I’m not sure how well it translates back into Japanese, but the above essentially sums up, Battle Princess of Arcadias perfectly. Like so many games now being released for the ageing, but still surprisingly sprightly PS3, Battle Princess of Arcadias is quite simply, “very Japanese”.
For some, that will invariably be seen as a positive, for others a negative, but either way, the fact remains; ‘very Japanese’ or not, this is a very good videogame……well, a good one anyway. It certainly comes close to very good, and on many occasions, you’ll swear that it’s just that, but sadly, while the positives certainly outweigh the negatives, there are a handful of poor design choices that keep this otherwise enjoyable action RPG from achieving greatness.
The first thing you’ll probably notice about, Battle Princess of Arcadias is how similar it looks to, Vanillaware’s work on Odin Sphere and Muramasa, only, you know, not quite as pretty. Don’t get me wrong, Nippon Ichi and ApolloSoft have done a great job at creating a memorable game world and by any definition, this really is a gorgeous game. The problem is, when you go for an art style so reminiscent of Vanillaware’s work, you’ll inevitably find yourself compared, and given the quality of their work, it comes as no surprise that the comparison is slightly unfavourable.
Still, while it doesn’t quite hit the heights of Vanillaware’s finest work, Battle Princess of Arcadias is nonetheless a very attractive game in its own right, and for the most part, a very competent one to boot. At its heart, this beautifully animated action RPG is a side-scrolling beat-em up with an array of role playing tropes and a traditionally whimsical JRPG story. It is darker than most and certainly holds its fair share of surprises, but in a game in which you battle pandas and answer to a king who just so happens to be a goose, you can’t help but feel that this could have only come out of Japan.
The majority of the experience is made up of combat stages that are without question, the strongest aspect of the game. The story keeps things ticking along, but it’s the fundamental combat that makes this the experience that it is. With a collection of combos and a varied team of three playable characters to swap between, the core combat is rarely anything less than highly enjoyable. Eventually, you’ll end up with ten playable characters to choose from, and although you can only have three on your team at any given time, the additional characters really do offer a great deal of variety.
There is a down side to this however. In a clear attempt to differentiate the game from its competitors and to provide additional diversity, Battle Princess of Arcadias is also home to Sieges and Skirmishes which, while sounding like solid enough ideas on paper, are home to an array of poor design choices that often make these modes more of a chore than a joy. They certainly provide a spectacle, and the change in pace is unquestionably welcome, but both Siege and Skirmish lack the finesse of the Combat missions.
Essentially boss battles and large scale conflicts, both modes rely upon a combination of standard combat and troop management. The problem is, not only do they both appear a little too early in the game, but both are reliant on a decidedly fiddly command system that needs to be navigated while in the heat of the standard combat. You get used to it after a while, but it never feels natural, and I for one found both of these modes something to get through rather than something to actually enjoy.
The fact that you need to grind for these battles also doesn’t help. Some people love grinding, but when you’re forced to level up the additional characters in your squad and rummage around for the somewhat scarce cash needed to improve your battalion, going back and replaying levels becomes a must rather than an optional extra.
Still, issues with the Skirmishes and Sieges aside, Battle Princess of Arcadias is still a fantastically enjoyable game that, despite its faults, manages to win out thanks to its great combat system, eclectic cast of characters, surprisingly compelling narrative and gorgeous visuals. As is the case with so many of these rather eccentric Japanese RPGs, Battle Princess of Arcadias has its fair share of rough edges, but get past those and you’re left with the kind of quirky, unique and ultimately memorable experience that is so often the speciality of the Japanese development scene.
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