Review: Battle Princess of Arcadias (PSN) (PlayStation 3)
- Release Date (NA): June 17, 2014
- Release Date (EU): June 18, 2014
- Release Date (JP): September 26, 2013
- Publisher: NIS America
- Developer: ApolloSoft
- Genres: 2D beat em up.
- ESRB Rating: Teen
- PEGI Rating: Twelve years and older
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
1037 megabytes download.
Several dozen hours of play and some fair replay value beyond that.
NIS sent us a copy of their new PSN only title “Battle Princess of Arcadias”. A name like Battle Princess of Arcadias and the promo art showing a girl in a dress, the Battle Princess part of the title, caused a tiny bit apprehension, something that was compounded when I looked up the original developers (Apollosoft) to find they had previously made two PSP strategy games, but it was mostly unfounded. In short it is a “go right and conquer” game of the 2D persuasion, mixed with RPG elements, a crafting system worthy of the term and a fighting engine that would not be out of place in a 16 bit era version of Street Fighter.
If I had three desert island games it would probably be Tetris, Bomberman multiplayer and a copy of Streets of Rage (any entry really). In recent times and as the concept of genres has collapsed I first enjoyed seeing RPG elements in games, later Roguelike elements cropped up and a thing I have long held I wanted to see was things doing a full fighting game engine in an otherwise “normal” game. I also really like “send in the hardnut to clear the room” type games like modern Ninja Gaiden and if you had asked me what my favourite GBA game franchises were then one would have been Summon Night: Swordcraft Story. Long story short other than the Tetris and Bomberman multiplayer bit the high notes of several of those get hit in this.
His gooseness is cooked?
First if you fancy the classic “go right and conquer because that is what the game says” option then you have that as an option in the game menu, to say nothing of the seemingly obligatory skip and options for automatic forwarders that NIS has had in the games I have reviewed. Otherwise the story is a strange mix of environmentalism mixed with put upon leaders of an army, maybe not quite to the point of dark fairy tale, especially taking the likes of The Witch and the Hundred Knight into account, but it gets somewhere nearer that than not. The wacky elements seen in previous games are kind of here, the first main thing to hit you here is that the king of the land is the goose that you see in the banner picture, and you have the usual Japanese shonen character staples and personalities surrounding you, you in this case seemingly having taken the main character in Salior moon to heart (at least at first). Still character staples can work and they do not fall flat here. It also helps that the script is at least somewhat self aware and, mainly when things start getting a bit too cookie cutter, you can expect another character to chime in and chastise the offending character for heading down that path. This is probably some of NIS' finest translation work in the games I have played from them too, even the flavour text for the crafting items was translated, and they were not exactly slouches before. This time they seemed to have leaned back towards leaving the Japanese humour in and in a more central role, my favourite part of the translation was probably a character that speaks only in what is almost epic poetry (and got brackets for a translation of what he meant). Listening to the spoken words, which were still in Japanese, played alongside the text it seems they have stayed pretty true to the original.
On the flip side the story is not just another gruff, burly dude needs to wipe out an army to avenge/save/rescue/resurrect his loved one and that is a welcome change of pace.
The game has lots of little flavour conversations like this.
The music is nothing quite as memorable as the likes of Streets of Rage 2 or indeed many of the other classic beat em ups. Most of it seemed to be some utterly inoffensive J-pop, electronic and guitar music, not to mention usually drowned out at default volume by your character's weapons and fighting.
As mentioned the story mode, whatever voiced sections there are outside it and character quips are all left in Japanese with no option to switch (though you could mute it). Give or take a few prolonged shopping/crafting sessions the quips mostly did not wear out their welcome and the voicework was quite good, though they did serve to reinforce that the characters were the staples and stock types.
Saying “well they are certainly unique” would normally be interpreted as someone saying something to avoid saying something unpleasant, that is not necessarily the case here and the unique art style helps. The animation is something I have not really seen in a game before, the closest I have got is actually the old paper cutout animation techniques. All this is set over a kind of watercolour/hand drawn background.
There is quite a bit of sprite/AI palette swapping going on over the levels. However the AI does mix things up a tiny bit, for instance bird type enemies float in the sky (often out of easy reach) but depending upon their elemental theme they attack in different ways and that forces you to mix things up. That is more for the discussion of the gameplay though so I will leave that for now. There is some reuse of backgrounds but they are quite varied in the end. Either way though it works for me and as is quite memorable.
Not your everyday art style for a game.
I get by with a little help from my friends
NIS and the companies they work with almost exclusively deal in complexity and they have not broken from form here, as such this is going to have to be more of an overview than the full workup.
