30/03/2014

Gaming Haul: The March session



I would like to offer a gaming schedule of sorts, so that you know what kind of content you can expect from that blog. I’ve met this feature on others gaming blogs, and I find it to be quite neat; unfortunately, I also find myself totally unable to emulate this process. The reason is that when it comes to choosing games to play, I entirely follow my instinct and my inspiration of the moment. Even when I happen to have plans regarding the next game I’m going to tackle, these plans can be disrupted at the very last minute by a sudden, unexpected fancy to play a totally different game from the one I initially had in mind.

So yes, I’m totally unable to offer any kind of reliable gaming schedule, and I regret that. But there is something else I can offer, something I have no shortage of raw material for: a comprehensive video game haul, detailing my latest purchases in the field. While this is by no means akin to a real set-in-stone schedule and tends to be a slightly narcissistic affair, it can still give a fair idea of the games that will be featured and covered here, in the near or distant future. So, here we go!

Senran Kagura Burst (3ds): Basically, I wanted another Beat’em Up to erase the wave of disappointment that washed over me while playing Code of Princess. I read in various reviews that Senran Kagura Burst was similar to my beloved Streets of Rage, and that was all I needed to purchase that game. That, and nothing else. Nothing, I said. I’m a serious gamer, damnit!

Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers (3ds): Not too much to say about this one. It’s a first-person dungeon crawler, and since I love dungeon crawlers to pieces, in any shape or form, I just couldn’t let it pass me by. I didn’t play the original Saturn version, so it will be a completely fresh experience—that is, as fresh as a genre that has been around for roughly three decades can be. 

Toukiden: the Age of Demons (Vita): I wanted a game similar to Monster Hunter, only a tad more accessible. I found the Japanese trailer of Toukiden somewhere on the internet and really loved what I saw. The characters, the weapon system, the general atmosphere and even the voice acting (something that usually makes me cringe in videogames) totally clicked with me and the next thing I knew, I had ordered that game.

Danganronpa:Trigger Happy Havoc (Vita): Despite the fact that I can’t remember its title correctly and routinely tend to replace “happy” with “heavy” for no good reason, and despite the fact that the characters sport the most ridiculous haircuts I’ve ever seen in a videogame, this one really piqued my curiosity. I’ve never played a full-blown visual novel before, and I’m really eager to see what kind of gaming experience Danganronpa will offer me. Since the sequel is currently being localized and will be released in a few months, I really hope this will turn out to be a great game.

Every Extend Extra (PSP): I usually snub casual games, but the concept of this one seemed really interesting, with its combination of trippy music and space shooter-inspired mechanics. And it cost me only 0.01£, so that won’t be a huge loss if it turns out to be miserable after all.

Final Fantasy I (PSP): As much as it shames me to confess it, I have never played a canon Final Fantasy game. Ever. (Yeah, I know. I’ll whip myself with nettles to atone for this, I promise.) I did play various spin-offs, like the Seiken Densetsu games, FF Crystal Chronicle: Ring of Fates, and lately, Chocobo Tales; however, the main games have always eluded me, mostly because I never owned the systems that hosted them, and they remained a distant dream for many years. But now that many of the series’ entries are being slowly but surely rereleased on portable systems, I can finally indulge into my long-lived fantasy (ha-ha) of playing these games. And since I’m quite the methodical gamer, I absolutely wanted to start with the very first entry of the series, hence this purchase. 

Half-minute Hero (PSP): I was not too keen on buying this one at first, since I tend to dislike fast-paced, hectic games that demand to comply with a timer’s limitations. But just to be sure I was not missing out on a gem, I checked a few videos on the internet; and to my utter surprise, I was immediately enthralled by what I saw. From the seemingly fulfilling and clever gameplay mechanics to the nostalgia-inducing 8-bit graphics, everything in that game screamed “Buy Me”. Which I gladly did.  

