Sunday, August 17, 2014

MiniREVIEW - Battle Princess of Arcadias.

Battle Princess of Arcadias is a 2D action-RPG from Nippon Ichi which skips back and forth between your standard 2D brawls and a sort-of real-time-strategy system for large melees that pit multiple batallions against each other.

It's beautiful, but uneven.



The game - rather like its hero, Plume - has a lot of heart, but lacks refinement. It stands so deeply in the shadow of 2013's gorgeous sprite-based brawler, Dragon's Crown, that it's hard to see the game for itself, instead of all the less-than-favorable ways it compares to other work in its genre - but let's try.

Its brawling combat is perfunctory, existing strictly on a single 2D plane, akin to a fighting game.  Each character (and there are a lot of characters) have a unique weapon and unique combos, with a half-dozen different combos to memorize if you want to get the most out of them - not that you'll need to.  Each character also has one or two very powerful combos that you'll spam all through each encounter, repeated ad nauseum, save for the times you break out a special (room-clearing) ability, after building your SP gauge to the required mark.

Given how easily you can perish, it still ends up oddly satisfying to stomp an area without getting your hero of choice killed, and grinding through its traditional-brawler stages is easily the funnest part of the game - the part that feels most akin to a game you could love.  It rewards you not just with the perfunctory experience points and crafting items, but a higher "honor" level with the two other heroes you chose to take into the zone - a stat which unlocks your crew's willingness to dash in for assist attacks and saves with each other, adding to the game's flashy presentation.


Its animations are noticeably simplistic.  Every single hero has the exact same walk animation, for example, giving the jarring impression that the cast of humans consists of dozens of marionettes all built from identical skeletons, with different paint on top - but otherwise, the presentation is light-hearted, charming stuff.  It's all beautiful 2D art and saccharine anime styling.

Your brother, the king, has been turned into a goose, and nobody's really got a problem with it - the titular princess is particularly pleased, because he's extra-cute in goose form.  It's a charming game in which every one of your friends are adorable, every one of your enemies are adorable.  This is a game with adorable dragons.

Princess Plume is an anime-girl hero in the classic vein, an infinitely-cheerful, well-meaning and somewhat air-headed Battle Princess who makes it her business to wander the kingdom, kicking ass and taking names - powerful to the point that she has overcome countless foes, and dumb enough that she thinks the regular mob monsters she fights over and over never actually die, because they keep appearing to be killed anew.  News that she's actually been murdering the wildlife makes her freak out for the briefest of moments, but nothing brings her down for long, and she's soon happily leading her battalions against the enemies of her kingdom with gleeful abandon.

It is here, with these battalion-commanding missions, that the game stops being wholly endearing and kind-of fun, and trips over its impractical combat stilettos.


It works like this.  Before each battle, you get to see which unit types your foes are bringing to the table, and try to bring in battalions that outmatch each of their selections.  It's kind of like rock-paper-scissors if there were two dozen additional options.  Only a single battalion can fight at a time, so when they bring out their swordsmen, you'll want to switch your units to whichever type is strong against swordsmen.

You switch battalions and give commands via a terribly cumbersome little menu in the top-right of the screen that sees you cycling through various commands.  If something goes wrong, for example, and you need to immediately defend, you can't.  First you have to press the button to open the menu (time doesn't freeze when you do this), then you have to cycle through your options to find the command to defend, then you have to activate it.

It's a downright-bad design choice for a game that hinges on quick thinking and reaction, and I found myself winning out on these levels through what felt like luck far more often than strategy.  Boss fights conduct themselves in a similar fashion, with you giving instructions to your entire battalion as they lay siege to one of the game's colossal and beautiful bosses.


Such frustrating challenges can be overcome with lots and lots of grinding, which the game doesn't merely encourage, but demands.

Your battalions can all level up, of course (through an injection of cash money), but each can only level up as high as their representative hero.  If Plume is at level 10, your battalion of swordfighters can only reach level 10 - and so, if you want to have a reasonably-powerful collection of battalions, you must take each and every one of your controllable heroes into the traditional brawler stages and level them up, and earn money, and go back to town and level up your troops.

This is a game that asks you to invest a lot of time, and I'd be willing if the gameplay's fun factor approached its beautiful presentation - but it doesn't.

The brawling is skin-deep, the real-time strategy is a pain, and I have no idea why I would play this when I could be leveling up my Elf in Dragon's Crown.

Now that's a 2D sprite-based RPG brawler.

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