One options menu, nothing much but still something some devs could learn from.
The world map, displaying the menu that allows you to save.
A local map, the coloured flags represent what sort of battle it will be.
With the complexity tends to come a UI to match. Here it was not quite up to NIS' recent standards with it being a bit buggy in places, a lack of help/tutorials for some of the game modes, non obvious means to save (though there is an automatic option) and a few little quirks where some streamlining might have been useful.
As such saving is done on the map screen. Press triangle to access the option.
Character move lists can be accessed in battle by pressing start and selecting the option.
If you accidentally go into the options, which is available at basically every screen, then you will have a few seconds as it “saves” things whether you changed it or not, try not to do this.
Once you open up the barracks then you have to actually select the training option before you can select and train.
The most notable bug was the item costs in crafting unlocks would not be updated if you were in the help/description menu of a different one and changed to back. Sadly it seemed to just be the UI and I could not use this to cheat.
When the weapon display speaks of times you can upgrade it means times you can enhance/unlock instead.
You assign items to your characters, however as you are limited to 99 items it can make leaving all 10 characters with a solid stock of healing items a bit tricky until you start getting more types.
On the flipside items you pick up in the field can be sold directly at the end of mission which avoids the vendor trash problem.
The battle menu, config is the full config screen above, commands is a command list and the others are pretty obvious.
The status screen, available on the map and at team selection allows you to change items for the upcoming mission, check stats and what skills you have.
The gameplay types
There are three main gameplay types, all three get thrown at you on a fairly regular basis and you can always go back and play more of them. Other than Skirmish mode if a mission takes more than 5 minutes it is because you are doing it with a seriously underlevelled character, at a push with a strong character many could be done in under 2 minutes.
With our powers combined
Go right and conquer, for most of the game there are no real boss characters as those are usually saved for other modes. That said some of the mobs can prove a bit of a challenge if you allow them to stun lock you. The enemy patterns are the same each run through a level, however I am not sure how much better things would have been if they were random. The closest I have there is looking at something like Rogue Legacy which often did mix things up a bit but even there fell back on stock rooms/layouts, not to mention most other examples of this gameplay style are not known for randomness.
I did occasionally have a problem where an enemy would be left behind when forging a path through the enemies and would fail to catch up with its mates, thus leaving me to go back and hunt it down.
In some of the later levels they mixed it up a bit with you being chased by a quite damaging (basically lethal) lava flow, some minor environmental hazards, a section on a ship which played more like skirmish and some harder enemies thrown in among the standard mobs. Such extras were quite infrequent, whether this renders them gimmicks or not is up for debate but it did not feel like the obligatory stealth sections games seemed to sport a couple of years back.
Leading from the frontlines in skirmish mode.
Picking the brigades to go into battle
Here two opposing armies clash. Brigade selection is sort of a rock, paper scissors affair but with six weapon types (sword, bow, magic, buster sword, axe, pistol and spear) and each having weaknesses and strengths against other types (which you are told the types of your opponents before the battle). You pick as many brigades as the match demands, sometimes less than your opponents, and three leaders (which need not be the same as the brigades, though you do get a bonus for having a relevant leader to the current brigade). The three leaders fight in the front where the brigades fight in the back. The leader can change battle tactics and swap units, though this costs a bit of morale and unit swaps take a bit of time to do meaning you do have to plan ahead a bit. The front battle sees your picked characters go into battle as per usual, however here you go up against waves of enemies.
They did mix things up a bit in these. One especially notable case was reasonably early on when they tossed in a powerful character as the leader of the first group, this really put a damper on the morale boosts you usually got, which in turn hampered the frequency which you could unleash your supermoves at, and even caused quite a bit of damage (never quite cheap but almost) and could almost stun lock certain characters.
Do remember to train your troops.
Unleash the beast; your arcana supermoves can turn the tide of a battle
Here a single large boss character is put forth for you to face, said boss character having a few far reaching and quite damaging attacks. You are backed up by group of the brigades made up of the character(s) you picked for the siege. Typically it is a “wear down the shield and then attack the gooey middle” type battle, though also with the ability to stun the boss to prevent both attacks and shield regrowth. However you have to keep an eye on the brigade for they are also in this with you and losing them will cost you the match. You can choose their attack pattern (or tell them to retreat), and when morale is high enough you can also execute a special attack which cuts through the shield.
Give or take a few repeats most of these bosses are quite unique and even when you really level up can make you pay for inattention.
Send in the troops.
Shuffling through menus in all modes is done in real time (no pausing) and this can get a bit hectic, though this is in a good way as it encourages preparation and a bit of a tradeoff against leaving the supermove bar to charge. The game's one dalliance with quick time events is when you trigger the big attack in skirmish mode and you have to tap to increase power, some might argue it is not even technically a QTE.