Capcom Classic Collection Reloaded (PSP): I bought this compilation solely for the Ghosts’n Goblins Trilogy featured on it. This was not a nostalgia affair, since I never played these games back in the days; moreover, I know how infamously hardcore they are supposed to be, and under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have touched them with a pole for fear of losing my sanity. But lately, I watched a playthrough of all three games, and as I did, I found myself really yearning to play them, despite how brutally hard they were. Next thing, I found this PSP compilation and decided to go for it. And while I’m at it, I will of course give a try to the other games when I’m done with G’n G.

Ultimate Ghosts’n Goblins (PSP): The purchase of this game is a logical continuation from the purchase of the sub mentioned CCC Reloaded. Like I said, I am quite the methodical gamer, and when I start a new series, I usually want to own all the episodes of the said series. Before I even play a single one, yes. That’s how I am.

Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? (PSP): I saw a video of that game, and I loved it, period. I usually carefully avoid platformers, and I’ve read that this one is a particularly challenging one, which was another reason to steer clear of it; but really, the way it looked and played on the screen just captured my soft gamer’s heart. 

Riviera: the Promised Land (PSP): I’ve heard about the Gameboy Advance version of that game, and how it showed interesting idiosyncrasies that set it apart from most RPGs. I first intended to purchase that GBA version, since I’m a bit of a purist, but the rarity and the collateral ludicrous prices of those original cartridges quickly unravelled my resolution. Then, much to my relief, I discovered this very reasonably priced PSP port, and voilà: one more game in my collection. 

Atelier Annie: Alchemist of Sera Island (DS): I’ve had my eye on that game for a very, very long time. A couple of years, in fact. The reason why I didn’t buy it earlier is because most available copies are shockingly, outrageously, ridiculously expensive—that, and the usual issue of having to find a seller kind enough to ship to Europe, since Atelier Annie was only released in North-America. So, I braced myself for a long and gruesome wait, and started checking various buying platforms regularly in order to dig up an awesome deal, all the while hoping for a hypothetical European release. But when it became clear that neither of these miracles would happen, and when my desire to try an Atelier game threatened to become overwhelming, I let out a resigned sigh and finally decided to cross the Rubicon and purchase it, no matter how much it would cost me. I ended up paying 90$ for my copy, so I really, really hope it will live up to my expectations.  

Tales of Phantasia (GBA): The very first entry of the Tales series, initially released on the SNES, and revamped for the Gameboy Advance. I’m far from being an expert in all things Tales, but I’m definitely interested in the series, and I absolutely wanted to see how it all started. And it’s most certain that the retro flavour of that game will totally delight me. 

Final Fantasy V Advance (GBA): I’m patiently collecting every Final Fantasy entry rereleased on portable systems, and this purchase is part of the process. The only entries missing in my collection now are the freshly released Final Fantasy X/X-2 on the Vita and the ridiculously overpriced Final Fantasy VI Advance. Better start saving for this one right away, o yes precious.

Well, these were my latest purchases—but certainly not the last, perish the thought. All these games will be covered here, in a few weeks or a few months; and hopefully, they will all turn out to be great gaming experiences. As for now, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

24/03/2014

Rhapsody-a Musical Adventure: A cheerful and lovely treat



I have piles and piles of RPGs of massive magnitude in my treasured collection. Bravely Default, a Link between Worlds, Dragon Quest IV to VI on the DS, all the Final Fantasy titles that ever graced handhelds, you name them. They are all here, waiting to be picked up and played, and somehow begging for the opportunity to lavish their awesomeness on me. And yet, for some reason, I keep snubbing them and instead anoint some little-known RPGs to grace my precious DS’ slot. Like Rhapsody: a Musical Adventure

Rhapsody: a Musical Adventure, developed by Nippon Ichi Software and released in 2008(jp/na) and 2009(eu/au) for the Nintendo DS, is a remake of a Playstation game of the same name released a good ten years earlier. It’s a rather mellow and easygoing game obviously aimed at a young audience, and maybe more specifically at kids wanting to get their first bite of RPG without having to put up too much of a fight to get through. 

Playing that game when you’re a RPG veteran is like ordering fast-food or cheap Chinese takeaway when you’re a seasoned cook: you know that you could do so much better and feel a bit ashamed of your own laziness, but you nonetheless appreciate the dish because it really tastes quite nice, and because it’s oh so good to let go and relax once in a while.

