Review by discoinferno84

Reviewed: 10/23/12

I could've been a princess, you'd be a king...

Princess Solange is having a bad day. Her country has been invaded by monsters, and the castle has already been overrun by an enemy army. Her family has gone missing; the last time she saw the king, he was begging her to protect the DeLuxcalibur, a sword shrouded in legend and myth. That task is going to be hard to accomplish, given how the weapon is much bigger than she is. Not to mention the fact she’s currently clad in the nobility’s latest fashion trend: a chainmail bikini. It’s pretty funny, if you think about it. Not only does the princess have to escape her own kingdom, but she must do so while nearly naked and literally dragging around a ridiculously oversized sword. Despite such shortcomings, Solange is determined to vanquish the evil that has consumed her homeland.

Her friends aren’t quite as idealistic. There’s Ali, a former leader of thieves who simply wants to get out of the kingdom alive while being as sarcastic as possible. Zozo is too busy trying to keep her decaying body in one piece – she’s a necromancer, not a zombie – to care either way. Allegro claims he’s only a few EXP away from becoming the greatest sage ever, but he’s little more than an Elvish bard with a passion for magical rock and roll. While these four characters are central to the game’s campaign, their expanded party will include the likes of a bloodthirsty nun, a blind samurai, and a warrior with animal-based powers…like the Heartbroken Badger and the Territorial Alpha-Goldfish. The heroes must contend with a powerful witch-queen, a mysterious masked swordsman named Liongate, and Jupponogi, the wonderfully hammy ninja. They’re pursued by the most dangerous foe of all: Marco Neko, a talking cat merchant looking for cash Allegro owes him.

Needless to say, Code of Princess is not a normal RPG. Rather than taking itself seriously, the game mocks many cliches typically associated with the genre. Solange isn’t a battle-hardened warrior, so she frantically apologizes to her slain foes. Some of the enemy forces notice her non-armor and mistake her for a prostitute. She serves as a nice foil for Ali, whose heroic qualities are often overshadowed by her unabashed greed and pragmatism. Almost everything that comes of out Allegro’s mouth is a lie, yet nearly everyone is gullible enough to believe him. Anyone who’s ever seen Gundam will figure out Liongate’s gimmick at a glance. There are even villainous twins who are so boring and generic that even they don’t know who’s who. With constant bantering and jokes aplenty, the game’s tone remains light and fun throughout. The emphasis on humor is the narrative’s saving grace; when you strip away the great writing and funny moments, the story involves little more than killing everything that moves and moving on to the next scene. While there is an alternate ending, there’s no effort needed to reach it or consequences to be had. Had there been more plotlines and greater focus on the entire cast, the adventure would have been far more entertaining and satisfying.

Instead, the game puts more emphasis on the battles. The main storyline is comprised of a long list of quests; you finish a battle, listen to some dialogue and move on to the next one. The game keeps track of who you use and how long it takes to beat a given mission, which provides enough incentive to try different characters and attempt speed runs. At its most basic, the combat is nothing more than an exercise in button mashing. You can perform weak or strong attacks, pull off a handful of combos, and set off explosive chain reactions using magic spells and grenades. While the mindless hacking and slashing works well enough early on, it won’t keep you alive. You’ll come to rely on more advanced techniques, like dodging into the fore or background of the stage to avoid unfriendly fire. If your moves are timed correctly, you can parry oncoming attacks and counter accordingly. The most vital feature, however, is the Burst Mode. If their magic meters are charged up, the characters can briefly unleash the energy to double their offensive power and temporarily stun enemies. Given how you’re often forced to fight nearly a dozen foes at once, this mechanic is essential for developing crowd control and pacing strategies.

