Battle Princess Of Arcadias PSN Review
After Nippon Ichi Software’s miserable, mean-spirited release The Witch And The Hundred Knight, the high-spirited optimism and cutesy visuals of their latest downloadable release, Battle Princess of Arcadias, feels like a breath of fresh air by comparison. Available digitally on PS3, Battle Princess takes on a much kinder form and a much more accessible gameplay mechanic that is marred only by its overindulgent character dialog and wild swings in difficulty.
The story of Battle Princess takes place in the Schwert Kingdom, which serves as one out of three kingdoms in the continent of Vertex currently engaged in war against an ancient evil. Our heroine, the titular Battle Princess Plume, arrives at the scene of a deadly attack that has left many soldiers dead, including her personal assistant Del. Moving past his death in one of the shortest grieving periods since Link took up his dead uncle’s sword and shield, Plume cheeringly welcomes her newest assistant Raltz, a shy but dutiful archer who serves as but one of the Battle Princess’ many allies.
Though the story does show signs of darker truths lurking in the shadows, for the most part the story is lighthearted and the characters are cartoonishly upbeat. Plume is a refreshingly cheery protagonist who carries a single-minded goal of protecting her friends, with her almost-inexplicable innocence surprising friend and foe alike. Her brother, the king of Schwert, is also a talking goose with a crown, of which the characters are quick to assure befuddled players “not to worry about it”. Other playable characters include hot-headed ax wielder Rudolph, calm and collected Kilios, man-hating, woman-craving Marianne (who is also a woman), and equally lusting but far-less tactful pervert Dieche. If you’ve played a JRPG or watched an Anime, you’ve seen most of these tropes before. They are serviceable characters, but they also tend to drone on and on during cutscenes, often filling up the already lengthy plot dialog with their one-note quirks and banter.
If you’ve also played Odin Sphere or Muramasa, the gameplay of Battle Princess will feel especially familiar. Featuring a 2D art style that mixes brawler-based gameplay with RPG-based levels and upgrades, the game is broken into stages across a world map where players must either navigate from one side of the screen to the next, defeat a boss with the help of a disposable army, or defeat another disposable army with your own.
For the standard stage progression, players take command of three party members that can be swapped on the fly. Each of the characters has their own unique move-set and abilities: Plume is a combo-heavy swordfighter that can chain attacks at blinding speed, Raltz can attack multiple enemies at a distance with his bow, Yuni is weak in strength but powerful with magic, Rudolph is a slow bruiser who deals huge damage, and so on. Characters gain experience points through battle which unlocks additional skills, but also gain Honor points that raise their affinity with one another, resulting in further unlockable cross abilities. This encourages routine swapping of the characters rather than sticking with the already-reliable Plume, though some party members are clearly more useful than others (Raltz gets the short end of the stick, as it can prove difficult to properly aim his bow during the frantic on-screen onslaught of enemies, plus his combos take too long to charge for efficient damage).
The next two gameplay modes, Siege and Skirmish, make use of the aforementioned army. Siege involves taking on a typically towering boss with your chosen playable character and an army of NPCs. While fighting, players can give out specific orders to the army which boils down to focusing on offense, raising defense, retreat, and other self-explanatory commands. For bosses, the typical strategy is to whittle down their shield until it shatters, causing them to be momentarily stunned and allowing a brief period to deal damage. Armies feature a morale meter that rises or lowers based on certain actions; when the meter is full, players can utilize an ultimate attack that results in a flashy finisher that may not necessarily finish off bosses, but take off a massive chunk of health nonetheless.
Skirmish works similarly to Siege, except this time the enemy is also a massive army that must be beaten down to nothing. The same commands can be issued, but in this mode players will control three groups of soldiers instead of one. These groups, called Brigades, are classified by their weapon types, including swords, scepters, bows, axes, and so forth. Naturally, each class has a certain strength/weakness when pitted against another class, making it important for players to swap their units around to avoid the disadvantage. Regardless, every brigade has their own individual HP bar, and once it hits 0, that army will fall….and once all the armies fall, it’s Game Over for the losing side.
This brings about the biggest issue with Battle Princess of Arcadias…for all the bright cheeriness of its visuals and character designs, the game can be punishingly difficult. Players who try to stick to the main storyline without any backtracking will quickly come across foes that deal massive damage and take just as much to bring down. The controls, while generally tight, can also prove cumbersome when dealing with multiple enemies (particularly high-flying ones, as few characters have the reach in their skills to deal with airborne pests), thanks to the way certain commands are inputted; Raltz, for example, has a combo move that can result in a powerful charged shot, but one easily mistimed command can lead to him sliding forward by mistake and right into an enemy’s attack.
Simply put, you will need to grind consistently in order to proceed in the game, which involves revisiting the same few areas over and over in order to gain experience and gold. The latter can be used to purchase new equipment and upgrade them further, but more importantly they can be used to raise the levels of your brigades; the Siege attacks are the most glaring example of how an under leveled group can quickly fail, even if following the proper strategies. Even when new playable characters join the group, they are especially under the required level and also require backtracking to bring them up to speed.
Despite its glaring faults, Battle Princess of Arcadias still makes for a decent hybrid of RPG and Beat-’Em-Up, even if it lacks the visual and mechanical polish of Vanillaware’s titles. A refreshingly optimistic cast, flashy combos and catchy music make even the mundane level grinds less of a chore and more of a motivation to continue the lengthy adventure.