The Lovely

Rhapsody casts you in the boots of Cornet Espoir, an orphan teenager who one fateful day meets the kingdom’s prince in the local forest and—drums rolling—falls in love with him at first sight and vows to conquer his heart. Yeah, I know exactly what you’re thinking here. I was thinking the same, until I discovered better by playing the game. Granted, the story seems horrendously déjà-vu at first sight, bristling with tropes so worn out that you can see through them: the brave orphan, the fairy godmother-like creature protecting her, the resident spoiled bitch, the kind-hearted prince and so on. But the game manages to avoid falling into cliché abuse territory by putting a humorous twist to nearly every situation. For instance (spoiler), early in the game, you have to enter a beauty pageant at the royal castle and find a fancy dress in order to do so. I was ready to roll my eyes and perform a facepalm, until I discovered that this quest implied exploring a BBQ restaurant full of enemies before dueling with cats wanting to roast you and basically turn you into Today’s Special. The quest culminates with you discovering a furry outfit instead of a fancy dress, taking it home on the inspired advice of your fellow fairy guardian Kururu and… parading in front of the prince wearing that stuff at the beauty pageant. (end of spoiler) Yep. When I saw that, I knew I was in safe territory, with cliché indulgence avoided, and breathed a sigh of relief. As a whole, the story and characters pack up some unexpected complexity and turn out to be deeper than you’d expect from this kind of game, while avoiding the pitfalls of stereotyped storyline and character development. The resident bitch remains a bitch, but she reveals a rather complex personality and ends up being quite endearing. Cornet travels around the world to fulfill a personal quest, but messes things up as she goes and earns people’s animosity instead of making everything better in classic RPG fashion. The prince falls in love with Cornet not because she’s the prettiest girl around, but because she stands out as a loveable weirdo. Then there is the musical feature hinted at in the game’s title, which has the characters breaking into singing mode at some points in the story and expressing their feeling through soulful tunes. It’s fairly original to say the least, and if you love musicals and Japanese singing, you’ll lap this up. And if you don’t, which is my case, you still have the blessed option of skipping all the numbers.

Gameplay-wise, Rhapsody is old-school at heart. It features your classic four-member party with various abilities, all sorts of classic healing items and pieces of gear and good ol’ random battles. The seasoned RPG veteran will feel at home here, and the newcomer will be given the opportunity to discover the wonderful world of classic RPG in a cute and lovely setting. 

Battles take place on a separate screen and are displayed in a side view similar to the one used in Final Fantasy I and II on the PSP. There is nothing special to say about them, as they feature a fairly classic turn-based system and fairly classic attacks and abilities, but I’d like to mention one special twist that sets them a bit apart. By using her buffing and healing abilities, which she performs by playing her trademark horn, Cornet can fill up a special meter taking the shape of a music sheet line that will allow her to perform special attacks involving all sorts of sugary delicacies being thrown at enemies. Don’t be fooled by the apparent goofy cuteness of the whole thing, for these attacks are quite powerful and can do miracles when fighting bosses. I usually don’t resort to buffing abilities all that much when playing RPGs, but I found myself diligently using them in Rhapsody just for the sake of these amazing special attacks. Well done, NIS.  

As a whole, Rhapsody is a surprisingly well-balanced game. It actually manages to balance gameplay elements much more efficiently than some high-profile titles, which is somewhat unexpected and ironic. The number of items and pieces of gear available is just right: there are enough of them to give you a decent range of customization options (albeit rather classic ones, granted), but no so much that your head will be reeling when browsing through a shop’s inventory. The financial balance, if I may say so, is also quite neat: if you don’t shy away from battles, you will reap just the right amount of money to buy the best items and pieces of gear, without having to grind for it nor ending up swimming in it à la Uncle Scrooge. And since I’m mentioning them, battles were quite the nice surprise in Rhapsody. They are very short and dynamic but numerous, with a random encounter rate much higher than what I expected to find in a game like this. The sweet point is that you level up quite fast, and if you don’t run away from battles, you should be strong enough to tackle any challenge that comes your way, which is yet again the signature of a neatly balanced game. (I only needed to level-grind a tad before the final boss battles, but since this happened at the very end of the game, it was quite tolerable.) Even sweeter, your numerous extra party members who are left on the sidelines level up as well (though a bit slower than your active party members), which allows you to change the composition of your party on the fly and indulge into delightful experiments. 

