October 9, 2012
Code of Princess's world is one where both man and monster co-exist. For a long time both sides left each other alone, but prior to the game's start the monsters began attacking again. The titular main character, the princess of DeLuxia called Solange, is forced to flee the castle which she calls home after a nearby army invades the town. Before leaving, however, her father gives her the legendary blade DeLuxcalibur. With the blade in tow she aims to restore balance to the world and meets quite the eclectic cast of playable characters along the way. It's a pretty standard story for the genre, but Code of Princess does a good job of giving the player a goal without taking away from the core gameplay of any good action RPG: the fighting.
If you've played classics like Guardian Heroes or Golden Axe, you'll feel right at home here as attacking is relegated to two buttons: A (strong) and B (weak). Of course you can just string together rapid AAA or BBB button presses, but Code of Princess does a great job in letting the player tie these buttons together to create combos, similar to a simplified version of fighting game's mechanics. For example, you can launch an initial salvo of attacks on the ground then launch the enemy into the air and combo them on the way down.
Of course, in most battles, you aren't going to deal with simple 1-on-1 fights outside of bosses, so Code of Princess has a few more options to help one survive. The Y button is used to lock onto enemies for a brief period of time, which outside of focusing your attacks on a single opponent and its immediate adversaries, has a few nifty side abilities. The locked-on enemy gets dealt more damage when attacked and also lets long-range characters such as casters have their ranged attacks attack them no matter which plane they are presently on. Finally the burst system, which is activated by pressing the X button, has two abilities. The first is stunning any opponents who are in the immediate range of the initial burst and double damage (along with other bonuses depending on the character's equipment) which can be stacked with the lock-on mechanic and lasts as long as the player has MP (it can be deactivated any time). And of course, no action RPG would be complete without the ability to guard, which in Code of Princess is activated by pressing L or R.
Speaking of planes, one of the defining features of Code of Princess which it shares with Guardian Heroes and other similar action RPG games, is the ability to fight on one of three planes at any given time by pressing up or down. This is where the 3D aspect of the Nintendo 3DS really shines as Agatsuma Entertainment utilized this feature to make telling the planes apart much easier than if you were playing in 2D. And unlike some recent games such as New Super Mario Bros. 2 which fuses the backgrounds, Code of Princess' still stay sharp.
Agatsuma Entertainment did a lot of things right in regards to the gameplay mechanics, but there's still a few minor issues that crop up occasionally. Code of Princess is similar to other action RPGs in the sense that it has multiple stages that composed its overall story, but unlike Guardian Heroes they are broken up into much shorter levels, often hovering around five minutes long. This does make for a more portable-friendly experience but at the cost of losing Guardian Heroes' branching path system and creating a lack of a need for HP and MP resource management that was found in games such as Golden Axe. At face value this is really just a difference in design philosophies, but when its tied to the fact that outside of a few levels many of the story stages repeat themselves with each character, the lack of diverting paths becomes more pronounced. The story is still good for an action RPG, don't get the wrong idea, but more casual players might not feel the need to trek through the same familiar territory for each character.
Some players, especially the more casual ones, might have a hard time just gaining experience through the story mode, so the developers included two modes to help alleviate that: bonus quests and free play. The latter lets you replay previously completed story levels for more experience while the former lets you take on special missions that open up as you progress through the game. After levelling up, it's possible to boost one of a number of attributes ranging from HP, MP, attack, defense, etc. One minor fault with this system is that magical attack and defense is tied to the same stat. As later levels feature monsters with high magical attack abilities, mage-type characters will be able to easily breeze through while other brawler-type characters like Solange will have a tough time if the player neglected to raise the magical abilities. This can be rectified easily through the two previously mentioned modes, but it does put a damper on the experience if you play with that type of character.
Agatsuma Entertainment utilizes an interesting mix of sprite-based artwork for the characters and enemies alongside more static backgrounds for the locations. The backgrounds are quite detailed but do exhibit a lack of vibrancy as they're essentially static. The characters, on the other hand, are much more detailed. Outside of battle they appear quite lively in the game's various cutscenes, and while this carries over for the most part to the battles there is a odd lack of animation for the characters which creates a false sense of lag (for those who played the Japanese version, much of the actual slowdown issues were fixed in the North American release). This is largely attributed towards the drawn-out style in which combos are presented, but for those who grew up on games like Golden Axe you'll find the experience a bit jarring until you get used to it. Players who aren't as familiar with the genre likely won't notice this, however, as well as those who like their brawlers a little more slower and methodical.
One area where the game does quite nicely is the music. Composed by ACE (who might sound familiar to some as the group behind Xenoblade Chronicles's soundtrack) it has a nice range of musical variety and the character themes fit each of the characters nicely. It isn't as memorable as some of ACE's previous work, but it's more than capable of carrying the game and listening to on the soundtrack CDs included with each first-print run copy of the title.
Outside of the single-player mode, Code of Princess also features several multiple multiplayer modes. If you have friends nearby you can play against them in a battle royale or with them in co-op in the game's story mode.
In a welcome twist, the game also supports online play through friendly and ranked matches. As a bonus during battle-type matches, you can choose from not just the main characters but almost every character in the game. Want to play as the final boss? Check. As a lowly grunt? Check. You can even play as a villager or creature if you want.
Code of Princess doesn't quite live up to its predecessor and runs into some faults in its transition to the handheld market, but it's still a quality game and the minor flaws are easily overlooked if the core gameplay grabs your attention. Once you get used to the battle flow, delivering combos and fully utilizing the lock-on and burst systems becomes second nature and lets you take full command of the battle and is incredibly fun. If you enjoy action RPGs and want to play a game with old-school roots but with a new-school twist, this is a code you should decode immediately.