Battle Princess of Arcadias is only the second game to make its way west from developer ApolloSoft. The first was a tactical RPG from the Ragnarok franchise, known as Ragnarok Tactics, that graced the PSP in 2011. Before that, their only other release was the Japan only Blue Roses: Yousei to Aoi Hitomi no Senshitachi, which fell within the same genre. So to branch into more action territory with their next title is something of a risky proposition for a developer not experienced in it, but despite the low budget nature of the production, I’d say they did alright.
You take on the role of Plume, who has been designated as the Battle Princess of the Schwert Kingdom. As a Battle Princess, her duties involve laying the smack down on any monsters that threaten the land as well as build morale for the kingdom’s army. One day, she engages in battle with an ancient weapon that has been mysteriously awakened (and looks suspiciously like a Pokemon) and loses her squire in the process. This sets off a chain of events that send her on a quest to not only cease the other weapons from functioning, but also to track down whomever is responsible. Oh, and take on any other requests from his majesty, the goose. Yes, the kingdom is ruled by a goose.
Fortunately, Plume doesn’t have to face dangers alone, as she’ll meet several allies throughout the game that will lend themselves to her cause. They’re an eclectic bunch, consisting of her new squire, a boy that can grift his way in or out of any situation, and a man that talks so dramatically, he requires his own subtitles. They all come across as fairly one dimensional during the important story sequences, unless you take the time to talk to them between missions, but they’re at least humorous in their interactions. Plume herself is of the naïve type, knowing so little of the realities of the world that she once thought people came back to life simply because she spotted a monster that was identical looking to one that she’s killed. She certainly does grow as a character during the course of the game, as you might expect, though as a whole the story is merely there as loose motivation to go on the missions that you do. In fact, characters tend to get a bit too chatty in places, even during the optional dialogue, though you can at least skip it if you’re not interested.
The game’s entire map is available to view from the outset, though you won’t be able to take on missions in a particular region until they are unlocked. This means that missions progress in a linear fashion for the most part until you unlock side stories or you hit a point where two or three places are open to you that can be tackled in any order. I suspect this is because enemies don’t balance to your level as you advance, but it’s worth noting that it doesn’t open up in the second half to the same extent that say Dragon’s Crown does (though even that had level suggestions).
Once you begin a mission, the action is viewed from a 2D perspective. You can move left or right, though not up or down, which limits your range of motion a bit compared to similar games. At the same time, it makes it easier to connect with special moves, since they are performed using fighting game style button presses and changes to your elevation mid-move would be problematic. Your character can also jump with X and perform two different kinds of base attacks with square and triangle. Circle will use whatever currently equipped item you have on hand, such as a healing potion or antidote, and you can cycle between what is currently equipped by holding down R1 and pressing either square or circle. For defensive maneuvers, there’s a block button mapped to L1, plus you can use it to tuck and roll if you’re holding the analog stick in another direction. And you’ll be relying on defense a lot, as the game likes to have its enemies overwhelm you with sheer numbers. Since you can bring up to three separate characters into a stage with you, L2 and R2 allows you to cycle among them as needed.
Combat is fairly solid, though it takes a few missions before it really starts to grow on you, as there’s much that the game expects you to put up with. There are three different varieties of missions that you’ll be contending with during the course of the game. Combat missions are just a standard run left to right and slaughter everything in sight. Boss battles go by the name of Siege, and involve your party of characters leading a small army up against a gigantic creature. Finally, there’s Skirmish, which allows you to configure several brigades to do battle with opponents in the background while you bash heads in order to earn them the advantage.
It’s the latter two mission types that will likely lead to frustration among players. Mostly because they are very good at conveying a feeling of helplessness on the part of the player, since the army of minions will die off seemingly with little rhyme or reason. Let’s start with Siege. In addition to being able to map items to your circle button, you can also map various commands to issue to your comrades. A number on the bottom of the screen keeps track of how many of your soldiers you have left. As the boss attacks you, any soldiers caught in its path will be annihilated, and this number will shrink. The boss has their own HP meter too, though they are usually protected by a shield that has to be destroyed first and can regenerate over time. The key is to know when to go all out and when to pull back.