The Crappy

Of course, if Rhapsody did everything right, it would be a lot more famous than it actually is. This is a relatively unknown game, and there is a good reason for that. There are a couple of them, in fact, all answering to the big boss that rules them all, which is none other than the mighty and ubiquitous Laziness. This is not its first foray into gaming, and it certainly won’t be its last, sadly.

First, Rhapsody doesn’t shine when it comes to graphics.There is nothing inherently wrong with them and they don’t hinder the gameplay in any way; they are just extremely dull and unremarkable. They don’t even have some kind of retro, 16-bit era flavour that could appeal to the soft hearts of older gamers by triggering nostalgia. (Think Children of Mana or From the Abyss for good examples of such a graphic choice on the DS.) On top of that, the perspectives chosen by the developers are often frankly weird and rather uncomfortable to look at; they also tend to change from one screen to the next, which is confusing and gives an untidy, messy feeling to the game. (The royal castle is a particularly serious offender.) 

There is also a slight problem with repetitiveness. No, a rather huge one, in fact. This game recycles itself shamelessly, serving you the same environments ad nauseam. To put it bluntly, there is one single design for all the stony dungeons, one for all the caves, and one for all the forests. It would already be rather boring if the graphics were top-notch; but as I’ve mentioned before, they are not, which transforms the experience of crawling through dungeons into a massive snooze fest faster than you can say “this decor again?” The only environments that were granted a bit of variety in terms of design are the towns; this makes very little sense since in classic RPG fashion, you spend most of your playing time trudging through dungeons. Oh, well. To add insult to injury, the developers, in their folly, seemingly tried to compensate for the repetitiveness of dungeon layouts by transforming the said dungeons into labyrinths of sorts. Imagine having to find your way and backtrack into strings of similar-looking rooms crisscrossing through multiple floors and you’ll have a good idea of how unpractical this turns out to be. The map displayed on the top screen fortunately helps a little, but you’d better have excellent visual memory and be extremely methodical if you want to progress swiftly through the dungeons without getting lost. And even if you manage to navigate through dungeons without a hitch, there is still the small issue of how utterly boring it can be to plod through identical screens over the course of your entire playthrough. Good thing that the game turned out to be so short, with credits rolling after roughly ten hours of gameplay, or it would have been unbearable. As you may expect from a game that is so decidedly old-fashioned, Rhapsody also features this good ol’ staple of reusing the same sprites for enemies and lazily swapping colours to mark differences in terms of level and strength; but this is such a classic fixture in old-school RPGs that it has become nearly endearing over the years, and thus I won’t chastise the game for that. Let’s just say that these shameless colour palette swaps fit into the general repetitiveness of Rhapsody pretty well. 

There seems to be another issue related to the Playstation version of the game. As I mentioned earlier, this DS version of Rhapsody is supposed to be a remake of the Playstation version; and it is indeed a remake, only a somewhat downgraded one. The main reason for this lies in the drastic alterations made to the battle system, which was transformed into something much more basic. The Playstation original featured a grid-based battle system à la Disgaea, which in the DS version was replaced by this old-fashioned FFI-like battle system I’ve exposed earlier. Now, I’ve not played the original, so I had no expectations about what the DS version of Rhapsody should play like and I approached it as a standalone game; but I can understand the disappointment of gamers who played the original version and were served this dusty and archaic battle system instead of the grid-based one they may have expected. This feels pretty much like a lack of commitment and dedication on NIS’ part, especially since the DS could perfectly have handled grid-based battles, and adds to the general laziness permeating this whole game. 

