Battle Princess of Arcadias is something new from NIS. Even though it was first announced around their 20th anniversary special last year, the game breaks away from the typical NIS fare, and provides something entirely different. Tactical battles and dark humor are done away with, along with the combination of artist Takehito Harada and composer Tenpei Sato.
Instead of being a a straightforward tactical RPG, Battle Princess of Arcadias is a tactical-RPG-side-scrolling beat-em-up hybrid. Fast paced action, hectic combos, and a colorful cast that populates the playing field. In many ways Battle Princess is a fresh start—something not too surprising considering it comes not directly from NIS themselves, but from developer Apollosoft. Unfortunately, fresh starts don’t always lead to good things. In fact, this strange attempt at being something different is Battle Princess of Arcadias’ undoing.
Let’s get the ugly out of the way first. Battle Princess tries to meld two very distinctly different genres together, but ultimately does both genres poorly on their own, and only creates frustration and tedium when they’re together. The game offers three styles of play, each being a variant of a beat-em-up but offer a differing amount of tactical-RPG elements. There is the Combat mode, Siege mode, and then Skirmishes mode.
Combat is just the regular ol’ beat-em-up kind of gameplay. There isn’t really any element of tactical play here to worry about. This already makes it the most fun of the three modes. The combo system offers a lot of different moves, and there is a variety in fighting styles to use switching from character to character, each with their own unique weapon like sword, lance, axe, magic and so on. The support attacks that kick in when you knock an enemy up in the air were always fun to see, and making a perfect team for the mission felt satisfying. I constantly found myself hoping for the next mission to just be combat, and would be bummed when it wasn’t.
That being said, let’s not praise the Combat mode too much ether. The movement is extremely limited. You’re only able to walk right or left. You can’t move up or down on the field, and are stuck streamlined on one path like this is Super Mario Bros. on the NES or something. This feels frustrating. Compared to how classic beat-em-ups like River City Ransom, Streets of Rage, and Double Dragon, or even indie games like Castel Crashers, move around and handle screen space, Battle Princess just doesn’t hold up. In those games, and most other beat-em-ups for that matter, you have a freedom of movement, and can move up and down, left and right, and really feel like you’re in control and can dodge the onslaught of enemies coming your way. Battle Princess just feels clunky, and wrong, giving you little space to deal with the sometimes large amount of enemies on the screen.
That’s not to say you can’t jump and fight opponents in the air, however. Battle Princess does offer airborne monsters and jumping—but even that’s done poorly. The aerial combat is just once again frustrating, and once again, lacks the sense of control—even more so, actually. You feel defenseless in the air, and a lot of enemies will take potshots off on you as you jump towards them, and knock you back on the ground, not even giving you a chance to attack them. The enemy AI can be like this at times on the ground, too. Cheap attacks get spammed all over, and you can’t even properly react; you just have to take it and get over it.
The next mode is Siege mode, and is halfway between the no-tactics Combat mode, and the tactics-heavy Skirmishes mode. Siege mode has you lead a brigade of NPC characters up against a giant boss that takes up most of the screen. You can give rudimentary orders to the brigade like defend, attack, and retreat. As you fight the boss and build up moral of your troops, you can unleash a special attack as well. Managing your troops and fighting the giant enemy isn’t too taxing, and can be fun. The micro-management element does take away from the hectic action though, and cheap hits can still be annoying. You can get wiped out in a blink of an eye if you’re not paying any attention.
Finally, there are Skirmishes. Skirmishes are, simply put, the absolute worst the game has to offer, and really drag the whole game down. Both the shortcomings of the tactical play, and the shortcomings of the beat-em-play combine to create a frustrating and incredibly time consuming process that just feels random.
In Skirmishes, you lead your brigade up against another enemy’s brigade. Brigades have an assigned weapon type to them. For example, Princess Plume’s brigade uses swords like her, where as the bow wielding squire and right hand-man to Plume; Raltz, leads a brigade of archers. You can swap out between three characters and three brigades during the course of the battle, as can your opponent. In theory you want to match up a brigade with a weapon that has a type advantage over your opponent’s weapon à la a rock-paper-scissors match. In tough times, if the brigade is being beaten, switch it out to another. Keep trying to have the type advantage. It sounds simple enough, but sadly, the weapon type advantages make no gosh darn sense.
