Thursday, June 19, 2014

Battle Princess of Arcadias (PS3)

Complicated, and demanding are two adjectives that immediately come to mind when I think of "Battle Princess of Arcadias". The game which is a blend of strategy, and action starts off smoothly with the usual character, and plot introductions then quickly escalates in complexity with the introduction of an overbearing battle system. It is this battle system, and the applied character/unit leveling that more often than not will leave the player ill-prepared for the sieges, and skirmishes ahead. Before I jump the gun with gameplay explanations let me explain the story behind the fairy tale title ...

At the start of "Battle Princess of Arcadias" we find Princess Plume (who looks a lot like the princess from "Child of Light"), the proclaimed "Battle Princess" tending to the fallen princess brigade members who each have been fatally wounded by a dragon that looks as if it were ripped straight from Pokemon lore. Despite the overwhelming odds Princess Plume stands her ground against the beast, and scares it away for the time being. Unfortunately even after the gained momentary victory the remaining fallen soldier that the Princess had aimed to save prior to the epic fight dies leaving a final request that a man by the name, "Raltz" should take his place as her protector. Soon afterwards the transformed goose king, and other whimsical characters come into the picture adding depth, and variation to the ever-growing story. The story, as it were is one of betrayal, medieval espionage, and outright conquering. Some of the characters involved play a behind-the-scenes role while others are main players within the game's story, and battles. Additional elements such as NISA's signature naughty humor, and fun loving RPG antics are all thrown in the mix as well as a part of the game's core experience. While the Princess is brave enough to face the threats ahead you will find it will take some morale boosting as well as proper recruiting, and equipping to take on the more challenging confrontations that are in store for the kingdom of "Schwert".

Battle Princess of Arcadias is more, or less a strategy RPG with action RPG elements thrown in for added effect. It takes in full account the Princess's leadership role, and her battle prowess. You'll find that within the game it is Princess Plume's duty, or rather heartfelt obligation to protect her kingdom, and lead her troops into battle against insurmountable odds, and monstrous boss-like creatures. Along with a couple other characters of choice the Princess will go into battle armed with her sword, applied accessories, and learned skills to deal a death blow to the opposition. During the three types of battle encounters that are featured in the game the player will be able to switch between Princess Plume, and two other selected support characters who have unique weapons, and skills of their own. Some of the battles will be straight out point "A" to point "B" creature clearing courses while the other two battle types (Sieges & Skirmishes) will require a more strategic approach that incorporates not only Princess Plume, and her chosen two followers, but also her army who is built of character clones wielding similar weapons as those in the main party.

In the standard course clearing objectives which are graded alphabetically (D-A) based on performance you will be taking Princess Plume, and two other main characters along with you in order to clear out an area of enemies. As you go from start to finish different types of fantasy-like creatures will appear in the midst of the path you're currently on, and as such you will be required to kill them off using combo based attacks. Combo attack possibilities include applied combination presses of both light (SQUARE), and heavy (TRIANGLE) hitting attacks. Each of the main characters in the game wields a weapon unique to that character. A weapon that can dish out only certain types of combos, and attacks. Aside from the standard attack each character also has a special meter in place that will allow for a special attack which will deal combo heavy damage to all on screen enemies. This special attack can only be used when the special meter is filled, and can only be activated by pressing (SQUARE + TRIANGLE) simultaneously. It will sometimes bring other support characters into the special attack (Think "Disgaea") inflicting even further damage.

You'll find that Princess Plume is a sword wielding character in the game, and that she can use various types of swords in combat. Other characters can use bows (archers), wands (sorcerers), and even axes (marauders) amongst other things. With your weapon, equipped accessories, and healing items you will have to finish your playthrough of the stage by killing off every enemy in it. No if's, and's, or but's. Luckily for you though you'll find that you can switch characters on the fly using the "L2/R2" buttons, and can do so as often as you like so long as the character you are going to switch to has health meter left.This will help you to avoid certain death, and will allow you to choose the right character for the right circumstances. As you kill your way to the finish of each creature course you will be able to collect the dropped material, weapons, and items that are left in their stead. Once the course is completed you can collect the loot, and in-game currency as well as the applied playthrough grade which depends wholly on your performance.

About the "Weaponsmith & Merchant" ...

After beating your first creature clearing course you will advance the plot, learn of more characters, gain access to the town village where the Merchant, Weaponsmith, and Barracks are located, and open up two new types of battle opportunities. In the game you'll find that the simplistic main town that is provided for all your in-game needs also serves as a hub for your character upgrades. In the merchant's shop you can buy, and sell items, weapons, and equipment as well as equip said things. Weapons in the game each come with various stats, and attributes ranging from luck, defense, and damage dealing stats to elemental attributes which can deal extra damage on the battlefield. The 'Weaponsmith' on the other hand acts as a means to upgrade weapons, and enhance them with the material you have found on your battle oriented outings.