As a whole, it’s fair to say that Rhapsody suffers from a general lack of greatness, and feels more like a work of sloth than a work of love. It’s not broken at all, that much is sure, but it’s absolutely and completely unremarkable in every single field. Even the musical theme, the humorous tone or the treat-based attacks are basically nothing more than gimmicks: granted, they are unusual and rather unexpected in a RPG, and they may be cute and enjoyable when playing the game, but they certainly won’t remain engraved in your memory nor make Rhapsody more memorable as a whole. 

And yet, not every game needs to be a paragon of awesomeness. As I said, it is fine to relax and play a laid-back and unpretentious game once in a while, and Rhapsody is the perfect candidate for this kind of soothing experience. Its curious blend of old-school RPG mechanics, original gimmicks and mellow pace may not remain embedded in your soul until your dying day, but it may well offer you a couple of hours of light-hearted fun. As for me, after this sweet palate cleanser, I will turn my attention to something a tad grander in scope. (Or will I? You never know where my gaming instinct may lead me.) Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

12/03/2014

Code of Princess: Oh what a royal mess



Granted, this was a cheap pun; but this game deserves it, because it’s full of cheap puns itself. This game deserves it because it’s just plain cheap, period. 

Okay, let’s be a tad more measured here, and let’s elaborate a little bit. Code of Princess is one of these games that had everything to be great but ended up being just average because somehow, laziness or uninspired thinking took over during development. Released in 2012(jp/na) and 2013(eu/aus) for the 3ds, it was developed by Agastuma Entertainment and published by Atlus, which should have been a guaranty of awesomeness. I have some kind of pavlovian reflex that makes me associate Atlus with great material and purchase blindly any game they release, and it usually pays off beautifully; but this time, they somehow missed the mark when picking up Code of Princess, which is annoyingly subpar and fails to provide the sense of enjoyment, originality and quirkiness that most Atlus titles have in spades.

I have to mention that I didn’t purchase Code of Princess while mistaking it for a RPG, which could have explained my disappointment. Despite Atlus’ attempts to market it as a RPG of sorts, I knew from the very start that this was a Beat’em Up, which is the very reason why I picked it up. See, I enjoy playing a good Beat’em Up every once in a while: it’s a welcome and refreshing change from the genres I usually favour, and it’s perfect to let out the steam and indulge into some crazy button mashing. Along with Brawlers, Beat’em Ups are actually my fourth favourite gaming genre. (And what is the third, you may ask? Well, I’ll come to that sooner or later, he he.) Granted, I’ve not played scores of them in my gaming life, but the few I played remain embedded into my memory. For instance, I have the fondest memories of Streets of Rage on the Megadrive/Genesis back in the early 90’s, which I played with my sister in some crazy, heated and amazingly fun co-op sessions.

So yes, I wanted a Beat’em Up, and I was delighted to get one with a medieval setting of sorts; for despite my undying love for Streets of Rage, I was never too fond of the gritty urban setting of that game. I was thus more than ready to welcome Code of Princess with open arms and I really, really wanted to love it. Alas, that was not meant to be, for this game has failed me in too many ways to deserve my unconditional love. It would be exaggerated to say that I hate that game, but I certainly don’t adore it either. I somehow appreciate it, and occasionally enjoy it, but my love doesn’t go any deeper than this. 

That sticky, mushy RPG gloss

Like I said, Code of Princess was heavily marketed as a Beat’em Up with a strong and distinctive RPG flavour. This seemed like a great pairing on paper, a mix that could have paved the way for total awesomeness by coupling the better of two worlds. The resulting offspring of that unlikely coupling, however, is fairly unimpressive at best and teeth grinding-inducing at worst.

The intention was good, yes, but the execution is decidedly poor. For some unfathomable reason, the developers chose to pick up the pettiest and most annoying aspects of RPGs for inclusion in Code of Princess, deliberately ignoring the most pleasant ones. They could have picked out the Branching Storylines, the One-for-all-All-for-one Party Fighting or the Kick-ass Invocations, giving thus a refreshing lifting to the Beat’em Up genre; instead, they extracted the Level-Grinding, the Million Useless Pieces of Gear and the Plain Vanilla Story. Great selection, sirs, really. 

