NIS is one company that is not afraid to be creative in an industry that is steeped with reusing the same formula ad-nausium, on both sides of the planet. Every fresh title from them is the definition of new as the development team attempts to create or breathe new life into a particular game mechanic. Say hello to Battle Princess of Arcadias for the PlayStation 3, a new-age sidescroller. But is NIS’s latest endeavour the next Streets of Rage or will it just make you plain rage?
A few months ago I saw this game for sale at the local gaming shop here in Seoul, South Korea. It looked cool. Seeing that it was an RPG and in Japanese I gave up hope of it being localized as Korea gets a lot of Japanese products that the west never sees. To my surprise this very game arrived in my inbox for reviewing. Starting it up the game takes you through the typical tutorial.
For once though the inclusion of a tutorial is justified, as Arcadias is broken down into three battle maps: combat, siege and skirmish. Combat stages are the standard sidescroller, except you can swap out your characters at will. Siege is a boss battle with troops you can command. Skirmish is a war scenario as your troops have to face off against opposing soldiers in the backdrop of the environment, while you take care of random enemies to boost army morale. With over 50 stages in the game, and the ability to replay them infinitely, the three different play styles adds some flair and breaks up the monotony of playing the same style over and over again.
As mentioned, you can take three characters to battle at a time from a list of ten. Each have their own weapons and attack patterns, with some having a better time at slicing through the hordes than others. Leveling can be quick, and gear is easy to grind for the further into the game you get. Each character also has a war unit to command which can be leveled up through paying for it, up to the character’s max. It is an easy and efficient way to make grinding levels less of a chore when you get two for the price of one. Even if characters are not being utilized, there is a reason to eventually use them as they all have a honor meter that helps trigger combo attacks easier once leveled up to max. It also allows them to combine to make special attacks more devastating.
Interesting to note about this game are the number of openly homosexual characters. The story makes no bones about one female teammate hitting on the female protagonist, or one of the males rebuffing the advances of the hot enemy leader to profess his attraction to another guy member of the team. Sadly, the story of the game is a mess, especially when the above are some of the more entertaining parts worth mentioning. The pacing is strictly regimented, giving you bits and pieces after every one or two missions. There are a few side quests but not of any consequence that you’ll gain any new appreciation for the cast. The moments when the narrative does start to get serious, which can be counted on one hand, are then ruined by more pointless chatter. At one point an antagonist commits suicide for what should be a somber, things-just-got-real moment, but instead is absolutely ruined due to the gossipy script post-suicide.
Musically this is a game that packs a punch through some of the stages. Certain bosses have a J-Pop inspired theme, making the use of vocals refreshing and unique as those are usually left solely for cutscenes and openers for 99 per cent of games. The non-vocal beat does drop off and is not as upbeat to listen to but credit should be given for them attempting to record lyrics for the game, rather than leave it at simple instrumentals. There are also no English voice overs in the game, so the purists can rejoice and enjoy the original Japanese voices. Some of them do a good job of being funny when prompted to do so, but I found a few others to be grating and annoying like the main character.
Much like a similar game in the genre, Dragon’s Crown, NIS has given character models the full anime treatment. Something about using animated figures rather than 3D makes the game feel more fun and entertaining because it fits with the mystical, fantasy world. Sticking with the old school vibe, the enemies in the game follow suit by only swapping color pallets. How much this bothers you depends on how badly you need every stage to have a new set of unique characters. Some are unique to a map, but others are reused by switching to red for the fire levels and blue for the cold levels.
Battle Princess is a fun, relaxing kind of game. Combat is easy, there is a wide cast to choose from, and three different battles modes give gamers a fun evening game to cool down with from a stressful day. The J-Pop soundtrack only emphasizes this. The lackluster story however keeps the game from achieving its full potential in the end, but as long as you can overlook that, then there is no reason not to pick this up.