It’s not as broken as it sounds. Unless you do some serious level grinding, you’re going to need any advantage you can get. Some of the later quests will outright slaughter you if you haven’t mastered everything. That’s why you need to make the effort to build your character well. The available equipment can drastically alter your strategies; some weapons do more damage on bosses or armored foes, while others boost magic or speed. Some items let you abuse the Burst Mode for health regeneration, unblockable attacks, and status ailment immunities. While there’s nothing in terms of item crafting, the sheer variety of combinations allows you to approach familiar battles in new ways. The characters’ stats are just as important. When someone levels up, you can apply the experience points toward their vitality, defenses, speed, attack power, etc. The system looks plain and boring, but it makes a huge difference later on. If a character has only focused on developing attack and speed, the end-game magic users will obliterate them in seconds. Even the humblest foe can slaughter you if there are no defensive stats. While the basic character builds are obvious, a little extra effort goes a long way.

The game gives you more than enough incentive to do so. The main campaign is only about thirty fights long, and the difficulty level takes a drastic jump in the final stretch. The level grinding is quick and cheap enough to even things out, though. The real challenge comes with the few dozen unlockable bonus missions. Most of them involve killing a set number of monsters, but others impose a time limit or have you protect a NPC. Even if you’ve got a maxed-out level 99 character, there are battles that will still give you a serious run for your money. Those are rare, but they’re incredibly satisfying to complete. You’re not limited to using the main party, either. It’s possible to replay every mission using any character. Not just the heroes, but anyone. The quirky bosses? The demons, ninjas, and skeleton mages? The screen-filling dragon that took some many hits to kill? The little old lady you helped ten hours ago? They’re all available, each with their own – though occasionally truncated – moves and stats. While it’s possible to beat the campaign is a single sitting, completionists are going to have their hands full.

If the quests aren’t satisfying enough, you can take your battles online. Up to four players can duke it out with their favorite characters in either versus or co-op matches. You can adjust the search filters to seek out nearby opponents, or the number of people you want to have in the battle. There’s even a leaderboard, complete with the number of points earned for victory and unlockable ranking titles. Unfortunately, that’s all there is; it lacks ways to better customize your data or interact with fellow gamers. There’s no way to better organize groups, let alone make basic communication. Texting or voice chat would make co-op far more interesting than chaotic free-for-alls. That’s assuming you can even play at all. Even when there are only a few characters on the screen, it’s far too laggy. The game practically freezes whenever things get hectic in the four-player matches. Given how much of the combat focuses on combos and strategy, the sluggish gameplay completely ruins what could have been an incredible multiplayer.

That issue isn’t just limited to the online features, either. There are missions in which there’s so much happening on the screen that the gameplay slows to a crawl. It would have been interesting if it were limited to the parrying or guarding techniques for some kind of dramatic effect, but it can wreck even the best strategies. Once you’ve mowed down enough enemies, everything speeds back up and looks good. All of the characters have decent standing and movement animations, like Solange’s awkward overhead swing, or Juppongi’s flowing cape and silly running design. While the settings are generic enough – the battles typically take place in towns or a forest – they make great use of the 3DS’s graphical abilities. The buildings and trees are rendered surprisingly well, and even small foreground objects look sharp and seem to pop up. The battles feel crowded and hectic, and being able to jump into the fore and backgrounds makes the depth of the images much more pronounced. The audio work is just as impressive; not only are the dialogues funny to read, but the voice acting makes them downright hilarious. If anything, you’ll play through the game just to see what the cast will say next. The soundtrack is also an unexpected treat; if you take time to listen, you’ll be rewarded with a catchy blend of metal, jazz, and orchestrated music. A lot of effort was put into making this game look and sound good, and it shows.

That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, though. Code of Princess is dragged down by a few glaring flaws. The story, while often funny and entertaining, is shallow at best. Some hidden paths and more character development would have been great. The pacing of the regular missions is occasionally thrown off by the slowed-down animations. The ridiculously laggy online multiplayer makes an already watered-down experience almost unplayable. That’s a shame, given how it wastes so much of the game’s potential. Everything else, however, is superb. The combat mechanics seem simple enough, but the parrying, dodging, and Boost Mode mechanics make it far more complex and fun to master. With so many playable characters, different equipment setups, ways to develop stats, it’ll take a while for you to explore and try everything. The game makes you want to keep playing, and rewards you for doing so. Sometimes, that’s the most important thing of all.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Code of Princess (US, 10/09/12)

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