The Level-Grinding, yes. The one aspect most RPG players could do without, or at least with slightly less of. If there is one thing I do NOT want to encounter in a Beat’em Up, it’s definitely Level-Grinding. I mean, I precisely play Beat’em Ups to get a break from level-grinding, not to have more of it shoved down my throat! In Code, all characters start at Lv. 1 and level up through the game as they fight; in parallel, all enemies also have higher and higher levels as the stages unfold. This basically means that if you want to be able to switch characters during a playthrough, you will have to level up each one of them individually as the game progresses in order to make them strong enough to tackle the upcoming stages; and as you may imagine, this does involve level-grinding, which in this game takes the form of replaying stages over and over again. This is an absolute pain and feels more like a strenuous chore than a rewarding process. Not only that, but the game regularly throws at you some difficulty spikes that will corner you into forced level-grinding, which is a complete heresy in a Beat’em Up to start with: this is typically the kind of game that should be cleared while relying solely on your finely honed skills, not on some cheap and brainless level grinding process. I’m here to beat the hell out of trash mobs like there’s no tomorrow, not to plod through already played stages in order to power up pathetically weak characters! Let me kick some fresh butts already, damnit!

The Million Useless Pieces of Gear is another RPG trope I could have done without, thank you very much. Every time you clear a stage, you get some new pieces of equipment, along with money that will allow you to buy even more pieces of equipment into the game’s unique shop (which is actually nothing more a cheap-looking menu display. Oh, well.) Let’s face it: most of this equipment is completely useless. There are way too many items available and trying to keep track of them is seriously cumbersome and irritating, and the clunky browsing interface doesn’t help matters either. The effect of most of these items is barely discernable and often boils down to petty increases and decreases of some of your stats that make very little difference when fighting on the field. So yes, this equipment galore is vastly useless; but at least, it’s graceful enough to remain innocuous and unobtrusive, unlike the aforementioned unwelcomed guest that is Level-Grinding. 

And last, but certainly not least, is the Plain Vanilla Story. Now, I have to get this out of my chest: Beat’em Ups DO NOT need stories. If there is one single genre under the gaming sun that does not need a storyline, it definitely has to be the Beat’em Up genre. A text that rolls when starting the game, à la Streets of Rage, is all the narrative content one needs when playing a Beat’em Up. But Agatsuma Entertainment though they could do better, them fools, and tried to squeeze a storyline into their game. The result is miserable, mostly because it somehow manages to fail in all departments. On one hand, since Code remains a Beat’em Up, it doesn’t give enough room for decent story and character development; as a result, the narrative feels rushed and painfully superficial. On the other hand, it still manages to completely break the rhythm of the game by forcing cutscenes on the player at the beginning and at the end of nearly every single stage, which becomes quickly irksome and maddening. Now that’s a lose-lose situation if I ever saw one, and the loss is all on the player. It creates a jagged gameplay experience that is hard to fully enjoy, even though you can fast-forward through the cutscenes by pressing the R button. Content-wise, the story is, well, plain vanilla: it summons cliché characters, cliché settings and cliché events and gives them a comical twist of sorts. Now, I can see what they were trying to do here: Code of Princess is obviously meant to be a tongue-in-cheek J-RPG parody, making fun of all the genre’s tropes in a light-hearted way. It succeeds to some extent: some one-liners are definitely clever and humorous, and the game deliciously takes the piss out of a few J-RPG fixtures. But those moments of grace are unfortunately too few and far between— for each witty one-liner, there are three lame ones— and that attempt at parody never manages to fully hit the mark. It ultimately appears half-hearted and shallow, and definitely not as hilarious as one would have hoped. On top of that, there is a blatant issue with this very concept: why on earth would a Beat’em Up try to parody J-RPGs to start with? The ties between these two gaming genres are tenuous at best, and one fails to see how a Beat’em Up could have any legitimacy to satirise the J-RPG genre. Frankly, I’d rather see a Beat’em Up poking fun at Beat’em Up tropes, or a J-RPG debunking J-RPG staples; that would seem much more valid and legit and certainly turn out better. It’s hard enough for a gaming genre to draw a good caricature of itself without trying to take the piss out of other genres—especially when the outcome turns out to be so mediocre.

