Popolocrois PSP Review
Popular Japanese franchise is finally ported across to join the PSP’s ever-growing stable of RPGs
When we consider that Popolocrois started life on the PSone, it comes as no surprise that its PSP incarnation doesn’t push any graphical boundaries. Following the trend of several other popular PSone RPGs such as Breath of Fire III; Popolocrois sports cutesy 2D sprites on colourful backdrops, managing to dabble in every colour of the rainbow through such environments as forests, snowy mountains and deserts. While this may disappoint players keen to exploit their handheld’s power to the fullest, the graphical style is rather charming in its simplicity and clean-cut design – appropriate for its amiable content. The sprites have some very nice, albeit slightly limited, animations, with the battle graphics raising the bar fractionally to allow for some pretty spell effects. More noteworthy are the anime cut scenes that occur throughout the game; these are typically bold and well-presented, as one would expect from hardware capable of movie playback.
Once you’ve played several RPGs, it can get a bit difficult to think of original things to say about each one; after all, there’s only so many times that you can enthuse about a turn-based battle system, or another plot that sees a reluctant hero needing to save the world from impending doom before it all begins to meld into one big cliché. While Popolocrois doesn’t exactly stray from these conventions, it does try a few interesting ideas that set it apart from the herd.
Let’s start at the storyline. It opens in a similar way to many other RPGs; our hero discovers that his father has been lying about the death of his mother, and so sets out to find the truth behind her disappearance. Not a candidate for most original plot, I agree; but the episodic layout of Popolocrois means that this is just one of several stories, each of which is concluded at the end of each chapter and each of which feels like a game in its own right. This really manages to prevent the agonising dragging-out of multiple story lines that so many RPGs are guilty of, as every time you complete a chapter you will feel like you have achieved something worthwhile, and are ready to move onto the next development. These chapters span several years of our hero’s life, charting the changes to his world and social circle, and offer a good sense of progression through the game.
Right; turn-based battles. They aren’t the most fun at the best of times, are they? Thankfully, a tiny tweak has been made to Popolocrois’ battle mechanics; demonstrating a bit of an amalgamation with the strategy-RPG genre, they require you and your minions (a rag-tag bunch of misfits, including a shy forest-witch, an insane inventor who hails himself as a kind of god, and a samurai warrior) to navigate a grid in order to find the best places to attack or escape damage. All the normal conventions are present in full; slower characters can only move a relatively short distance in one turn, whereas magic users can move further and attack from a distance. A nice feature is the ability to combine attacks with your fellow team-mates; if you can place certain characters into the right formations next to each other, special attacks can be launched at your enemies. Speed determines who will attack first, so care must be taken not to be overcome by speedy beasties. Now onto the downside; you will be seeing the battle screen a lot. Until you learn the invaluable Guardian spell later in the game, random battles occur almost ludicrously often; coupled with the fact that each battle requires a small load time, each “special” attack requiring a load time for the voice sample that accompanies it, battle can become more of a chore than your average RPG. The bestiary, made up of rather goofy and comical critters, is also rather uninspired and unlikely to add much enthusiasm to any encounters, although you may have a chuckle at some of the odd names (the first enemy we encountered was a boggle eyed blue ostrich called a “Pecker” no less).
Oddly enough for an RPG, there doesn’t seem to be much else to do other than explore the main plot; there are no side quests to speak of, other than gathering special items from around the world to be displayed in Pietro’s secret hideaway – which doesn’t really constitute an enjoyable past-time. The only point that seems to offer any deviance from the plot is the final chapter, in which you are free to wander the world to find recruits to help out in the end boss fight. This isn’t to say that the plot is particularly stifled or boring; thanks to the interesting (and constantly changing) plot, it manages to keep the interest going right up until the end. Unfortunately, the relatively simplistic gaming mechanics may put off gamers used to more meaty RPG fare, and those that aren’t may be somewhat bemused by the occasional awkward translation.
Each location has its own appropriately ambient theme, many of which are rather repetitive with some bordering on just plain irritating. The voiceover in the cut scenes is of higher quality, featuring the voice (I believe) of Pokémon’s Ash Ketchum amongst a generally competent cast that manage to capture the emotion of each event satisfactorily. Some sections are almost cringe worthy, but for the most part it all works well as a complete package.
Featuring several lengthy chapters, the game does feel like its just going on an on – in a good way, let me add. It really does feel like several games rolled into one (probably because it is), and the structure manages to keep everything flowing along quite well for the lengthy plot. Unfortunately, the complete absence of any mini games or other optional missions limit the experience somewhat, as once you have completed the main missions there’s nothing really to bring you back for more.
A charming little RPG that requires very little effort on the part of the player. Popolocrois is that RPG-lite that you can settle down to at the end of a long day playing more intense games; though whether or not some people will be dissuaded by its basic control and design is the question.