I had no idea what Code of Princess was prior to E3, aside from being another Atlus title being released into the portable realm. That all changed when I had a chance to sample the game and I couldn’t help but think of Guardian Heroes when I started playing it. Turns out there was a reason for that.
If you haven’t heard of the developer Agatsuma Entertainment before now, you weren’t alone. Many of their releases never left Japan and the ones that came stateside arrived in the form of games such as Pocket Dogs, Pocket Pets, and Let’s Draw! Given that pedigree, it’s understandable to be confused about this sudden new direction for the company. Fortunate for them that they had a team that consisted of Han & Masaki Ukyo; both former Treasure employees that had a hand in the design of Guardian Heroes. Time to find out if it lives up to expectations as a spiritual successor to that game or if it’s just another ill fated attempt at glory.
For many years, humans and monsters have lived in relative peace with one another. One day, the monsters banded together and rose up against the humans, declaring war and laying waste to everything in their path. The forces belonging to Queen Distiny arrive on the scene in the kingdom of DeLuxia seemingly to lend a helping hand, but in all actuality are after the legendary sword housed there: the DeLuxcalibur. As the princess, Salonge, you are the only one capable of wielding the sword and as such, must use it to protect your people.
Along the way, you’ll meet several different characters that will join your cause, though only some of them are playable during the story mode. Ali-Baba is a thief that aids Solange after her castle’s collapse and is seemingly only interested in wealth (at least on the surface). She ends up being the voice of reason throughout most of the game, making up for Solange’s naivety. Zozo is a necromancer who had her body stolen and is nothing more than a collection of dead body parts strung together. Despite her predicament, she doesn’t seem to care much about anything, and her complete indifference is the most amusing thing about her character. The fourth and final character playable in the story is Allegro, a bard wielding an electric guitar who also claims to possess sage-like abilities. He would play the role of the comic relief character if such a task were exclusive to him, but the game takes such a non-serious tone with itself that you’ll find yourself amused at the actions of all the characters.
That’s one of the main reasons I found myself enjoying the story. It takes tired plot concepts and uses them in such a way to make fun of itself, even breaking the fourth wall on occasion. It’s not ripe with pop culture references nor as well written as something like Borderlands 2, as some of it dances the line of just simply being cheesy, but I found it engaging enough to see what happens at least.
One thing that may disappoint veterans of Guardian Heroes is the lack of story branches that Code of Princess has. Playing as the different characters alters things slightly as you’re playing along, but ultimately you’ll follow the same linear path. You do get a choice at the end that dictates what ending you’ll end up with, but it’s a far cry from the branching paths that made up the original. On the other hand, CoP is structured much differently and is certainly a vast improvement than the ill-received “official”Â sequel, Advance Guardian Heroes.
In addition to the main story, there are several other modes that can be played with up to three other people. In Free Play, you can go back to any of the story missions sans cutscenes and play them with any of the unlocked characters that you obtained during the game. There is also Bonus Quest, which opens up additional missions not found in the main game, but are unlocked simply by progressing in the story. There’s also a Versus mode that can be played both locally and online via Wi-Fi. Unlike Guardian Heroes, you are capped at four players, but you have the option of playing a ranked match, a regular match, and one where any levels and gear you have equipped on your unlocked characters are retained for the battle. Cooperative missions are available too, offering some that are exclusive to just two players and others that can be played with up to four. If you’re not able to get a full crew together, Code of Princess gives you the option of filling out the empty slots with computer players.
Story/Modes Rating: Great
While Japanese games have the tendency to dress their characters in very impractical attire, Code of Princess certainly takes the cake. Solange in particular wears what can barely be considered armor, instead leaving everything except for her breasts and hands exposed. The game seems very well aware of its design choices as characters you meet will constantly question the ridiculousness of Solange’s outfit. The other characters look slightly more reasonable by comparison, though their absurd appearances certainly fit in with the tone of the game.