The name of the game

Now that I’ve mercilessly exposed and smeared Code’s clumsy and caked attempt at RPG make-up all over the place, let’s move on to the core of the game: the butt-kicking. Does this game fulfill its duty to the player by offering them hours of exhilarating button-mashing fun? Well, I’d like to answer that question with a beaming “yeaaaaah”; but unfortunately, I can’t. I can’t, because despite having undeniable strong points, the fighting in Code of Princess is dragged down by a slew of issues that really hinder the gameplay and steal away a massive portion of the entertainment you’d rightfully expect from a Beat’em Up. Granted, those are only small issues, mere details in fact: but once combined, they grow more potent and harmful, and very hard to ignore indeed. So here they are, thrown at you as haphazardly as the stages of that game.

—The basic walking speed is unbearably SLOW. It’s more of a crawl, really, and it makes no sense whatsoever in a game where you are supposed to dive head first into fast-paced fighting. If you want to run, you have to press Left or Right twice on the D-pad, which is absolutely counter-intuitive and extremely clunky. 

—There is no dedicated button for jumping. If you want to jump, you have to press Up on the D-pad or use the analog stick in the upper directions. Once again, it’s totally counter-intuitive and clunky at best. On top of that, jumps are horribly slow and imprecise, which definitely doesn’t encourage you to put through this annoying control scheme to perform them.

—Trash mobs are way too strong. They take a million hits to die, and slashing the same mean enemy over and over again until they have the grace to finally let go gets old and boring really quickly. I would have preferred to face tidal waves of weaklings rather than a couple of overpowered pests clutching to dear life like lice to a scalp.

—Boss battles are one hot, horrendous mess. On top of the boss, the game throws at you a cohort of these annoyingly strong trash mobs, along with a few hindering scenery elements for good measure. As a result, there are so many sprites on the screen that the battle quickly becomes a complete chaos, in which visually keeping track of your character is nearly impossible, let alone follow any kind of strategy to kill the boss. More often than not, you’ll end up blindly mashing buttons until your thumbs cry in pain while hoping that the boss dies before you do, and that is anything but satisfying and rewarding. 

—Character models are way too small, and the camera makes it worse by often positioning itself quite far from the action. That may be tolerable when being on the world map in a RPG, but Beat’em Ups require more precision and thus bigger sprites, especially on a handheld, and Code’s ridiculously tiny characters don’t quite meet this criterion. As a result, it’s unnecessary uncomfortable to play. My vision is top-notch, and yet I often found myself putting the 3ds really close to my nose and goggling at the screen in a desperate attempt to get a better visual grasp of the unfolding action.

—As though this tiny sprites problem were not enough, the game hinders you further by throwing in foregrounds elements that block your vision. This is a level design heresy that should have been left in the 16-bit era crappy platformers where it belongs, not carried all the way to a 2012 Beat’em up.

On top of these blatant gameplay issues, I have a few more general gripes to mention:

—This game makes you meet allies over the course of the storyline, only to let you fight alone in 95% of the stages. This is the Dragon Quest IX embarrassing paradox all over again, only reversed: your supposedly faithful allies mysteriously disappear when fighting time comes. Do they chicken out and hide, or sneak away to drink a pint of beer at the local tavern? Sheesh, what a bunch of useless figurants. 

—Here is another game that teases you with beautiful and stylish art, gloriously displayed in the booklet and on the box, in order to lure you to buy it; and then, once you’ve spent your money, it serves you mediocre cutscenes drawn in a cookie-cutter and seen-a-million-times-before anime style. I hate when games do that. The cover and booklet art should offer honest renditions of what the characters look like in-game, not some enhanced and unfaithful version of them that is bound to create disappointment when you finally play the game. 

—And while we’re talking about looks, this game’s presentation is decidedly cheap. Granted, the characters and monsters sprites look great on the field, but the backgrounds are horrendous and look like they are pulled straight from a phone game. Add to this a clunky and crappy-looking menu interface and you have a game that looks more like a flash game than a boxed release.  

