Battle Princess of Arcadias is a single-player action RPG from Nippon Ichi Software, developed by Apollosoft. It launched on the PS3 as a download-only title, and honestly it had a bit of a quiet release; I saw almost zero coverage of this game until very recently. Lack of press does not necessarily denote a bad game, however, and I hope to shed some light on whether or not BPA is worth your time.
As far as first impressions go, Battle Princess of Arcadias disappointed me. Immediately upon starting a new game, it became very apparent that this was a budget title. The menus look very cheap, and the text box for dialogue is literally lined note paper. This put a bit of a sour taste in my mouth right from the get-go, but I decided to set this pet peeve aside and give the game a chance.
The visuals in BPA are actually quite something. Everything is hand-drawn, and there was clearly a lot of effort put into rendering the characters and backgrounds. Monster designs are unique and varied, and even the palette swaps have some distinct features that differentiate them from their previous iterations.
I won’t deny that this game looks good, and the pretty graphics certainly helped alleviate my initial displeasure from the production values.
That being said, there are some negatives about the visuals, two glaring black marks in particular. My first grievance is that it looks quite a bit like a Vanillaware game, specifically Odin Sphere. The backgrounds look derivative, and in an action RPG that’s already very comparable in style to Odin Sphere, having a similar look just makes it feel like a cheap knockoff.
My second criticism is that the animations look very cheap. The quality of the animation is reminiscent of old Newgrounds cartoons, everything looks janky and choppy. As a person who appreciates quality animation, this game did not impress–and if anything, it was jarring to see the superb artwork animated in such a poor way.
Let’s now talk about the sound design. I love Battle Princess of Arcadia’s soundtrack, it is a wonderful mixed bag ranging from delicate, ambient tracks, to bumpin’ J-Pop tunes. Additionally, the game is fully voice-acted, albeit only in Japanese.
This is no problem for someone who prefers subtitles over an English dub, but I could see it turning off some people. I am fairly certain some of the sound assets in BPA are carried over from other NIS games, but it’s not to the point where it’s jarring or too noticeable.
I have said a number of negative things about this game, but I can find very few complaints to level at the gameplay. The combat is fast-paced, entertaining, and thoroughly challenging in some of the later stages.
There are several different characters you can swap with on the fly, all with wildly varied attacks and special moves. It can be a bit grindy at times, since you have to level up a host of different characters, but it is rewarding when you finally stomp that baddie that has been giving you trouble.
A little ways into the game, the game throws a curve-ball at you. There are three different types of battles: Combat, Skirmishes, and Sieges. Combat is straight-forward, just kill everything you see. Skirmishes are quite a bit different, however.
You have to command an army while fighting yourself, which is a bit like rock-paper-scissors in that specific weapon types have static strengths and weaknesses. So it requires you to swap your squads out and switch them from aggressive to defensive stance, all in real-time, while you’re focusing on fighting enemies yourself. It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but it is honestly quite fun when you get the hang of it.
The last mode is siege, in which you and your army beat the crud out of a giant boss. You have to take down the boss’s shields first, and then wail on him until his stun bar reaches max. When he’s stunned, you can unleash your special attack, which typically drains a large quantity of his health, and then you rinse and repeat. These battles are fun because they require strategy, rather than mindlessly hacking at the enemy.
All in all, the gameplay is very fun. Tight and responsive controls make you much less aware of the piece of plastic in your hands, and universal weapon combos make it easy to swap between characters without having to memorize all their unique button combinations. Add a robust weapon crafting system, and roughly 30 hours of gameplay, and it’s hard to find much to complain about as far as the core game goes.
Last but not least, we’ll get into the story. Unfortunately, the tale spun in BPA is largely second-rate. There is literally nothing riveting or complex about the narrative: The air-headed Princess Plume, and her goofy but generic companions, beat up a bunch of jerks trying to take over the world.
The characters have some humorous interactions, but are entirely forgettable at the end of the day. It’s a bit disappointing for this game to have a weak story, since the gameplay and sound design are so good.
So, what’s the verdict? Should you buy Battle Princess of Arcadias? Well, if you’re a fan of Vanillaware games, I think you’ll feel right at home playing BPA. It’s got fun, fast-paced combat, quality artwork, and a great soundtrack. Even if you’re not a fan of the genre, it might surprise you with how fun the combat is. A few issues keep it from greatness, but I think it’s a fun little gem that is definitely worth at least a try.
Battle Princess of Arcadias was reviewed using a code provided by NIS America. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s reviews/ethics policy here.