That’s one of the reasons the Siege stages can be so challenging; it’s often very difficult to issue commands in a timely manner while simultaneously keeping yourself alive. It’s like the beat-’em-up equivalent of an escort mission. If you lose all of your soldiers or lose all of your own HP, it’s game over. And the button assignment for this is less than ideal. You have to hold R1, then press triangle to get to your commands menu, then use square and circle to cycle between commands, all while trying to maintain control of your own active character. There are three basic formations you can switch between: one that favors defense, one made for offense, and another that acts as a middle ground between the two. Keeping them on defense certainly helps in staying alive, but their damage is pitiful. Likewise, going all out leaves them vulnerable, though you can rip through a boss’s HP much quicker, sometimes sending them into stun status and leaving them helpless themselves. It’s making these kinds of judgment calls that determine the turnout.
Skirmish operates very similarly, except now you have different brigades, each with their own weapon type. There’s a rock-paper-scissors system in place that determines which weapon type has an advantage over another and the key is switching your brigade to one that has an advantage over the enemy. You need morale to make this switch, as well as to change whether they’re on offense or defense as before, and defeating enemies with the player controlled character helps to build this up. Max morale will even lead to special moves that will decimate the enemy army. However, there’s a catch that openly exposes the game’s biggest flaw: level discrepancies. Your brigades can only level up as high as a character who uses the same weapon as them. Since there are seven different weapon types, that means you either have to level up seven different characters simultaneously, or you have to put together a group of less than ideal brigades when dealing with these Skirmishes. Also, enemy brigades are often ten or fifteen levels higher than you by the time you get to them if you play normally, so expect a hefty amount of grinding; especially since you can only bring three characters into battle at once. At least your gained levels are saved if you lose.
There are other factors in determining your effectiveness in battle besides character level. Characters brought into battle together gain Honor with each other, which will cause them to randomly jump in and attack your enemies even when not in use. There are also weapon and item shops in the main town that allow you to stock up on healing potions and better equipment. Existing gear can be modified using parts dropped from monsters in stages, adding attack power or just an additional element such as fire or ice. There are weapon specific skills that are unearthed by modding your gear in much the same way. With the right drops, a weapon can be transformed into an entirely new weapon altogether if you so choose.
In the visuals department, Battle Princess of Arcadias uses colorful 2D sprites both in gameplay and cutscenes, though the characters don’t end up moving around all that much in the latter. Instead, the story is conveyed via character portraits and text, though the artwork is nice. The style of it may not appeal to everybody given how cutesy everybody’s faces appear (even the supposedly battle hardened warriors), but again, everything is well drawn and the environments are incredibly vibrant.
Most of the dialogue is fully voiced, albeit in the native Japanese tongue, so sorry dub enthusiasts. The actors do a pretty solid job though, even if some of their screaming can be a bit grating. The soundtrack, while not particularly memorable, is pretty well done too.
As I said in the beginning, ApolloSoft did a pretty solid job for their first action-oriented title, though the experience feels unnecessarily padded out. You spend almost as much time grinding levels as you do completing the main missions, and while it does double the hours needed to finish the game, there is enough side content that this amount of filler seems like a waste. It’s a shame too, because the combat is fairly entertaining and the localization is quite humorous. So much so, that a cooperative mode would have been a welcome addition. In either case, if you enjoy action RPG/beat-’em-up hybrids enough to overlook its flaws, Battle Princess of Arcadias is a decent PSN purchase.
Short Attention Span Summary
Battle Princess of Arcadias sends you into the colorful world of the Schwert Kingdom to slay monsters and wage wars against other battalions. It introduces some interesting ideas, such as directing entire battalions like a 2D Dynasty Warriors game, though the hands off approach and heavy grinding emphasis will turn off the more casual crowd to the experience. Still, it’s a neat title that really grows on you if you spend some time with it and its colorful presentation is a sight to behold. If you like action RPG’s with a beat-’em-up style combat system, Battle Princess of Arcadias is worth a look, warts and all.