The one and only instance of quick time events, impressive restraint in a modern "action adventure".
As well as the main missions you start on side missions quite early on and are given a new batch of them along with each new round of story missions. These are just more of the same but they do provide nice items, a bit of backstory for members of your party and at one point even a new member for your party.
Loot, glorious loot.
Characters typically start at quite a low level so you tend to gain new moves and abilities as time goes on. For me the most notable was the double jump that various characters gain at different levels (some at the start, some early, some late and some very late indeed), it serves to quite radically alter playstyles available for a given character.
On top of this are the brigades. Once you have a leader using a given weapon type you also get a brigade for them, their max level at a given point being that of your highest level character of a given type. Upgrades improve health, damage and for the first 40 or so levels then every 7 levels they also upgrade weapon type and special move.
Weapons found in the field tend not to have all their abilities unlocked, unlocking them comes at the cost of enhancement capabilities later.
You find weapons in the field on enemies (the characters do not know why), you get them as rewards for finishing a level and you can buy them in the shop. These weapons can be “enhanced” a limited amount of times to improve damage, “luck” and one of the big three ice, fire and lightning elemental types. You can also unlock features from weapons found in the field, this can be everything from weak attacks doing more damage to gaining more gold from selling to getting HP back from attacks, you should note though that enhancing and unlocking draw from the same pool and most weapons only have three in said pool, though some go higher and later on you can buy quite limited amounts of expensive items to upgrade it further. Finally you can also upgrade certain weapons, do note though that your enhancements may not carry over and upgrading tends to unlock all the unlocks as well. Each of these requires items you get in levels for defeating enemies and often not inconsiderable amounts of money given how much money is used for things in the game.
Lots of magic or the ability to hit harder, crafting does have its tradeoffs.
I usually went in for elemental enhancements, especially as one of the easier battles granted an item that really helps upgrade them, but as the game dragged on I tempered that a bit and upgraded damage and did the odd unlock -- 30% extra on weak attack is easier to get than to enhance to give 30% extra in general attack a lot of the time. Later on the enemies and your weapons can also get poison, knockdown and some other things, these typically come from unlocking rather than enhancing.
All in all the crafting system was actually pretty good as far as non crafting games go, probably not enough to sate a Monster Hunter fan but probably above what Summon Night: Swordcraft Story has. You will have to occasionally grind for items to help with upgrades but that mostly consists of doing a given mission a few times rather than investing several hours and hoping the drop rate fairy blesses you.
Some weapons can be upgraded, do pay attention to what is changed though.
With levelling and crafting comes the problem of difficulty.
This one is odd. The titular princess was one of the three main characters I used for a while and over the course of the game, with some minor grinding for crafting items and the side missions she ended up significantly higher levelled than the other characters. When her brigate unit was similarly upgraded it served to eliminate much of the challenge from a given map. Likewise there is no game over here and if you lose a battle then you get booted back to the map screen, the only penalty being the loss of any items you might have picked up and whatever consumables you used during the game. Earlier on though it could get quite hard, the first side mission almost reminding me of the time I foolishly used the genie lamp as soon as I got it in Final Fantasy 8, and the solution the developers seem to have gone with was “well you can replay any mission you have completed or that are available to you”.
A bit later on I got an item that automatically defends (ish) and that made things somewhat easier, it should be noted though that I am typically not one for defending in fighting games. End of level bonus experience bleeds over for the characters selected for the party and with a suitable weapon and armour, or just good play, you can usually still use a low level character to do a bit of damage.
All this makes for a bit of a letdown. To be fair you are never forced to pick certain characters so you could make your own difficulty if you wanted. Likewise you can also try for points runs as the game will rank your attempt at a mission.
Characters (as fighters) and the fighting engine
Each character has their own preferred weapon that you can not break from. You eventually end up with 10 characters and there are only 6 weapon classes, the overlaps (mages, normal swords and spears being the eventual overlaps) though are actually a bit different in how they play. In turn all the character types do very much have their own play style in terms of damage done, range, combos, movement speed, jump height, air time, attack speed and a few other things besides – one of the mages is powerful but has moves that sees them stunned when overused, the main character has lots of moves to do damage which also use a bit of SP that other characters do well to use for their big attacks instead. I found myself jumping between characters all the time, partially to level them up in case I needed them for the other modes, partially to justify the ever increasing amounts of hard to come by materials to keep their weapons up to date and mostly because it mixed things up, indeed not doing that felt a bit like playing pokemon with just your starter. Technically they do have a stat that reflects how well they work together with each other (more missions done together gives better “honour”) but I did not find it made any real difference.
