When the first Code of Princess screenshots started trickling in, it was hard to deny that the game bore more than a passing resemblance to Treasure's Guardian Heroes. The revelation that key members of that Sega Saturn classic's development staff worked on this title (Han and Masaki Ukyo for those curious) brought with it a genuine sense of excitement and the prospect of something of a modern reimagining of a cult classic. Does Code of Princess live up to that hype or would the Guardian Heroes faithful be better off with its XBLA release?
The main focus of the game is the single player Scenario Mode. Choosing from one of four characters (with a further four made available as progress is made), the player embarks on a series of quests, the completion of which makes more quests available and progresses the story. A star rating beside the description of what the quest entails shows the level of challenge on offer, up to a maximum of five. Upon finishing a quest, experience points are obtained which level the character up and each level gained awards points which are used to power up one of six traits – Vitality, Piety, Attack, Defense, Mind and Speed. Gold obtained allows equipment to be bought and equipped and careful management of both of these aspects of character development are essential, especially for some of the four and five star quests towards the end of the game, which can pose quite a challenge. Although these ratings negate the need for an overall difficulty level, quests that have been completed can be attempted again at any time, meaning that those finding a certain one challenging can grind experience points and levels, although a gradual and manageable difficulty curve keeps the need for this to a minimum. Equipment awarded or bought is not limited to one character, meaning that it can be equipped when playing through with a new, level one character, again making things all the more manageable in terms of difficulty. Suiting the 3DS, missions are kept brief for the most part. Some boss fights will take around ten minutes, but most of the others take between two and five and feel long enough to be worthwhile, but short enough to suit the pick-up-and-play nature of the handheld.
Of course, no matter the equipment or level of the character, the most important thing is how the game actually plays. Without wanting to state the obvious, Guardian Heroes is the best frame of reference – fighting across three planes (known as rails) up and down the screen, each character fights using a series of attacks, combos and magic, taking on both regular enemies and the occassional boss. The combat is on the slower, more methodical side of things (although each character plays differently, varying in terms of speed, range and so on), with D-pad inputs in conjunction with the face buttons performing special attacks, for example double tapping down and then pressing A. Whilst it's not Street Fighter IV, those more familiar with simpler beat 'em ups such as Final Fight or Streets of Rage may take a while to grow accustomed to the slightly more complex mechanics on offer here. Thankfully, things are kept straightforward and each character has a decent repetoir of attacks to prevent the need to learn complex button combinations. Button mashing isn't an option though, as performing and knowing when to use special attacks and magic is a necessity in order to deal any real amount of damage. Further depth is added through locking on to an enemy by pressing the Y button which doubles the attack power of the character, and triggering Burst with a tap of X will sacrifice magic points to allow for considerably more damage to be dealt to opponents. It's a simple system overall, but one that, once understood, becomes enjoyable and even those quests filled simply with the low-level grunt enemies become a joy to play.
The presentation throughout the game is fantastic, the most noteworthy of which is the animation. Whether in the middle of a combo or standing stationary during one of the story sequences, the characters (enemies included) are beautifully animated and, coupled with the use of 3D to more easily distinguish between the rails that can be switched between, visually everything is top-notch. It's not surprising to learn then that Kinu Nishimura, who has handled art direction in the likes of well-received DS adventure game 999, worked on the character and world design here. There are some instances of slowdown when multiple characters are on screen and during some explosion animations, but they aren't so frequent or distracting that they become too big of an issue. Guardian Heroes fans may get a sense of deja vu when looking at a few of the backdrops which are detailed without being too cluttered and allow the fighting to take centre stage.
The touch screen acts as a more detailed HUD, showing health and magic meters, level and so on. Touching it will bring up a move list as well, allowing quick and easy access to the attacks and combos for each character. Equally impresive is the soundtrack. Not only are all story sequences (presented as still images, with the battlefield in the background) fully voiced, the voice acting is of a good standard and the music is even better. The bonus soundtrack that came with the first print of the game is one preorder bonus that most players will want to put to use as soon as possible, rather than stuff in a drawer somewhere to be forgotten about.
Whereas a lot of side scrolling beat 'em ups of this type have limited replay value due to their roots as coin-feeding arcade games, Code of Princess has a lot more depth than may be expected. Playing through the story will take around seven hours, allowing for some replaying of quests, and there are a total of eight characters to choose from once unlocked. In addition, there is a robust online multiplayer mode that involves either playing through the main story quests with a friend cooperatively or taking part in a versus mode with up to four playing at once. Here, characters that appear throughout the game, including enemies, villagers and others intrical to the story, can be selected , providing a nice change from the main ones on offer. It may not have the lasting appeal or depth of the main narrative, but as a fun off-shoot, dedicated fans will find themselves wanting to at least give it a try.
Comparisons to Guardian Heroes are unavoidable with Code of Princess. That the two titles share key development staff makes it even harder to judge one without referencing the other. Given that side scrolling brawlers have been out of fashion for a number of years however, this game must be taken and judged on its own merits by modern day standards and the amount of content available (for single or multiple players) coupled with the amount of potential replay value and well above average presentation – most notably the soundtrack. This results in a solid release that, if it suitably hooks the player, will have them coming back for more. With the game currently available only in Japan, we're hoping that a US and European release is forthcoming so that more people get a chance to try it out!
- Lots of content.
- Fantastic presentation.
- Fun combat system and mechanics.
- Combat may take time to adjust to.
Other Versions: N/A
Version Reviewed: Japanese