Title: Battle Princess of Arcadias
Genre: Sidescrolling Action-RPG
Developer: ApolloSoft (Licensed by NIS America)
System: PS3 (PSN Download Only)
Length: 30-40 hrs
If you are familiar with Vanillaware’s sidescrolling action-RPG’s such as: Odin Sphere and to a lesser extent Dragon’s Crown, ApolloSoft’s Battle Princess of Arcadias bears uncanny likeness to those aforementioned titles – both in aesthetic style and procedural gameplay. Of course, while ApolloSoft lacks the same level of craftsmanship, scope, or even ambition that the Vanillaware brood contains – the enthusiasm and effort brought to the table is more than enough to find this a palatable experience – in face of many flaws to be found.
Trying to extract any type of story from an NIS licensed title is a fool-hardy venture, but keeping with the wild and wacky tradition of its siblings, Battle Princess of Arcadias stars a young girl named Plume better known as a “Battle Princess”, a person that is tasked with protecting their kingdom from evil. The king, her brother would be a perfect candidate of doing such a vague job, but between handling diplomatic duty and living the life of a goose (yeah, he is transformed into a goose) it is up to Plume and her allies to lend a helping hand. Brimming with a lot of humor (some of it explicit as the Japanese are prone to) and downright criminally cute, the narrative is definitely one of those that you can safely turn your brain off to without missing much and relish the gameplay. For a few minuets most of the dialogue is slightly enjoyable and charming, but after playing hours of it and going through nonsensical conversations that seem to go nowhere, then it does it get grating. Nonetheless, with the game keeping its original Japanese voice-overs and NIS doing a rather fine job with the translation, the perfunctory purpose is at least served.
However, where Battle Princess of Arcadias tries win over the audience with adorable banter and characters, the gameplay options itself do attempt a similar feat featuring 3 modes of activities you will more than likely see a handful of times during the course. Like most action-RPG’s, the first and predominate type is the in form a traditional sidescrolling beat-em-up. At the beginning of each stage, you choose 3 characters from a roster of10 unlockables gained throughout the story and prepare to abuse a variety of enemies that would surely make PETA furious with you. Anytime you wish to switch characters, doing so with the shoulder buttons is an effortless and easy transition, one that you will probably do often if you’re using an odd team assortment. Utilizing various combos, attacks, and devastating specials to reach of the end of a stage will grant you grade based on how well you did, leveling you up allowing new skills for use, and items/cash that be put to use in town. The second mode is “Skirmish”, akin to a game of rock-paper-scissors where you issue commands and watch troops fight in the background as you get some action in the foreground. The third and final one is “Siege”, again where you issue different tactical commands to troops to defeat a giant foe and fight alongside your comrades. Individually, these concepts are not that unorthodox (especially for product of this caliber) and modes somewhat enjoyable, yet upon closer examination – the actual implementation and results are the main points of contention.
For example, the beat-em-up levels are mindless fun, but enthusiastically smacking the enemy around to the point of knocking them into comers is not in your best interest. Not only does it make keeping your combo going difficult, they tend to move behind the invisible wall, where you play the game of “hit the wall to you think their dead”. Of course, hitting them in the first place is hard enough with the enemies seemingly able to get you before you can them – an understatment facing a swarm of foes with odd hitbox areas like the Pandas in the tutorial stage. Siege and Skirmishes face a similar issue, but is more relegated to how the controls are setup – a common deficiency all modes share. Since you have to switch the menu between using your items and giving troops orders, it is an awkward dance using the shoulder buttons to strife commands and using the triangle and shoulder key, to get into the menu, if need be. Much the game credit, they are responsive – yet would happier if I could reassign button functions.
After your done with pieces of the story, you can retry various levels, but heading into town is also an option. There, you can buy weapons for each your characters and upgrade them with various material obtain from combat, upgrade your generic units level used in the Sieges, talk to characters for fun and some opening optional levels, or proceed with the story. Granted you are not on a tight schedule or will miss much from game taking a quick deviation, you most likely feel compelled to keep at least 3 characters equally leveled from the beat-em-up stage and ignored all others for the sake of continuing on with the story – an understandable choice since the game itself isn’t too generous with doling out experience – even with doing the optional stages. The equipment upgrade options are at least good enough to modify things in favor as well as give your weapons some nice effects to clear out foes faster – if you have the right materials on hand. Sadly, as you progress through the game, equipment does get more expensive and depending if you took the time to replay levels might have something or the cash to buy it.
Visually, Battle Princess of Arcadias looks very vivid and attractive – again, a style in aestheic choices highly reminiscent to the cream of Vanillaware’s crop. Going through various stages like: icy blue mountains, scarlet fuming volcanoes, and deep-green forest among others – what they lack in actual variety for the player is made up in eye-catching beauty, even it is for the first time around. The character designs are also very nice – the artstyle giving off a fairy tale vibe. The soundtrack also is very impressive boasting many tracks that range between upbeat Jpop vocals (a la Vocaloid) to even hard rock – extra emphasis on the guitar. Definitely not the game I would expect to here tracks like this, but very awesome nonetheless.
Battle Princess of Arcadias definitely is a title where its faults are an annoyance, yet easily absolved and more important focus on the merit. Where that merit is directed toward bringing some diversity to the Action-RPG/Beat-em-up genre, it still is manages to wrestle with the repetition of it all – although, lengthy enough for it not to be demerit like the controls and simpler design choices in mechanics. Overall, if like things like Odin Sphere or anything quite similar – Battle Princess of Arcadias is very much an experience all its own and will keep coming back until you finish. Most likely not a product worth the $29.99 price tag attached, but if you can snag it on sale (like I did) for anything below that, its a solid purchase for what you can expect from it.
Pros: Up to 10 possible characters to use in battle, amazing soundtrack, beautiful artwork, Siege and Skirmishes break up the monotony of side-scrolling stages, a few customizable options, laced with humor.
Cons: awkward controls, enemy types lack variety, flimsy narrative, leveling characters take awhile.