unique twists on gameplay ideas and satisfying combat make for an adventure I enjoyed far more than I first expected.
So, long live the Battle Princess. Maybe one day, with enough training and refinement, she’ll return to make a fine Battle Queen.
|Developer: Nippon Ichi Software, ApolloSoft • Publisher: NIS America • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 06.17.2014|
While it doesn’t get everything it tries to do right, Battle Princess of Arcadias is still an enjoyable action-adventure that mixes some unique gameplay twists together with a serious level of beat-em-up satisfaction.
|The Good||Some really enjoyable combat with a roster of fun-to-play characters.|
|The Bad||Attempts at gameplay depth cause some complications in terms of controls and level grinding.|
|The Ugly||The glee with which our teenage heroine tears through all who oppose her.|
|Battle Princess of Arcadias is available exclusively on PlayStation 3. Review code was provided by NIS America for the benefit of this review.|