Enhancing a weapon requires a certain amount of in-game currency depending up the type of material being applied along with the material itself. Weapons in the game can only be enhanced a set number of times, so applying the best materials to your favorite weapons would be the wisest course of action. In the way of upgrades you will find that each weapon has a star based rating, and that once enhanced the current star rating will go up, and can do so up to the tenth star. Another feature in the Weaponsmith shop is the "Unlock" feature. With the appropriate amount of materials, and types of materials in possession you can unlock special features within the weapon. These additional weapon attributes include stat boosts, and added combo effects amongst other things. It's definitely a good idea to enhance your weapons, and unlock their full potential for when you choose to face the more difficult challenges ahead of you.

About "Sieges" ...

When it comes to battles in "Battle Princess of Arcadias" the previously mentioned "creature clearing courses (as I have named them)" are not the only thing you are going to have to worry about. In the "Siege" events Princess Plume, and her two loyal compatriots will have to brave the beast in order to gain a victory. Sieges, as it were are all about the epic boss fight. On one side of the battle you have Princess Plume, her two loyal comrades, and her army units. On the other side you have a gigantic monster with a huge amount of life, and shield meter. It is your party's, and army unit's goal to topple the titan, and destroy it once, and for all. To do this you will have to do some serious multi-tasking. As I mentioned before this part of the game is all about strategy. To apply said strategy you will have to switch task menus by pressing the (R2 + TRIANGLE) buttons. This will switch things of from healing item access to a series of optional tasks/commands that pertain to this particular battle type. In order to access a command/task within the new menu you must follow up by cycling through the options (R2 + SQUARE), and follow through with a press of the (CIRCLE) button when you land on the preferred command/task. Among the newly available options you can choose the battle formation (Attack, Defense, Basic), the 'Withdraw' option, and the option for a damage dealing 'Showdown'.

Whenever a Siege begins you will only have a moment's time to switch task menus, and prepare yourself for the battle at hand. Once done your army will follow you as you move towards, or away from the boss creature. Using the newly selected task/command menu you can have your army play defensively (Defense), attack aggressively (Attack), or play neutrally (Basic). Your army units which are made up of soldiers who are wielding similar weapons as to those your selectable party members carry will carry out the orders automatically, and do so until they are ordered to do otherwise. Should your army unit number get dangerously low from the boss's attacks you can order them to retreat/withdraw, which will allow them to build back up. In the meantime you can continue attacking with your own party trio as you await their return.

The objective, as I have already mentioned is to ultimately defeat the boss character/creature. To do this you will have to attack until it's shield defense meter is depleted, and then continue attacking aggressively with your army units during it's vulnerable state using the "Attack Formation" command. This will make quicker work of the boss's health meter, and will get you ever closer to victory. One trump card that you have, which can be used when the boss is stunned is the "Showdown" command. Once activated this command will have your army units beating furiously away at the boss while rapidly ridding it of it's life source. Keep in mind that during battle your party, and your army unit's can attack at the same time. If your party should be killed off, or if your army units should be fully depleted it will be "Game Over", and you will be taken back to the main map where you'll have to try again. As with the creature clearing courses this type of battle will also be graded alphabetically, and will reward you with boss items as well as in-game currency.

About "Skirmishes" ...

Skirmishes, like Sieges are a battle against odds. Along with your main party members you will once again man an army built of various types of soldiers. As before you will have to switch task/command menus upon entering the fray, and will have to switch between the commands as before by holding down the (R2) button, and cycling through the options with the (SQUARE) button. Another detail I may have forgotten to mention is that after selecting the proper task/command you will have to press (CIRCLE) in order to activate it. It should also be noted that most commands options within a skirmish can only be used at certain times, and under certain circumstances. Like before you'll find formation commands such as (Basic, Attack & Defense), but will also find that "Unit Swap", and "Battle Arcana" replace the former 'Withdraw', and 'Showdown' options.

The goal for victory in a skirmish is simply to wipe out all of the opposing army's units before your team, and your army units get obliterated. As with the boss battles (Sieges) the opposing army, and your own army has a set life meter. The "life" meter in this instance though ties in with the amount of soldiers each of your units has. Once the number of soldiers in a unit is fully depleted that unit will not be usable again. When it comes to prepping for the battle ahead you'll find that NISA has put into place a pre-battle setup in which you can choose which party members you wish to take on the skirmish, and which units you wish to tag along. Adjacent from your party, and unit setup you'll also see the enemy's setup which displays the units' weapon type (including weaknesse/strengths based on a weapon diagram), and that unit's level.

