Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Platform: PSN, PS2
Release Date: September 11, 2012
(Original: 5/4/04 )
ESRB: T for Teen
If you were the owner of a PS2 back in its heyday and were a fan of Japanese games then Disgaea was probably big on your radar. When Disgaea: Hour of Darkness launched on the system it was met with loads of praise. Gamers quickly snapped it up and waited for Atlus to publish more. Because of the unexpected success, publisher Mastiff decided to bring Nippon Ichi“s previous game stateside. La Pucelle: Tactics had actually come out a year before Disgaea in Japan, but would not be arriving a year later in North America. The question was (and still remains): Just how good is this game and was it worth the translation?
Despite similar gameplay mechanics, La Pucelle certainly had a different backstory going for it. In the Kingdom of Paprica, there is a church which works toward fulfilling an ancient prophecy. Said church has a little gang called La Pucelle which work on destroying evil in the land. Although the game has a very â€œI“ve heard this beforeâ€ start the story at least grows out of the simplistic start it establishes. Characters, too, aren“t a revelation and align with many that we“ve seen before. The lead character, Prier, is a cocky tomboy but at least it“s fun to see her interact with others.
Although there is a fair bit of time devoted to the story the main thing worth focusing on is gameplay. Many conventions of a typical strategy RPG are involved although La Pucelle also brings out a lot of creative twists. First, let“s talk about the more average elements. As you jump into a match the game allows you to place up to eight characters onto the battlefield. From there, characters move about the isometric field, carry out their orders, then wait for the enemy to make their turn. Taking higher ground over an enemy yields stronger attacks, characters can execute group attacks, and all the other stuff you expect.
Group attacks in particular are fun because of how easy they are to make work. Unlike games which might require a specific alignment, La Pucelle just asks that two characters are in adjacent squares or next to the same enemy. This means that four of the team can group up around a particularly tough enemy and smack at it all from all angles. Actually, it“s possible to even offer up more damage if four more characters group up behind the main ones. Although this arrangement isn“t likely to happen often, it“s nice to see that the whole gang can be used in one go. Having one character be called in for a group attack also doesn“t use up their turn, if they weren“t initiating the attack to begin with. Predictably, enemies can also make use of groups so try not to lots of them on at once.
Then there“s the other features that make this game a bit more exciting or cumbersome, depending on your viewpoint. First there are the Dark Portals which exude different-colored paths of energy. Colors are pertinent because they each denote what specific effect the energy has. Some will heal while others are damaging so it“s best to keep track of what each color means. While your team can stand on the energy, and even change the direction of the path, it only effects enemies. Monsters who sit on the path while you â€œpurifyâ€ the Portal will be zapped, burned, or whatever else. By directing the paths so they form a large completed square you can even execute a highly powerful attack on everything within it.
With that said, it“s important to talk about the whole purification concept. As La Pucelle is a religious organization they are of course focused on ridding the land of impure things. The Dark Portals are one such object as they are able to spawn new enemies. After a certain amount of turns they will pop out a new creature which easily prolongs battles. In order to stop this process you must purify them beforehand. Although this seems simple, it“s a bit tough considering there are always other enemies to contend with too. This isn“t the only way to use purification skills though. Enemies are also able to be hit with purify although it functions differently than the Portals. Monsters don“t just switch sides because you want them to; they require convincing. Giving it a go for a few turns typically sways them over, but not always. Either way, once you think an enemy is ready to convert then you have to defeat them. Sure, it would have been nicer to have them automatically switch sides after enough coaxing, but the mechanic isn“t broken. It is however tiresome to have enemies attacking you in between attempts to convert.
Once an enemy is under your wing you can summon it into battle and have it fight for you. With one creature of that type on your side now though it makes it more difficult to capture others of the same variety. It“s a bit of an odd caveat but still not an issue. Boss enemies also are not able to be purified but this is to be expected. Outside of battle monsters can be trained. It“s possible to work them harder to become stronger, but then they become less happy with you. The way monsters are trained is also strange as it focuses around giving the right responses to them, but you won“t know outright what the right ones are. It“s certainly useful to have monsters on your team but as long as you grind it won“t be mandatory.
Speaking of leveling up, let“s discuss how it is implemented. In this game there is no point where you select what stats to upgrade and assign points to. Instead, the items each character poses are what attain higher levels. It“s unusual at first, but easy to get into the mindset of. Depending on how you want the character to progress you just need to select the types of items that would work best for that goal. Stick on loads of defensive objects for a character with higher defensive abilities, or give them specific weapons for the fight style you want.
As the game progresses it doesn“t seem entirely difficult. With only one difficulty setting you are quickly able to get into the strategy of the game after the tutorials. Unfortunately, it doesn“t feel like there is that much offered by La Pucelle to urge players forward. At times it feels too simple, and at other times it seems like it“s more important to grind then have a winning strategy. Certain bosses definitely emphasize this point which is a real shame. Strategizing in the game is actually pretty open-ended so when you are able to wrap your mind around the intricacies it feels rewarding. If you can“t though the game definitely drags on.
Both types of players will probably find it a bit dull though. This is not due to any gameplay elements in particular but the way battles play out. When attacking or being attacked, the game switches into a 2D battle view. Then it plays out the hits and misses in simple little animations. Practically at the start of the game you realize this isn“t going to be an asset. It only really accomplishes making battles last longer than they need to. Sure, it“s rewarding to see your teammates gang up on an enemy at first but eventually it wears out its welcome. It would have been smart to add an option to turn them off.
How does the game stand up today? The visuals were never mind-blowing then and look a bit cheap now. Sure, Nippon Ichi still retains the same general style to this day with Disgaea but it has gotten upgraded over time to be less sprite-y. In regards to the voice acting, it seems better than some of the other early Japanese PS2 games, which is a blessing. Although some games always had bad voice acting, reflecting on them now becomes an even more ear-grating endeavor. If you still don“t like it, the game at least retained the original Japanese voices which can be switched on at any time.
When La Pucelle: Tactics originally launched it had to contend with the raised expectations of gamers thanks to Disgaea. It certainly offers a great deal of strategy and isn“t a bad game, but it isn“t quite as good as it could be. Playing it versus Disgaea 3 or 4 reveals that a lot of subtle tweaks have come to the genre after years to make them better. La Pucelle will still be fun for hardcore fans but others would probably do better by simply picking up a newer game. Still, if you want to experience everything the world of strategy RPGs has to offer then this is a good choice.
+ You won't be lacking for strategic options when playing
+ Dark Portals and purifying enemies are neat features
+ Game offers a lot of content for the price
- Battle animations are unnecessary and increase game length
- Often strategy is unnecessary if you use brute strength
- Game isn't as polished which modern strategy fans will notice
Overall Score: 6.5 (Out of 10)
Better games have come since, and were even available at the time, but there's still worth in giving La Pucelle: Tactics a shot.