So, here are the main aggravating points that made me fume during the course of the game. But it’s not all doom and gloom, fortunately. Despite being globally unpolished and flawed, Code of Princess also contains some enjoyable features that can make it worth playing—that is, if you’re persistent enough to ignore its faults and soldier on through the game. Now that I’ve vented out my frustration and exposed my gripes regarding that game, I can elaborate on these good points. Here we go!

—The characters all have very distinct fighting styles, and there are dozens of them to play. To switch characters nearly feels like playing a completely different game, and it’s a sheer joy to browse through them and experiment with their respective abilities. 

—As a result, the game has a HUGE replay value. Not only can you go again through the main story with each one of the four characters in your party, but you can also play individual stages with other characters. It would probably take dozens of hours of play to master all the subtleties of each available character’s fighting style; we’re definitely far from Streets of Rage’s meagre trio of heroes that all recycle the same moves.

—The characters are stylish. They each have their own stance, attitude and set of interjections when fighting, and their respective personalities shine gloriously during those fights. Much more so than during the cutscenes, shall I say, which is quite ironic and further proves that Beat’em Ups don’t need narrative at all. Let the fists do the talking!

—Despite appearances, Code of Princess is not just another fan service-laden title that uses a scantily clad heroine to sell itself. It’s quite the opposite, in fact: it gloriously takes the piss out of the often ridiculous and over-the-top fan service present in many Japanese productions. Instead of acting like it’s perfectly fine and dandy for a woman to go on a battlefield wearing only her underwear, characters incredulously comment on Solange’s ludicrous outfit, to which she boldly replies that this is the latest fashion at court, thus pointing out the foolishness of both fashion and excessive fan-service. This was a really pleasant surprise and a nice change from all those fan service-loaded games that take themselves way too seriously. To encounter a game that is self-aware and derisive about its own propensity for fan-service is quite refreshing and should definitely be a more frequent occurrence. 

—The game does look very good with the 3D on. In fact, this is the only 3ds game I ever played with the 3D enabled. Not only does it look great and sharp without ever hurting the eyes, but it also facilitates the gameplay by giving you a better view of where the enemies stand. This is by no means necessary, but it definitely helps.

—Replaying the main quest is much more pleasant the second time around, when your character is conveniently leveled up. You can then slash your way through enemies, bask in your own strength and luxuriate in smooth fights where you always have the upper hand. It’s a pity that you have to trudge through a tedious first playthrough littered with forced level-grinding and messy fights to reach such sleek mastery, but it’s definitely worth it. 

—The last boss battle is amazing. The game lets you fight one-on-one at last, in a gorgeous setting to boot. This ultimate fight is neatly balanced, involving strategy, sharp reflexes and the use of all your abilities, and is a sheer joy to play. It doesn’t make you forget all the other messy and irksome boss battles, but it allows you to clear the game on a very positive note. 

—The soundtrack is a feast to the ears. From the gorgeous Sailor Moon-like theme that accompanies most battles to this amazing Mexican-sounding acoustic guitar track that unfortunately plays way too rarely, without forgetting the ludicrous and hilarious shop theme, all the songs in Code of Princess are pure ear-candy.  

So, here we are. When all is said and done, Code of Princess is not a horrible game: it can actually be quite enjoyable at times and offers some really pleasant features. It’s only disappointing to realize that it could have been a much, much better game with the right amount of effort and gusto. Now, would I recommend purchasing this game at full price? Absolutely not. I paid my own copy 30$, and it definitely feels too expensive for that game now that I’ve played it. This is a game that would have been more fitted for a digital release, for it lacks the depth and polish of most physically released titles and has decidedly shoddy looks that are more reminiscent of an indie or a flash game than of a boxed one. (As a matter of fact, it was released in Europe and Australia as a downloadable-only title, which fits its nature and content quite aptly.) Still, and despite all my ranting about Code of Princess, I will probably play it again in a distant future, especially now that I’ve soldiered through its flaws and reached a relative amount of mastery. As for now, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!