Code of Princess tries very hard to recapture the spirit and charm of its spiritual predecessor, Guardian Heroes, but ultimately fails to provide the same fast-paced, tight experience that it tries to emulate. There are rumblings of a greater game underneath the sluggish, frustrating combat that Code of Princess provides, but these never quite resonate, and remain buried under poor design choices.
+ Fun, quirky characters
+ Robust combat system with a lot of room for personalized combos
- Action feels sluggish and unrewarding
- Grinding is necessary to come close to scratching the game’s harder encounters
- Visuals are stunning up close, but drop in quality drastically when more than three enemies appear on-screen
A legacy is a double-edged sword. For a game with a great legacy, there’s a good chance that gamers will be into your concept based solely on a name drop. Conversely, if your game isn’t a worthy successor to a beloved classic, chances are it’ll get more flak than a bomber flying over France circa WWII.
In the case of Code of Princess, the latest get-it-this-week-or-not-at-all release from Atlus, it’s the latter. Code of Princess is being compared to Guardian Heroes, one of the most celebrated games in the Sega Saturn’s perennial library. Two of the developers responsible for Guardian Heroes worked on Code of Princess, so the comparison isn’t a stretch. Guardian Heroes is a tough act to follow, though, and while Code of Princess shares its predecessor’s plane-switching beat-‘em-up antics and irreverent humor, it fails due to technical issues and reliance on grinding to make progress.
Code of Princess is a fairly complex hack and slash affair interwoven with a standard Japanese RPG storyline. By chaining weak and heavy attacks, in conjunction with some Street Fighter-esque command inputs and the ability to cancel most attacks into each other, players can easily create long, elaborate combos that juggle enemies easily. It’s a great, robust system, with lots of room for personal touches, and it would be totally enjoyable if not for the fact that every slash and cut in Code of Princess feels just a little bit off. Maybe it’s the fact that the game’s camera pulls out, and the action slows to a sluggish, frustrating pace when more than three enemies appear on-screen at once, but everything you do in Code of Princess ends up feeling sloppy and a little unrefined.
Around the time that you finally come to terms with the clunky combat system, the game’s steep difficulty curve rears its head. As scantily clad protagonist Solange or any of the other three playable campaign characters, you’ll likely breeze through the first couple dozen bite-sized missions with little effort. Then, suddenly, the enemies get blisteringly difficult. Smaller foes start dropping bombs when they die that explode into ugly clouds of red haze that obscure combat, leaving you unable to react. The stats gained through repeated level-ups seem to stop mattering, and you’re left incapable of taking down bosses that can drop you in three combos.
All that’s left to do at this point is replay previous story missions to enjoy the surprisingly amusing dialogue and gain some experience, or delve into the multitude of bonus missions that unlock as you make story progress. The victory conditions for these missions range from the standard “kill everything” variety to more interesting variants that almost hint at a greater game beyond the spiteful challenge they offer. However, even after completing all of them several times, you’re most likely going to find yourself too underpowered to deal with the current story mission, which leaves you with two options: keep grinding, or quit.
I chose to quit. If Code of Princess offered a better brand of solid gameplay, I would be a bit more comfortable spending countless hours grinding out levels in order to progress. However, in this era of modern game design, where players are more empowered than ever, and design has moved beyond “commit X hours to accomplish Y,” I can’t recommend a game that demands so much from players while giving so little in return. There are some interesting characters and a few exciting combat situations here for hardcore anime RPG fans, but for the average gamer, the Code of Princess is undecipherable.