Code of Princess feels like a niche Sega Saturn or N64 game that was accidentally released on 3DS. It’s the kind of game that isn’t afraid to make a shopkeeper out of a cat dressed like a pharaoh or have its ludicrously underdressed protagonist justify her outfit with claims that it’s a “designer gown”. It’s lighthearted without being parodic like Mugen Souls or Disgaea, instead reminding me of the tone of games I played back in grade school, like Mystical Ninja 64 or Mischief Makers.
Code of Princess is one of the few brawler/RPG hybrids I’ve played in which allocating skill points feels significant. Unfortunately, part of the way it draws attention to this is by starting you out incredibly slow and underpowered. On the plus side, his gives you a bit of time to get a hold on the basics.
Somewhat like Super Smash Bros,, your normal attacks are dependent upon the direction you’re holding as you attack. Main character Solange Blanchefleur De Luxe, for instance, has a four-hit combo you can do with neutral B, but press down and B and she’ll launch an enemy skyward with her sword. However, in the case of another character, Ali Baba, neutral A will throw a bomb into the air above her, but forward and A will have her whistle and freeze enemies for a second.
Add specials into the mix (generally performed with quarter circles forward or down twice) and character specific abilities (Ali can infinitely air-dash, for instance), and you’ve got yourself some very differently playing characters. However, a character’s set of attacks is simply a base that you can adjust to your liking through skill point allocation as you level up.
With Solange, I wanted to take advantage of the length of her sword (the hilariously-named DeLuxcalibur), so I put my first few points into upgrading her attack. While this worked for a little while, she was still painfully slow. As I continued to level up, I started putting points into a balance of speed and strength. Making Solange move faster and hit harder than her opponents meant that I could lure enemies into a group in a single plane by dashing around the area and from plane to plane. Once I’d done this, I could knock enemies into each other and cause chain-explosions with QCF+A, which caused Solange to knock an enemy away and blow them (and any enemy unfortunate enough to be nearby) up.
While this sounds like a foolproof plan, Code of Princess has a tendency to get a little bit out of control. A single explosion will trigger many more, as each enemy touched by an explosion causes its own… and unfortunately your character can get caught up in all of this. However, when I don’t get caught up in an explosion, I can usually start juggling enemies with Solange’s forward-B in the air, an attack that moves her forward and scoops enemies off of the ground and seems to be infinitely repeatable if an enemy doesn’t break out and attack. I’d often have five or six enemies caught like this, so when I had a good rhythm going, I’d activate Burst mode (basically an attack boost that drains your MP) to finish them off.
One element I’m not particularly fond of is the lock-on system. Pressing Y will cause your character to attack with a slightly modified version of one of their normals, but whichever enemy you hit will be locked onto. Locked enemies will take twice as much damage as regular enemies, and while this can be combined with Burst to take out enemies quickly, considering how many enemies the game likes to throw at you at once, it’s a bit pointless of a mechanic since it rewards focusing on a single one.
Equipment also makes a surprising difference in terms of play-style. For instance, I quickly found weapons that would allow me to recover health while bursting, and I stopped investing as many of my points into vitality. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always liked attack boosts that increase your health (I’m a Devil May Cry fan, after all), but after I had my burst the way I wanted it, I never changed to any other modifiers. I also found myself equipping accessories that would allow me to kill armored enemies more quickly as the main story started tossing more soldiers at me.
To be frank, there’s no real difference between the different types of items you can equip (a shield, for instance, can increase your attack), nor is there any sort of visual change from having things equipped, but the stat boost and attributes they provide do significantly alter the way you play each character.
Although the combat is pretty fun and surprisingly modifiable, I found myself more drawn in by the game’s world than how it plays. Code of Princess’s story feels like a JRPG on fast-forward. It presents the fall of a kingdom, the formation of a party, betrayals, secret identities, and choices that impact the fate of the entire world over the course of a couple of hours. However, this wouldn’t account for anything if it weren’t for the fact that the characters are a lot of fun.
Solange is naive, but wants to do right by the people her family once ruled. Ali is cynical after her flamboyantly bombastic second-in-command/ex-boyfriend backstabbed her and took over her group of bandits, but she’s also one of the most level-headed members of the group. Zozo’s got a surprising knack for deadpan humor (perhaps due to a life spent devoted to necromancy), and Allegro is a lying, self-serving idiot obsessed with looking cool… but there’s a certain charm to that. Given how few lines of dialogue everyone has, their personalities are very well-established. Even as more (non-main) characters are added to the party, everyone seemed to have just enough dialogue to keep them interesting as the story progressed.
For instance, one of my favorite characters was Marcopolis (Marco) Neko, the pharaoh/cat shopkeeper that I mentioned earlier. Aside from having one of the greatest shop themes I’ve ever heard, his indignation over the party ignoring his infinitesimal discounts never failed to make me laugh even though he only appears a few times throughout the game.
I think that it’s the way that Code of Princess establishes and commits to its world that makes me so fond of it. It’s a short ride through story mode, and the story hardly changes from character to character, but there’s so much love and conviction poured into it that it’s a ride worth taking.
Food for Thought:
1. While I didn’t think the game was particularly challenging as Solange, I had quite a bit more trouble as the more fragile characters, needing to grind levels by replaying story missions and taking stabs at some of the tougher bonus missions. Leveling up was typically pretty quick though, especially when bringing the right equipment into a mission.
2. I wish the game had an ability to simply reallocate skill points. You can reset any character to level one, but when you have hundreds of skill points that you want to change around, it’s not a terribly exciting prospect to restart things completely.