La Pucelle Tactics was originally released in 2004, at least in the United States. It was primed to take advantage of the popularity of Disgaea, which was released the year before. As you can imagine, it faced all the daunting challenge of living up to that insanely well regarded title. The catch was that La Pucelle was actually an older game, having come out the year before Disgaea in Japan. I found the comparisons a tad unfair.
Fast forward eight years later, and the game has made a comeback on PSN as the newest member of the PS2 Classics club. While this is no more than a port of a near decade old game, it represents an opportunity to judge the game for its own merits, rather than forcing it to live in Disgaea‘s shadow.
So, does the game hold up?
LPT tells the tale of a group of demon hunters. That might sound pretty badass, but the main characters are a sixteen year old girl and her twelve year old brother. That’s right, there’s a twelve year old demon hunter. Anyway, they’re new to the game and want to serve their church faithfully. That’s why they’ll take whatever mission is thrown at them, whether it be investigating a report of zombies in a nearby castle, or leading a gigantic monster away from civilization.
If you’ve ever seen an anime before, you know what to expect from the story. It tells a pretty serious tale about dark forces gathering power in order to summon the evil goddess Calamity. However, there is more humor than seriousness to be found. Prier, the aforementioned girl, is the kind of person that will smack someone else for anything that could possibly be considered a slight. Her brother is usually the target, but others take the brunt of her constant frustrations at several points in the game. The slightest compliment causes blushing, most of the enemies look like overgrown stuffed animals, and the boy has a crush on one of the party members. Of course, he’s too shy to say anything, and has a secret hatred on any man that shows her any attention. Like I said, it’s very anime. If you enjoy anime, you’ll likely get a kick out of this.
Really though, the story is fairly enjoyable. New characters are constantly being introduced, and even if they can all easily fit into a few archetypes, they are played to the fullest. The plot progression has a nice overall arc to it, and there are multiple outcomes for each chapter depending on your actions. While these individual changes may not affect the overall storyline, it’s still interesting to see. What we have here is a story that will not likely push you to the end, but does a good enough job to keep you entertained while you play.
Nippon Ichi is famous for their style, and LPT is a classic example of that style. It’s not unlike, again, an anime. Characters are lightly done sprites with goofy clothing, big eyes, and wacky expressions. The sprites are nice to look at, and are extremely expressive. You don’t often come across sprites that can pull off a pensive look, but that kind of thing is the norm for this game.
One of the more interesting decisions in this game was to switch to a side view with full 2D sprites when combat is performed. Like most tactical RPGs, you move around a grid. However, when it’s time for the attack to land, you get something more akin to a classic JRPG. This allows for crazy looking moves to have more visual impact. For example, one move may have your character summoning a giant wave of fire on the enemy. On the grid, it would look less impressive, as the attack would have to avoid anything outside of the blast radius. In the side view, however, the attack can look epic without reservations.
The backgrounds hit pretty much all of the basics throughout the game. You’ll battle through forests, mountains, dungeons, and other typical places for these kinds of games. They look fine, though they come across as mundane a lot of the time. They’re certainly nothing to write home about. The exceptions are the towns you come across, which have a nice feel to them.
Overall, this is a fine looking game. The art style still holds up, and it would have been much worse off with a more realistic look. The brilliantly animated sprites steal the show. While it may not be a technical marvel, it is still pleasant to look at.
The music of the game hits all the right notes. It’s got light tunes for town themes, more dramatic music for battles, and even some vocal tracks to help set the game apart from other titles in the genre. It’s very pleasant to listen to, and some of it may even be worth listening to outside of the game.
For voices, the game does surprisingly well. When you consider the sheer number of Japanese imports with terrible voice acting, especially from about the time this game first came out, this is a blessed miracle. I honestly couldn’t think to say a bad thing about any of the voices. Sure, some of them could be better, but an attempt was at least made to convey the appropriate emotion at the appropriate time. If you don’t like the English voices, the original Japanese is also available. Honestly though, the dub is good enough that you probably won’t need to resort to that.
Sound effects are hit and miss. More than a few sound tinny, which lessens the impacts of certain moves. When they do work, they work great. In particular, the comical sound effects are a highlight, reminiscent of old slap stick routines.
Overall, the audio is quite enjoyable. I never once considered turning the sound off, and purposely avoided playing the game when I knew I’d have trouble hearing it.
LPT is all about building a team and using them in battle. Like in a lot of tactical RPGs, you’ll recruit a number of allies throughout the game. Several characters will join you throughout the story, and you can convince enemies to join you during battles.
Character customization is pretty deep. While each character has a set of skills they’ll learn automatically, you can equip them with items to change what stats they learn, what bonus skills they learn, and give them spells. These items can be upgraded to increase their effect, and even combined to create new items. So, even if Prier is meant to be a physical fighter, you can just as easily turn her into a dominating mage.
Each character has a set of traits that can be increased when a specific type of item is equipped. For example, a basic weapon will likely increase your attack skill. It will also offer a boost to your attack trait. Whenever you gain experience, that trait gains experience as well. As it levels, you’ll gain extra attack and some attack based skills. For example, gaining a level or two in attack gives you the skill that gives you a chance to deal bonus damage with each melee attack. Leveling HP will give you a skill that lets you gain back health at the end of each turn. It’s a pretty nifty system.