Channeling the power cosmic does tend to leave one a bit drained
Enemies and player characters can inflict status effects like poison, fire, ice and electric and this can allow for a tiny change up in how you might play things out.
With the crafting system and armour you could almost start biasing your character towards one you wanted to play with though it is still very much a Japanese RPG type system. Other than autoguard there was another that caused a speed boost in the character it was equipped on which made for some interesting play and as the game went on there were a few other little extra moves/boosts like this.
The moves took a while to start getting useful and you can get by with block and basic attack patterns.
Controls then. I am not normally a fan of the PS3 pad and would like to play this with a fight pad or fight stick of some form. When it comes to talk of input lag and the like then I am not invested enough to test it down to frame latency type levels – it works more than well enough for me to play it and I did not have any lag issues on a wireless PS3 controller. If you do not mind some harder to do special moves it even works quite well on the analogue stick.
The moves are the typical light, heavy, block and jump with things built from there. Combos are normally light x ? and then heavy, maybe with a direction in there towards the end and a difference of whether you tap it or hold it to do more damage between characters. There are a couple of simple direction ones too. If you consider it on a single character by single character basis this then stops it short of a more modern fighting game and places it directly in something that could have been ripped out of a 16 bit Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter, personally I like this in my fighting games. Unlike some 3D “send in the hardnut” type games most of the moves do actually feel useful and avoid being superfluous, not to mention you will probably find your own methods that work for your play style. If you do prefer the more memory test/entrance exam type fighting games then you can try to learn every character, however this is not actually that hard and if you are truly into such games then this is why the word “elements” gets tacked onto such terms in discussions like this.
Part of a movelist, one that varies a bit between characters.
I have long sought out a game that has a fighting engine in an otherwise normal game... this works and demonstrates that the concept has enough potential to rank it up there with the "RPG elements" and "roguelike elements". It is not the thing someone seeking the concept just mentioned will be able to run around screaming vindication and pointing at this, indeed looking back in ten years I imagine it will be a case of “that was proof of concept?”. Likewise the difficulty issues and lack of co-op also prevent it from being my next Streets of Rage, or even Summon Night: Swordcraft Story.
The post game content was the classic remix of previous levels approach, and reasonably hard to boot though I am not sure if it is scaled or not. Likewise any side missions or main missions that had to vanish as part of the story are now back.
As well as the ones you have there are several pictures which were made as part of the review, you can view the full gallery including full size versions of the images here on the link below.
When we started this little look at NIS' games a few months ago the company was basically that which put out Hyperdimension Neptunia, Disgaea, Atelier and other such games with a... specific audience. As this year goes on though it seems NIS have taken the play-book of Atlus of the early-mid 2000's (take every good Japanese game that has not been translated, translate it and let it run free) and ran with it. Given that Atlus of the early-mid 2000's had about as much goodwill as a developer/publisher has ever had there are worse options for running a company, I dare say this could make for a similar situation if they keep it up. The price tag at time of writing is $30 on PSN, this is slightly on the high end for a downloadable game and if it were at a lower one then it would have seriously cleaned up, not least of all because the non emulated/remade beat em up type games of recent years have not necessarily been the best. If it ever goes on sale or comes on PSN+ or something then absolutely get it, if you like Streets of Rage 2 and 3, Golden Axe, 2 Crude Dudes and Double Dragon as much as I do and do not mind a lack of co-op then you could do a lot worse. If you liked the adventure modes of Super Smash Brothers but thought it slightly lacking, possibly in the same way that game collections are often slightly lacking, and saw some (wasted) potential in Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero then this could be something like what you want.
+ Proper fighting game engine in an "action adventure" game.
+ Nice crafting system.
+ Story you can skip
+ The extra modes are nicely mixed in with the normal game.
- Levels and crafting can kind of break the difficulty.
- Though they vary, attacks from many of the enemies are palette swaps.
Well translated and using a very nice art style. UI could have used some minor polish but it was not broken. Story was both able to be skipped and reasonably humorous if you did not. Music was not memorable but equally not bad.
A bunch of different fighters all in a classic beat em up/go right and conquer format. If you are not careful the difficulty will drop as you end up with characters above the level intended for a given mission.
The difficulty can be a bit low, however you can replay missions and there is some end game content worth looking at. It is maybe not as replayable as something like Streets of Rage or Double Dragon but I can also see restarting the game just because.
out of 10
(not an average)
If you can force yourself to take the harder paths then it is a well put together fighting game engine. Even if you can't then it is still a fun little romp.