REVIEW / Battle Princess of Arcadias (PS3)

 

In a world that has been overrun by vicious monsters and enemy armies, where countries across the land have been forced to deploy all of their available forces to protect their people, there stands one princess ready to step in front of danger to keep her kingdom safe.  One princess who is called upon to run into battle to face the evil that is ravaging the land.  This princess is Plume, the Battle Princess of Arcadias.  NIS America and Apollosoft Inc presents Battle Princess of Arcadias, a side-scrolling beat-em-up action RPG.  With sword in hand, the help of ancient weapons and the Princes’ Brigade, Plume must protect the kingdom of Schwert while gaining the help of her allies along the way.

 

The world of Arcadias is vast indeed.

 

Battle Princess of Arcadias, attempts to put a new spin on the action RPG genre by introducing brigades into the mix in an effort to create a deeper, more strategic approach to battle and to craft a more engaging gameplay experience.  The world of Arcadias is quite vast but the player is not allowed to roam anywhere they want at any time.  Areas are opened up only after Plume has been tasked with trekking to specific locations during long winded discussions with various NPCs in the game.  There is a lot of dialogue that happens between missions so be prepared to do a lot of reading.  Once in that area, action takes place in side-scrolling fashion and players can dispatch of enemies using various attack combos all while collecting loot-drops of weapons for her or her party members, items to improve their weapons and potions that regain health or heal status ailments.  You will encounter monsters big and small as well as enemy brigades which is the feature of Battle Princess of Arcadias that is a unique mechanic but is also its biggest weakness.

Plume can not only call on her party members to assist her in battle (you can choose up to two additional party members to accompany you from a list of nine) but has the ability to control brigades that aid her in her quest to rid the land of the looming threat.  She can control their attack, defense and retreat behaviors so that they may assist her in the best way possible to defeat the enemies.  The brigades have their own gauges that the player must be aware of in order to ensure that they are not totally defeated and must have a good understanding of how they are controlled in order to use them to their strengths.  Brigades can attack at will with little regard to their defense and dish out loads of damage while sustaining lots of damage or can focus on their defense so as not to sustain too much damage too quickly while dishing out slightly less damage to enemies.  If all else fails, you can have the brigade retreat in order to regroup and allow their health to regenerate.  However, once the brigade has retreated, Plume will be on her own against an overwhelming number of enemies or a large powerful monster so you must make sure that you don’t sustain too much damage or its game over.  Controlling your brigades while also keeping an eye on Plume’s stats may prove to be more of a daunting task than is apparent at first blush.

 

Plume's attendant Raltz the archer swoops in to assist in the dragons take-down.

 

The visuals in Battle Princess of Arcadias are definitely one of the high points of this game.  I was awed at the beauty of the environments and the intricate details in the character models.  Character models and backgrounds are done in a very rich looking watercolor style that is reminiscent of art that you would see in a child’s fairytale storybook.  The characters sport very lavish, colorful costumes that help to distinguish them from each other and give them a certain amount of personality.  The environments that you will encounter range from the kings ornate throne room in the castle to lush, green forests to haunting volcanic lands where lava flows freely.  Everything in this game is brightly colored and really jumps off of the screen and helps to immerse you in the story as well as to set the tone of the entire adventure.

Sound effects in Battle Princess of Arcadias are of high quality and attempt to give the on-screen action weight and balance.  The roar of a dragon bellows from the speakers while battle cries ring out as enemies and allied armies clash on the battle fields.  Swords clang as they are being clashed together in hand-to-hand combat and magic spells scream across the battle field to bring down a looming monster.  The soundtrack contains majestic melodies that harken to the time of kings and queens and helps to make the player feel that they are holding court in the throne room as well as ramping up to a rhythmic beat as you embark on a quest to find out why a brigade has gone missing.  The voice overs in Battle Princess of Arcadias is all in the original Japanese but the English translations are provided in subtitle fashion for those who are not fluent in the language.  This is one of the best features of the game as being able to hear the dialogue in its native tongue is really cool and lets you experience the game as it was meant by its creators.

 

There is so much going on on-screen that it is often hard to keep track of your character.

 

NIS has given a good effort in Battle Princess of Arcadias to try and create a game in the action RPG genre that is more than just a hack-and-slash-fest.  Unfortunately, their execution falls way short and just ends up being a confusing mess.  During missions, you are tasked with defeating a particular enemy with the help of your two comrades and three brigades.  At this time, there is a lot that is going on on-screen and it is really hard to keep track of everything in order to be victorious.  As you are attempting to dispatch of the threat in a particular area, you not only have to be aware of the damage that your player controlled character is taking, but you also have to be aware of the damage that your brigades are taking as well as issuing them commands and trying to administer potions to heal yourself or to counteract status effects.

Trying to keep track of all of this at once makes for a very frantic and frustrating experience.   The HUD obviously provides visual gauges to keep track of this information but it is spread across the entire screen.  Your health and magic meters in is in the top left, your item menu and brigade commands menu is in the top right, the health gauge of your brigades is on the bottom left and the health gauge of the enemy that you are fighting is on the bottom right of the screen.  The on-screen action never stops even when you are trying to issue commands to your brigade and there were many times that my character was killed as I took my eyes off of the action in an attempt to cycle through the list of available commands to order a retreat command to my brigade so that they would not be decimated.  The brigades are necessary to defeating the monsters as they have extremely high health gauges but the brigades are too weak for a sustained attack and quickly have to be issued retreat orders in order to allow them to recover for an additional attack.  Plume or her party members can’t defeat the large monsters by themselves and I found that the only way to stay alive while the brigades were recovering was to just run around the screen avoiding the monster until the brigades were healed and begin another attack.

 

Plume and her brigades are often way out matched.

 

I feel like I spent more time fighting the wonky controls on this game than I did actually fighting the monsters.  Having to be aware of so many things all at once just made for a very frustrating experience.  Having the help of the brigades is a good idea but they were too weak and having the action continue while you are trying to issue them commands and monitor the status of yourself and your party members and administer a health potion or cure status ailments and plan your attack strategy just doesn’t work very well.  To balance this all out, the action on screen needed to be paused while you issued orders or applied potions so that you can take your eyes off of the action, decide your next move and then continue with the fight.  In addition, the monsters that you come up against have inordinately high health and dish out extremely high damage while you and your brigades have very low health and dish out very low damage.  The game is very unbalanced and just ended up being an experience that wasn’t very fun and left me scratching my head.  This was very surprising to me that this came out of NIS who usually has a good understanding of how to create fun gameplay but I wouldn’t recommend this adventure to anyone.

 

 

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