On each battlefield, there are several spots marked with diamonds called “dark portals”Â. These spots act as respwan point for enemies, as well as conduits for dark energy. By using the “purify”Â skill that the main characters all have, you can remove these portals. This also causes your items to level up, and any enemy caught in the path of the dark energy to take damage. You can redirect the flow of the energy by placing your characters in specific spots. If you can create a large circle of this energy and purify it, then you’ll cause a “miracle”Â that gains you a ton of experience, a ton of money, and heavily damages any enemy inside. The purify skill is also used to convince enemies to join you. It will take several turns to work, so it’s best to do it when you don’t need your characters elsewhere.
Battles play out quite interestingly. You start off with a map of enemies to deal with. Somewhere on the map will be a spawn point. From there you can call up to eight of your characters and maneuver them around the field. There will also be an exit point behind the spawn point. At any time during battle, you can have one of your character step on the exit to quit the battle without taking a loss. It’s very useful and allows you to keep your experience and items.
Each turn consists of you moving and using all of your characters until you decide to end your turn. Characters can and will join each other for battle, so setting up combos is essential to decent strategy. To that end, characters do not attack immediately when you select that option. Instead, they wait until you either end the turn or select “begin battle”Â. Then all of your characters go at once, or separately if they’re attacking different enemies. With a well planned out strategy, you can have all of your characters attacking the same creature in one shot. This is vital, because both sides get to strike during regular combat. If you attacked one at a time, then the enemy would be able to counter each character, whereas he only gets to counter once if you have more than one attacking at the same time. If you use skills and/or spells, there is no chance to counter. Also, it’s worth mentioning that characters only gain experience when an enemy is defeated. That makes this “all at once”Â mechanic very helpful. You can have even the weakest white mage get in on the action and gain some experience.
Another mechanic has you sending your befriended monsters to the Dark World in order to combine items. You’ll lose the character, but get the new item immediately. This makes it important to constantly recruit new members. Thankfully, you can replay any stage that you’ve already cleared, so there is more than enough opportunity to get new allies, as well as grind for levels if you so desire.
This is a pretty accessible, yet still deep tactical, RPG. In fact, you can easily go through the game without using a lot of the tools at your disposal. For those that want to dig deeper, they can, and the experience is all the more richer for it. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it.
Firstly, the recruitment mechanic, along with the item merging mechanic, means you can spend countless hours on upgrading your equipment and making new friends. Also, you can enter the Dark World later on and participate in extremely tough challenges in order to get even cooler loot. Finally, the Cave of Trials is unlocked towards the end of the game, and offers its own set of challenges that are perfect for leveling. Plus, there are secret endings to uncover, so you may even desire to play the campaign more than once.
For a truly dedicated player, this game can last dozens, if not hundreds of hours. There is plenty of content available for those willing to go through it.
For a tactical RPG, LPT is uncharacteristically forgiving. Sure, your characters can and will die on frequent occasion, but there’s pretty much no penalty for this. There’s no permanent death, you can back out of the map without losing, and you can quickly grind for levels if you know what you’re doing.
Where the game gets difficult is in the post-game content, so dedicated players can get the challenge they crave later on. Depending on your tastes, that might be a good or a bad thing.
The game does have a nice curve to it. Early battles are practically cakewalks, while later battles turn up the heat with magic using enemies and powerful bosses. Poor strategic play will leave you straight up murdered on most levels. In that regard, it may not be the best game for beginners. I’d say it makes a perfect second tactical game for would be players.
This game isn’t going to garner any points for originality. It is a port after all. Even when it was originally released, at least stateside, it did nothing that Disgaea didn’t do. The Nippon Ichi style is still different from other tactical RPGs out there at least, so someone not used to that style will find something refreshingly new to tackle.
The story, while interesting, doesn’t push players to move forward. It’s up the gameplay to keep them engaged. It can do this well, especially if you set a specific goal for yourself. However, almost every mechanic is introduced early on. The game has little new to throw at you, apart from more powerful baddies. I can easily see someone avoiding lengthy sessions for that reason.
Tactical RPGs in general are easy to put down. With battles often lasting upwards of twenty minutes, it can be a huge time commitment. Even still, I found myself playing for at least a couple hours at a time. The mechanics are solid enough that I never regretted any time spent playing LPT.
The best thing this game has going for it is that it can now be downloaded for a mere ten dollars. I can understand why some people felt the game wasn’t worth it back when it first came out with a price tag of fifty bucks. However, a ten dollar price is more than palatable. It feels like a steal. For the amount of time you’ll get out of this game, that price is awesome.
The game appeals to old fans especially. Someone unable to get a copy of the game when it first game out will also be interested. Heck, anyone who enjoys the genre should give this game a very hard look. It’s hard to deny it’s appeal in that regard.
If you’re not a fan of tactical RPGS, this game is definitely not for you. It takes everything you likely hate about the genre and ramps it up. With all of the extra mechanics, levels to grind, and items to search for, it is not for people seeking instant gratification.
It should be noted that this is a port of the PS2 version. As such, the censorship that was featured in the original U.S. release are still present. The PSP version of the game that released a few years back supposedly doesn’t have these issues, so fans may just want to stick with that.
If that kind of thing doesn’t bother you overly much, this game is worth the money and time you’ll spend on it. This is a fantastic addition to the PS2 Classics line.
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Final Score: Above Average Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
La Pucelle Tactics is a solid tactical RPG that stands the test of time. Out of the shadow of Disgaea, one can truly appreciate how good this game is. With great tactical combat, plenty of customization, and tons of extra content to sink your teeth into, this is a steal at a mere ten dollars. If you haven’t played this game before, or remember it only as Disgaea‘s weaker predecessor, you should definitely give it a chance.