Developer: Nippon Ichi
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: June 17, 2014
ESRB: T for Teen
When Vanillaware hit it big with audiences back in 2008 with the release of the PS2 title Odin Sphere, niche companies took notice. People were interested not only in 2D hack-and-slash titles, but also games with unique and beautiful art styles that portray a wonderful world to delve into. Developers listened, and not only did we get more Vanillaware games in the same artistic vein such as Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Dragon's Crown, but also efforts from other developers, like the indie darling Dust: An Elysian Tail.
Battle Princess of Arcadias seems to be Nippon Ichi's attempt to break into the market Vanillaware has created, throwing players into a colorful, pretty world with plenty of monsters to fight through. Does Battle Princess carve out a good name for itself in this niche market, or does it fail to impress beyond the wonderful graphical coating?
Battle Princess of Arcadias takes place in the land of Arcadias, wherein dangerous monsters have suddenly appeared and began wreaking havoc in the land. In response to this, the princess of the Schwert Kingdom, Plume, takes up her sword and defends her land, earning her the title of Battle Princess. The game follows Plume and her companions throughout their struggles against monsterkind, as well as a new threat that makes itself prevalent as the game progresses.
The plot, while at first seeming a bit bland, ends up being very intriguing, though to explain precisely why would lead to spoilers. It is also lighthearted and humorous; while it does take itself seriously from time to time, Battle Princess of Arcadias never drowns in melancholy. The characters are usually cheery and happy to take hoards upon hoards of monsters... with a few exceptions. Also, while most of the secondary characters initially fall into predictable tropes, most of them break out of said tropes in interesting ways. It leads to having interesting dialogue on the rather unusual events, and gives the title plenty of charm beyond its aesthetics.
But, with any game of its ilk, the gameplay is the most important aspect of Battle Princess of Arcadias, compelling story or not. There are three different, very distinct types of battles to work through. First up are Combat missions. Combat missions take up to three characters into the 2D field, where you fight monsters in a typical beat-em-up fashion. These types of missions are typically best for leveling up the various characters you'll recruit throughout the course of the game, as well as getting a feel for each character's play styles. As characters level up, they learn more elaborate combos and moves, giving one reason to keep them all leveled somewhat equally.
Combat missions tend to show the most basic part of Battle Princess of Arcadias, but the other types of missions tend to expand on this basic aspect to varying degrees of success. Siege battles have your three chosen characters and the Princess Brigade fighting against a large monster. Since you are controlling essentially an army, you have to give orders to ensure that the Brigade doesn't get decimated by the boss. You can order them to go into an all out attack, lowering their defensive abilities for when the monster counters, or go on the full defensive, limiting your losses, but placing the majority of the damage dealing onto yourself. You can also order the troops to retreat to recover their numbers while you fight alone (if the Brigade is wiped out, you fail the mission), and if morale raises high enough, you can initiate a showdown that can do massive damage to the enemy.
The explanations the game offers and all the bars moving about on the screen make Siege battles look complicated, but it's really all that simple: Keep whaling on the enemy while making sure not too many of your troops fall, don't change your commands too often (as a command costs some morale), and finish the boss off with a Showdown when it becomes available. The key is to ensure that you yourself don't get caught in the monster's attack, as they do a lot of damage. As such, Sieges become more battles of careful positioning than anything, and because of that, they tend to be the weakest mission type in the game.
Skirmishes, on the other hand, are an interesting mix of the Combat missions and the use of the Princess Brigade, but the actual execution can sometimes be hit-or-miss. In Skirmishes, you take certain units of the Princess Brigade (defined by the weapon they use) into battles against other units, while your character dukes it out with enemy troops in the foreground. What troops you'll want to bring depends on the weapons the enemy's troops are using, as each weapon has its strengths and weaknesses. You will also have to command the troops in this type of mission, although instead of retreating you'll have the command to change out the current unit for the next in line.
Skirmishes also effectively put a level stop-gap on your progression through the game. Skirmishes become very difficult if the right units aren't near the level the enemy units are--and this is even more apparent if you don't have a good unit to counter against an enemy unit. The only way to level up these units, however, is to first get the Leader to the desired level, then level up the unit with money. You cannot raise a unit's level beyond the leader's level, and the use of exponentially increasing amounts of gold ensure that, at least in the early parts of the game, you'll be forced to grind a bit until the units are up to speed. During the late-game, though, your units and characters gain enough versatility that grinding isn't nearly as much of an issue, and is more of an option available for an easier victory.
Battle Princess of Arcadias also has a few, relatively small annoyances that need to be brought up, aside from the early game forced grinding to succeed at Skirmishes. All new playable character come come at a level significantly lower than your current members, so it takes a while of replaying older stages and equipment upgrades to make them viable... and simply ignoring them isn't an option either, due to the Skirmishes. The title also has random difficulty bumps which can, again, be solved by grinding, but it can lead to annoyance to have to go and grind to get past a random battle.
Regardless of these hiccups, Battle Princess of Arcadias is a very solid package. Beneath the candy-coated exterior is a well-thought out plot, interesting characters, and deep combat. It's worth checking out if you like any sort of action game or action RPG; it's not likely Battle Princess of Arcadias will disappoint.
+ Interesting plot will keep you moving through the missions
+ Trope-breaking characters add genuine depth
+ Combat is satisfying and rewarding
- Difficulty bumps, especially in the beginning, can frustrate
- Grinding up new characters is tedious, yet necessary
Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10)
Battle Princess of Arcadias is a satisfying mix of elements that make for an enjoyable, somewhat lengthy journey.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS3 code provided by the publisher.