I did not mention this beforehand, but in the town you can train your units via the "Barracks", and upgrade their strength, stats, and abilities for a price. As the main character associated with that type of unit levels up through gameplay so can the associated units. In investing money in your units you will stand a better chance at victory, and won't have to rely so heavily on the complex battle mechanics that are required of you. Pairing off the proper units against the proper opposing units is also the key to success. Some unit types will be stronger against other types, and you will have to decide which is best using the skirmish references that are given during the initial tutorial/mock skirmish.

While your army units do as they are commanded in the background of the castle-like stages you will have to tend to leader enemies, and standard enemy units as you continue to dish out orders in the foreground area. The formation commands are the same as they were in the sieges, and will afford your units the proper defense, or offenses during the battle. Dealing with the rogue leader, and standard enemy units though is akin to doing battle in a creature clearing course playthrough, and will require equally as much of attention as the unit management if you hope to boost your units' morale, and turn the tides of battle. A key detail I almost forgot to mention is that both the enemy units, and your units have a morale meter, that when boosted through the killing of units, and leader enemies can afford you an additional command known as, "Battle Arcana". In the tradition of older NISA RPG release the 'Battle Arcana' command will unleash a unit based attack of biblical proportions. This is of course where your unit's abilities come into play.

Whenever you train your units (via the town barracks) your units will not only grow in stats, and attributes, but will also learn new abilities which come into play once the "Battle Arcana" command is given. Keep in mind that in order to execute a 'Battle Arcana' command your morale meter must be filled up. To do so your three person party must continuously defeat the leaders, and enemy soldiers that try to attack you. In doing so you will fill up the meter gradually, and eventually be able to unleash hell on the foe via "Battle Arcana". Battle Arcana, in essence is a last ditch effort to defy the odds should you find that the opposing unit outnumbers your own. If push comes to shove, and you are hopelessly outnumbered without a way out you can also "Swap" between units assuming you have extra units to do so.

Ending a skirmish requires absolute victory, and will reward you handsomely should you pick up all the dropped items that were left behind from downed enemies during your playthrough. Weapons, healing items, in-game currency, and an alphabetical performance grade are the reward for your hard work.

About the Graphics & Soundtrack ...

The graphics in "Battle Princess of Arcadias" are a HUGE departure from the art style that most of you will be used to. It has a storybook look about it that is eerily similar to that of the previously mentioned "Child of Light". I'm not going to call it a copycat art style though, because I'm not sure if this game came out before 'Child of Light', or not. I will say however that the resemblance is uncanny at some points. Princess Plume in particular looks almost like Child of Light's main protagonist. Moving beyond comparisons though the game is simple yet delightful with it's watercolor construction. It has a whimsical look that is accented by the puppet like characters, and the added special effects that happen during dialogue, and actual gameplay scenarios. The characters are each fully animated including applied expressions that go along with their actions, and reactions.

As far as the soundtrack is concerned it is what you'd expect from a title that looks as much like a fairy tale as "Battle Princess of Arcadias' does. The tunes are often times as whimsical, and fun-loving as the more naive characters of the game, and sometimes even delve into a darker foreboding atmosphere with the inclusion of heavy hitting techno sounds. The voices which are unique to each, and every character are all in their native Japanese. There is not a single English voice-over option contained within the simple option menu that is afforded to gamers looking for that latest NISA fix. This should be good news for all those Japanese RPG faithfuls out there who are looking to enjoy the game here in the states.

Conclusion ...

From the beginning "Battle Princess of Arcadias" demands a lot from the gamer, and I mean a lot. It asks that they understand the complexities of the game early on, and that they overcome some unfair odds early on utilizing the provided gameplay mechanics. While I was personally able to understand what went into each of the game's battle scenarios I felt as if my characters were ill-equipped for the future tasks ahead. As such you'll find as I did that this time around level grinding is not an option, but more so a mandatory requirement that is in place for you to overcome the game's more difficult battles. You will have to spend quality time repeating stages just so that you can have the currency, and means to train your units, properly equip your main party members, and level up said party members. For lack of a better explanation I found that the applied battle system, learning curve, and forcibly required level grinding made for a truly tedious playthrough.

When it comes to the offered gameplay I honestly would have preferred a lot more action, and a lot less strategy. In the end it is what it is though. It could be said that going into this game I, as a gamer expected a wholly action oriented RPG experience. I was thinking it would be something along the lines of 'Muramasa: The Demon Blades', or something of that sort. Am I disappointed? Sure. Is the game bad for using such an innovative approach? No, not really. Once you learn the ropes (the battle mechanics), and learn to take advantage of the infamous NISA level grinding you can actually begin to enjoy the game for the unique JRPG that it is. I wouldn't say it's a home run by any means, but "Battle Princess of Arcadias" does earn it's $29.99 cost.

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