The characters seem to animate well enough in-game, though the camera spends a lot of time zoomed out of the action, making it tough to appreciate the little details. If you happen to have a multiplayer game going, things get especially chaotic, as a lot of enemies can get packed onscreen at a time and it’s easy to lose track of things. I didn’t notice too much slowdown outside of normal Wi-Fi latency, so the engine at least seems capable of keeping up.
I was also impressed by the anime cutscenes that were inserted into various points during the storyline. They were animated by Bones, a studio responsible for such anime series as Soul Eater and Darker than Black. Perhaps even more surprising is that they seamlessly transition from gameplay into these animated shorts without any sort of loading time, making it less of a hassle if you’ve seen them before and would like to skip.
Graphics Rating: Great
Many of the characters were voiced by recognizable personalities, such as Laura Bailey filling the role of Solange. At first, I was a bit put off by some of the voice acting found in the game, as it was either incredibly overacted, or just downright cheesy. Once I realized what the tone of the game was all about, it made more sense. While you won’t get a serious performance out of any of the characters, it’s actually preferable this way. And no, there is no Japanese voice track present.
The music of Code of Princess is quite good, which makes the pack-in soundtrack all the more desirable. While it’s difficult to just point to a few particular pieces as particularly stand out (aside from the kooky shop music), the entire thing is just well composed in general. In a game like this, the primary purpose of the background tracks should be to get you in the mood to lay waste to whatever crosses your path. And to that end, it more than satisfies.
Sound Rating: Great
While Code of Princess classifies itself as an action RPG, it plays like a beat-‘em-up and has some fighting game elements thrown in. The game is played on a 2D field that scrolls left and right, but there are three fields that your character can be standing on at any given time. You can only attack enemies that are on the same field as you, though you can jump between any of them with the shoulder buttons. The advantage of this setup is that you can avoid attacks from anyone above or below you, but can enter fighting game style button commands against the foes directly to your side. You have two basic attack buttons (weak and strong) that can be strung together in various combinations to create combos. While the bottom screen normally shows the statistics to your character, it can be changed to reflect whatever combos your chosen character has at their disposal.
The upper left hand corner of the screen displays your current health and magic ability. Certain abilities and combos drain magic when used, though it can be replenished simply by attacking foes or blocking attacks with the shoulder buttons. The upper right displays the amount of time left available for your current mission, though the game is pretty generous about giving you enough time to get through each one. Across the bottom is your currently targeted enemy and by using the Y button, you can strike an enemy to change which one is selected. The X button will activate your burst mode, which will have different effects depending on the item you have equipped, though its primary purpose will be to give your character a surge of power.
The basic structure of Code of Princess is to select your character, select your mission, and go to battle. Most missions consist of defeating every enemy on screen, though there are some that require you to just stay alive, pummel a boss, or protect an NPC. If you’re victorious, any experience points earned will be awarded to whichever character you were using and the stats earned can be allocated to one of six different statistics. You may also be awarded various pieces of equipment, which can be equipped to influence your stats further. Once you reach a specific point in the game, gear can be bought with the money allocated from your missions, and much of what you buy can be shared among all unlocked characters.
The controls are very responsive and certainly accessible to someone who doesn’t play a whole lot of fighting games. While the same basic controls apply to all characters, each one has a unique playing style. Since many of the combos are performed the same way, it makes switching characters easy as well.
Control/Gameplay Rating: Classic
Code of Princess has over 50 playable characters that can be unlocked and used in most of the modes in the game. Considering that they all have their own statistics that can be modified as they level up, as well as varying playing styles, that’s a lot to experiment with. While the actual story campaign can be gotten through rather quickly and with only four of the characters, Free Play opens up all of the story missions to all of the unlockable characters, including bosses and monsters that you may have encountered. They can also be used to play the unlockable Bonus Quests (of which there are almost as many missions as the main game).
If multiplayer is more your thing, Code of Princess can be played locally as well as online in both co-op and competitive flavors. While the versus mode may not be as in-depth as as most fighting games, it is at least interesting to have four people slug it out with their favorite characters. The online co-op was the real treat for me, although on the numerous occasions that I had tried to play it, there were barely any people online. I certainly had a blast doing missions with a full four person party, but it honestly took longer for a group to fill up than it did doing the actual mission.