In tactical games, it’s important to make your system logical. For example, Fire Emblem uses the rock-paper-scissors mechanic with its weapon system too. Swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords. It’s simple, and more importantly, it’s logical. Obviously an axe would crush a lance in half, and a sword can be thrust forward where an axe needs to be swung in an arc and is slower. Lances have a longer reach and can stretch farther thus beating swords in thrust but due to their size and nature are more vulnerable and easier to knock out of your hand than a sword is. This all works, and the player can immediately identify with this, and understand it. So then, what beats Gunner in Battle Princess?
Why it’s Marauder (axe) and Lancer, of course! Somehow, an axe is what beats a gun. There is no logic here, this is just a completely random stat that the player cannot relate to, or recall right away. Worse of all, there are seven weapon types to keep track of during these hectic beat-em-up battles. You have seven random elements that you can’t really relate to, and you have to know what’s strong against what, what’s really strong against what, what’s weak against what, and what’s really weak against what. That’s a lot of information for the player to deal with, and none of it has any real logic behind how it works. I found myself having to pause, and often look to see what to use next, which interrupts the game flow, and it kills all the action.
That’s not all that’s wrong, though. Skirmishes further create tedium by making the need to grind unavoidable. It’s simple enough for the playable characters to gain levels in Battle Princess, but their brigades need to be leveled through spending large sums of money. What’s more a brigade’s level can’t exceed the captain’s. So if you really need to use a lance brigade in the next skirmish, but didn’t level up your lancer… well, tough look. You’ll have to go back and play a bunch of stages with him to make him stronger, then spend tons of money to increase his brigade’s strength. It’s all-very time consuming, and made worse by the stages being rather small, and quick to beat. You’ll replay the same stages over and over and over again to get all the money, and levels you need to use for the next skirmish, and by then you’re too bored of the game to keep going.
Gameplay aside, even visually, Battle Princess of Arcadias isn’t great. The animation in the game is pretty bad, and makes the whole affair feel cheap. The art itself is nice, but then everyone starts walking around like a puppet on strings, or a paper-craft figure. Nothing feels natural or right in how the world moves. I almost want to say it was intentional like in Paper Mario, but nothing really points to that being the case ether, and the feeling of a lack of budget really seeps in with the movement. The backgrounds, the character designs, the sound effects that pop out of the characters as they emote… it all looks great. But then when they start to move, it just falls apart.
So, what about the game is actually good? Well, the soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal. It is without a doubt the best thing to come out of this game. It’s very different from the typical NIS fare, so it feels fresh. The soundtrack manages to set the mode perfectly, and steals the show. I know I ended up listening to it on YouTube every now-and-again. There’s also a likable female protagonist who can kick lots of butt, and she has a great supporting cast. There are tons of fun scenes that are very humorous and cute, and unlike The Witch and the Hundred Knight, inoffensive. The characters all have good chemistry, and Plume and Raltz are just really adorable together. The weapon level up system is well made, and keeps things fresh. Last but not least, the Japanese acting is really well done, with almost all the game fully voiced.
Battle Princess of Arcadias is a really difficult game for me to write about. I tore into it, but it’s not that it’s really awful—it’s just so conflicted in how it was designed. There most certainly is the potential for one to enjoy it, but it feels as though the game is deliberately trying to neutralize any chances of you actually doing so, every chance it gets. Whenever I was having fun, something had to happen to suck it out of me; I had to slug through painful boring missions over and over again to get to something fresh, or had to sit through two other modes that weren’t that good.
NISA made the smart move to release Battle Princess as a digital-only budget title for $30. At the full retail price Japan paid, it’s a rip-off. Despite it not being a very good game, at the very least, we got it at a more reasonable price.
Food for Thought:
1. Battle Princess of Arcadias’ download size is 1054MB, so it won’t take up a lot of space.
2. The game does have a very short digital manual included in it.
3. I mentioned earlier that the sound effects are nice looking, and they really are. The little effects on characters during scenes of dialogue go beyond just the basic flowers and sunshine or angry vein emoji you typically see. There are plenty of Ha Ha Has that come out of the characters’ mouths, and DunDunDuns, and a lot others. The presentation really is so close to looking perfect, if it just weren’t for the limited animation.