Review by YusakuG
"Not all princesses need to be rescued..."
The Sega Saturn is probably one of the most under-rated systems in the past 10 years. Even though it was overshadowed by the Sony Playstation almost right from the start, there are a vast number of games that were truly blissful experiences, yet were overall ignored by the game-playing public. In Japan, the Sega Saturn was a virtual gold mine of ''hidden treasures'' - games that received little hype or attention in the US, but were great games in their own right. Games like Radiant Silvergun, Blue Seed, Sakura Wars, and Keio Geki. None of these games made it to the US, but maybe if they had, the Sega Saturn would have gotten the respect it deserved.
One such game that was generally unnoticed was Atlus' Princess Crown, an action RPG with unmatched anime-style graphics. In fact, roughly five years after it's release, the game still manages to impress me visually. But, more than the graphics, it is the gameplay that keeps me coming back. Princess Crown is a prime example of what the Saturn could do with 2D, and the American executives who thought the game would not sell over here should be punished, so that they may learn the error of their ways.
The story of Princess Crown is a whimsical little fairy tale that plays almost like a storybook. And in a way, it is. (More on that later.) Long ago, in a peaceful kingdom, an evil demon set about destroying the land, spreading chaos wherever it went. When the kingdom's finest warriors had fallen at the hands of this seemingly invincible foe, the queen herself took up a sword, and challenged the demon to battle. When the dust from the battle cleared, the queen stood victorious. Life in the kingdom returned to normal, and the queen's valiant efforts became the inspiration for many legends.
Now, many years later, a young princess is about to take the throne. She is Princess Gradriel, a direct descendant of the heroic queen from long ago. Shortly after assuming the title of the throne, a messenger brings word that there have been many sightings of monsters, and that strange occurrences are being reported across the land. Could the demon's threat be on the verge of making a return? Princess Gradriel has always been fascinated by the tales of her queen ancestor's heroics, and insists that she set out on her own to investigate. Her suggestion is instantly turned down, however, and Princess Gradriel is told to stay in the castle where it is safe. Not letting this stop her, the young princess equips herself with armor and a sword, and sneaks out of the castle. She is determined to get to the bottom of the mysterious happenings in her kingdom before it is too late.
As mentioned earlier, the game follows a very whimsical fairy tale-style theme, and this is evident right from the very beginning of the game. As soon as you leave the title screen, you are brought into a house where an old woman in a chair asks her young granddaughter to choose a story she wants to hear from the shelf. Each of the books on the shelf represents one of your saved game files. You pick the file (book) that you want, and bring it to the grandma to begin your game. You can even pick up the cat that is lying in the corner of the cozy room, and set it down near the grandma, which brings up the game's option screen. It's very cool how they make a little mini scene out of the game's file select menu. You even have control over the girl, and can move her around the room and look around.
When you've selected the ''story'' you want, you are brought into the game itself. Princess Crown is an action RPG represented as a 2D side scroller. Gradriel begins in the castle, and must find her way out to the town that borders her home. Here, she can talk to various villagers. By talking to people, you will learn about the problems of the town. These open up new quests that you can accomplish on your way to uncovering the mystery of the monster sightings. You can also buy items from stores, and rest at inns while in the village.
When you leave the safety of the town, you are introduced to the field areas, as Gradriel explores the outside world. The roads outside her town are littered with monsters that the young princess will be forced to fight. Battle in Princess Crown can best be described as a cross between action with a bit of fighting game blended in. She slashes at enemies with her sword, and can even perform combo moves with rapid button presses. Each enemy has its own distinct attack pattern, so you can't rely on the same tactics every time. Gradriel can even find additional weapons to aid her in battle, such as axes, a shield that magically shoots blasts of fire at enemies, and bombs. To keep up your health, it's also important to be well stocked in healing fruits and foods to replenish your life meter.
Of course, Gradriel is new to this heroine business, and she gets tired after a while. She has an energy meter, as well as her life meter. Each time she attacks, she loses a bit of energy. Have it drop all the way, and Gradriel will need to take a moment to rest until it recharges a little. This can leave her open to attack from enemies, so you must be careful. The meter recharges quickly, however, so it's not as big a problem as it could have been, and it does not take away from the overall fun of the game.
As Gradriel learns more information from the villagers she talks to, she will open up more alternate paths to explore and tasks for her to complete. This also opens up more places on the map for you to explore. The game includes a handy automap feature, so even if you can't read Japanese text, you'll know you've talked to the right person if a new place opens up on the game's map.
The controls for Princess Gradriel are simple and easy to learn. In battle, you can jump, swing your sword, and use magic spells that you receive from scrolls you find. While exploring, you push up on the controller to enter buildings, and down to pick up items that are lying on the ground. Some people may complain about the limited number of moves, but I personally did not mind. It makes the gameplay simple enough for just about anyone to jump into with little difficulty.
As fun as the gameplay is, the graphics are what really sets this game apart from the norm. Princess Crown literally looks like an anime come to life. The characters are gigantic in comparison to most character sprites found in 2D games, and are precise down to the very last detailed. The animation is also fluid, reaching almost the level of Capcom fighters. I like the way that the messengers would hold their message scrolls out in front of them, and unravel them before you before they started reading. I also liked how when Princess Gradriel was just walking around, she would look around at her surroundings. The graphics are bright and colorful, to match the light hearted fairy tale mood of the story. There's literally no scene in this game that looks just ''average'', every frame of this game is a joy to behold. The only gripe I have is that some backgrounds tend to repeat themselves, but that is a very minor complaint compared the visual brilliance portrayed in this game.
Unfortunately, the music and sound did not get as much attention. The music's not bad, mind you, it just fails to make any impression, and will quickly be forgotten after you turn the game off. The sound effects seem strangely mute. They're there, but they're not as loud as they should be. Maybe it's just me. One thing I know for sure, Atlus should have sprung for the extra cash to hire professional voice actors. It would have really added to the anime look of the graphics. Unfortunately, the game's dialogue is text only.
Aside from the minor complaints about sound, my big complaint is that although the game is fun, it does grow a bit repetitive after a while. As mentioned earlier, many of the backgrounds are used a bit far too often, as are enemies. You find yourself battling many of the enemies far too frequently, and I can easily see how this could become frustrating to some players. And although the battles are fun, I wish they were a bit more fast paced. Gradriel and her foes can move a bit sluggishly at times, which kind of takes the excitement out of the battles.
For those of you who do have the patience, Princess Crown is quite the rewarding experience. It's a shame. If the above problems had been fixed, this game could have easily scored a perfect 10 with me. Hell, I almost want to score the game a 10 just on the graphics alone, but that would be unfair. As it stands, Princess Crown is a fun and graphically remarkable game that should have gotten more attention than it did. I'm sure if this had been released for the Playstation, it would have been brought over here in a heartbeat, and many RPG fans would have embraced it. Unfortunately, due to the less than stellar performance from the Saturn in the US, this game was forced to remain a hidden treasure, discovered only by import buyers. My advice to anyone who still owns a Saturn and a device that lets you play imports is this - Grab a copy of Princess Crown if you can find it, pop it in the machine, and get ready to be enchanted by a fantastic fairy tale of a young girl's love for adventure.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 06/26/02, Updated 06/09/03
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