Replayability Rating: Great
While the game is certainly easier than Guardian Heroes, it certainly isn’t without its issues. There are numerous occasions where if you find yourself surrounded by enemies, you can be combo’d into oblivion without being able to defend yourself or move to a different rail. It’s incredibly frustrating when this happens and although you shouldn’t let yourself get surrounded in the first place, it is sometimes easier said than done. Fortunately, if you find a stage that you are struggling on, you can go back to an already completed stage and grind levels. While good news for those who just want to see what happens in the story, to some it may feel like this removes some of the challenge. However, you only gain experience if you successfully complete a mission, so those that would prefer the added challenge certainly have the option of abstaining from the grind.
Since finding competition online was a bit of a rarity, it’s hard to say how balanced the characters are in a versus setting. Considering the developers were tasked with crafting skill sets for over 50 different characters, I’m going to bet there is definitely a tier system in place, especially when levels and gear get involved.
Balance Rating: Good
Beat-‘em-up games and the like have been making a steady comeback with the advent of downloadable games. Even so, Guardian Heroes has yet to be fully replicated and Code of Princess is the closest anyone has come to doing so. As such, while it contains elements of various genres across the board, it still manages to be a pretty unique experience, even when trying to be the spiritual successor to one of the best Sega Saturn games ever made.
Originality Rating: Good
While Code of Princess certainly has the capacity to be played in short bursts, it’s a tough one to put down. I managed to burn through the campaign in just a couple sittings and even after I was done I wanted to experience more. That’s a heck of an endorsement, especially coming from someone who would rather leave a game wanting more than walking away glad it was over. It’s even better if you have some friends that also own the game, as laying waste to your enemies is way more fun with a buddy or three. While the online component can be used to match you up with strangers, there aren’t currently enough people on there to rely on it too much. All the same, Code of Princess currently rivals Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy for finding a regular home in my 3DS.
Addictiveness Rating: Classic
While the audience of Atlus is generally those into more niche titles, I think Code of Princess has the potential to appeal to a broad fanbase if it were just given enough exposure to do so. The problem is it released on the same day as two other heavily anticipated titles: Dishonored and XCOM. And while those games exist on different platforms, gamers who own multiple consoles or even just a console and a handheld are probably going to put this game on the backburner and pursue one of the other options. Fans of Guardian Heroes will most definitely be pleased, as will anybody open to the blend of genres that are at work here.
Appeal Rating: Decent
I was a little disappointed by the way the 3D effect was presented here. While it performed somewhat how I imagined (the area you’re in slants to make it appear as though you are peering down a field), it wasn’t as impressive as I thought it had the potential to be. The anime cutscenes are also not viewable in 3D, which is unfortunate. I was hoping they would have been done to the same extent as the Kid Icarus episodes that were downloadable for a limited time.
I gotta say, I love the package design for Code of Princess. While I’m not certain for how long they will be selling it like this, the game comes packed in a cardboard box bundled along with an art book. As you might imagine, the art book isn’t very big, but it’s a nice bonus for early adopters. The last page has a spindle to hold the soundtrack CD along with some commentary from the composer. When you open up the actual plastic case containing the game, it’s nice to see that there’s an actual manual included as well, complete with a story synopsis and biographies on all of the characters. I would like to see more 3DS games follow this example.
Miscellaneous Rating: Great
Appeal Factor: Decent
Final Score: Great Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Code of Princess arrives on the scene as a spiritual successor of sorts to the Sega Saturn classic, Guardian Heroes. The similarities are striking, though this title in particular is structured to accommodate a handheld environment. The gameplay still maintains a balance between RPG, beat-‘em-up, and a fighting game, while making the missions more bite-sized for gaming on the go. The game is well presented; featuring small, but well animated sprites, anime cutscenes, and an excellent soundtrack. It can be played with up to four players both locally and online whether you want to team up with somebody or bash their head in. Between that and the vast selection of unlockable characters, you should find plenty to keep you busy. Code of Princess has definitely found a place as one of my favorite 3DS titles to date.