Being a princess is overrated. You’ll soon wear out your waving hand, you have to speak to poor people (which even poor people hate doing), and the occasional gifted helicopter from the in-laws does little to take the edge off. Being a battle princess, alternatively, is a completely different affair. It means you get to go out and hit things. Is it all worth it? Battle Princess of Arcadias proves that it is.
What does a career as a battle princess entail? If they were to advertise the job, it’d probably call for somebody experienced in squashing monsters, who likes to meet lots of people, and who doesn't mind travelling extensively. Princess Plume, or Plumie, as she asks to be called, ticks each of those boxes. For her tireless efforts in ridding the kingdom of unusual beasties, she’s gained the love of her subjects — sometimes to uncomfortable extremes. But then, an ancient dragon appears from nowhere and kills her squire. This propels both the player and Plumie into a decent enough story which sees you lead armies, save the world, and pummel pandas. It’s all in a day’s work, though, for a battle princess.
Fans of traditional RPGs might hesitate before rushing to the PlayStation store and buying it unseen. While the genre is definitely represented in several major ways, the main gameplay itself is less Final Fantasy and more God of War. It’s a 2-D sidescroller in which enemies will attack from every direction, and you’ll have to wipe out every beast on screen before moving on, Streets of Rage style.
Hitting square makes the princess do a weak attack, while triangle will hit a little harder, and unsurprisingly, the more enemies you kill, the quicker you level up. You can play as only one character at a time, but you can switch on the fly. It’s fun, for the most part, and it eventually blossoms into something quite deep. If you’re done with Dark Souls 2 and still fancy a challenge, play Battle Princess for a little while. A similar sense of peril will come soon enough.
That’s not to say that the battle system is perfect, however. While proper beat-‘em-ups pride themselves on quick actions and allowing the player total control of their character, this title is a little less tight. If you’re mid-animation, you won’t be able to block, and it’s not unusual for an enemy to stand just a little off-screen so that there’s only a tip of a boot to hint at where they might be hiding. Timing your blocks — which are almost as important as your attacks — is something that you’ll adjust to, especially with the bigger boss enemies, but those judging in the first hour or so might be disappointed by how poorly Plume and friends react to your input.
There are a few other types of battle as well, which task you with leading an entire army, and sadly, this is where the rather deliberate control scheme will really start trying to work against you. Boss fights have you battling directly alongside your troops as some huge monstrosity tries crush you, and you and your allies will need to work together in order to take it down You’ll do this by commanding your troops to change between stances, meaning that they defend and attack on your say. There’s a standard stance which will have your thirty or so followers alternate between hitting and hiding, but they’re not very clever and won’t think twice about taking a claw to the face.
Elsewhere, skirmishes are more interesting. You fight in the foreground, as usual, while a battle between two armies takes place in the background. You fight small units of enemies to raise morale, and then you can use that morale in exchange for your army changing stances, swapping out units, or performing special moves. It’s effectively an intricate game of rock paper scissors, as different weapon types working well against others. With only a limited amount of units at your disposal, do you take a team of archers and sword users, or do you opt for magic? It mostly depends on the opponent you’re going to face.
Sadly, as alluded, controlling your followers in both boss battles and skirmishes is more complicated than it needs to be. You hold down R1 and then press triangle to switch to the orders menu, and then switch between options with R1, square, and circle. Finally, when you’ve decided what you want to do, you hit circle to perform the action. This is all while you’re being attacked, and you'll need to do it quite often. Again, it’s something that you'll gradually get used to, but to begin with, it feels a bit like trying to play a piano with a pair of drumsticks.
Straying away from the release's combat, characters are pretty much standard RPG fare, although the sickly sweet personalities might be a little too much for some people to handle. Taking that into consideration, the writing is actually pretty good, and even the risqué comments usually won't have you cringing. Even the fact that the king is a goose and can only communicate via an all too often broken translator doesn’t seem too strange, which is almost certainly a compliment.
When you’re not having long conversations with a farmyard animal, you’ll either be taking on missions or visiting the city. The entire game is set up in objectives, so there isn’t much in the way of exploration. Bonus quests will pop up quite often, and story levels will be represented by flags on the map. Click the flag, clear out the nasties, count the gold, move onto the next flag — it’s just as streamlined as it sounds. The city, meanwhile, is where you’ll do things like buy new weapons or train up your soldiers. Improving weapons is pretty important, and thankfully, you can do so relatively cheaply. There’s always either something better to buy or an upgrade worth doing, which results in a constant feeling of progression, and it helps having a reason to find money and sell loot.
The developer's managed to do a similar thing with the barracks. Training soldiers is as simple as paying for them to level up, but there’s a limit. Each one of the playable characters is responsible for a certain type of unit, and unless you’ve levelled up your ally, you can’t level up their troops. This provides a somewhat hefty incentive to use every character at your disposal, because the skirmishes are going to be next to impossible otherwise.
Finally, the graphics aren’t quite as nice as they look in screenshots as the animation is a little off-putting, but they’re still pretty enough. Like anything stylized, there are going to be those that hate it, but the art style suits the tone of the game and doesn't distract from what's important. If you’re buying simply because you like the art direction, however, you certainly shouldn't be too disappointed.
Not quite RPG, not quite brawler, Battle Princess of Arcadias manages to inhabit its own little space between the two. The positives of the combination more than outweigh the negatives of not focusing on a specific genre, and like any good royal, the game will leave you smiling after each and every visit.