Author: Rory Young
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, October 8th, 2012
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/code_of_princess/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.
Early marketing for Agatsuma Entertainment's Code of Princess drew comparisons between it and the much vaunted beat ‘emup action RPG Guardian Heroes, a Sega Saturn favorite. "Spiritual successor" was the exact term being thrown around, claiming Code of Princess' mixture of combo-centric brawler combat, RPG leveling and equipment mechanics combined for an exciting, inspired experience just like fans remember. A high bar to set, absolutely, but one Atlus felt comfortable with when localizing Code of Princess for western territories.
Certainly, in motion Guardian Heroes' influence on the development of Code of Princess is clear, with its inventive and detailed character design, three 2D planes of battle, and competitive battle arenas. Still, following a recipe isn't as simple as mixing the same ingredients and expecting it to taste the same. There's a precision required, an attention to detail, and a passion to create something that stands on its own. Code of Princess certainly has its work cut out for itself in this regard, taking its varying ingredients and putting them together to to create a compelling product. That's easy to say now, of course, knowing full well that unfortunately Code of Princess never seems to find its way. Maybe we should go back to the Guardian Heroes comparisons, eh?
Time to leave Agatsuma's intentions behind and focus on how Code of Princess actually plays, which means there's both a lot to cover, yet very little to detail. Code of Princess offers both single-player and multiplayer experiences, but in order to unlock a majority of the game's content, the campaign must be played first. From there, a variety of characters will be unlocked for most modes of play, along with maps for campaign "Free Play" and an assortment of challenge missions. Essentially, filling out the roster proves the most important mechanic of Code of Princess, as the game at its heart plays more like a fighter than a brawler or any sort of RPG.
How devastatingly unfortunate then that Code of Princess puts its worst foot forward with the campaign. Broken into about 30 missions, the campaign introduces players to protagonist Solange and her merry assortment of heroes. Each mission begins and closes with a small bit of narrative that is, to be brutally honest, annoying and very poorly delivered – 30 missions of trite fantasy filler. In between the voice actors painfully attempting to convey jokes I can only hope made sense in Japanese, the grating, exaggerated personalities and random breaking of the third wall, Code of Princess fails to even establish the premise at its story's heart: what a "code" is. "Code" will be referenced throughout the second half of the game, but just like the majority of the Campaign mode, it's best not to think too much about that.
The campaign does serve a purpose, however, which is to introduce players to Code of Princess' combat. Each mission will get progressively more difficult, introducing stronger enemies that require an assortment of increasingly more intensive tactics. Yet even with purpose, the individual missions don’t deliver a compelling experience. Code of Princess drops players into areas not much wider than a couple of Street Fighter stages next to each other. Enemies then spawn from the sides of the map until a boss is defeated or a certain number of enemies die and the next stage begins. Rather than challenge and encourage players to experiment and explore, each level becomes a speed run, because there's really nothing in each stage worth investing time into.
Completing a stage procures experience points, and a character's levels will cross over into all areas of the game. Thus, Code of Princess pushes players to tackle higher difficulty levels in the campaign or challenge missions, as a method of earning more experience. As a player levels they can invest their points into various attributes (vitality, speed, attack), but be wary a misappropriated stat can only be corrected with a complete character reset to zero. Much like a fighting game, certain characters will be stronger from range, with magical abilities, as tanks or as quick strikers, but stat distribution helps focus a character towards a player's strengths. All in all, the RPG mechanics are more than adequate, though it must be said that leveling never particularly makes a character feel stronger until tackling a lower difficulty with a high level character.
Moving beyond single-player and cooperative play, combat with AI can help teach pattern recognition, but competitive combat feels much more rewarding. Trading hits, strategically using the "burst" mechanic that can briefly stun opponents, rationing mana, and dancing between the three 2D planes -- there's potential here for a lot of fun, and better yet constant challenge. Yet this experience is dulled because it isn't a priority for the game. It's rare to find a single or pair of opponents at exactly the same level. Post-release, players should max out characters and the "Ranked" competitive mode will come into full use, but I wonder how many players will get that far before becoming frustrated or bored.
Even Code of Princess' visual style is lacking a focused, directed design. Main characters are highly detailed models, but secondary characters are rather generic looking; backgrounds are a mixture of 3D renders and pixelated, sloppy sprites, awkwardly placed to take use of the 3DS' 3D. During the story, 2D hand drawn profiles will chatter over 3D backgrounds, forcing players to cross their eyes in order to read text or watch animations. Sometimes things look great, and sometimes, it’s hard to tell just what the art director at Agatsuma was thinking.
I can't criticize everything, of course. Packaged with the game is Code of Princess' soundtrack which is very pleasant and well orchestrated, along with a full-color manual that will help players with basic mechanics before even starting the game. Atlus takes a lot of pride in the packaging of their products, and Code of Princess' box is another of high quality. I hate to say they dropped the ball in terms of voice acting and localization this time around, but getting into this game is pretty difficult when any funny or emotional line of dialogue feels forced, mismanaged or incongruent with other actors' lines. Despite that, there's a niche of gamers out there that can look past these issues and find the beauty in details that I never was able to.
I wanted to like Code of Princess very much, what with the art work of Kinu Nishimura, and as a huge fan of brawlers of all kind. What first appeared to be a game with a lot of depth – plenty of characters that fit multiple play styles, robust multiplayer and complex combat – just never hit its stride. Code of Princess proved to be a game with strong influences and many good ideas, but poor overall direction and a lack of focus on what could truly make their game great.
Simply put, I never found that driving purpose to continue playing Code of Princess. The game is a cooperative and competitive, action RPG brawler, and I expected there to be some hook that grabs onto gamers and never lets go. Instead, Code of Princess never fully realizes what it is, without any portion that feels like the heart of the game. What’s left is a tedious, uninspired experience, a waste of potential. The lasting thought I'm still holding onto is that this truly could have been the spiritual successor to Guardian Heroes that fans wanted. All the pieces are there, but it isn't. It isn't at all.
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