When you first see Battle Princess of Arcadias, you might think to yourself that it's too cute to be taken seriously. You might think to yourself there's no way a magical girl side-scrolling beat-'em-up could be fun. You'd be wrong.
NIS and APOLLOSOFT have hidden a deceptively deep and satisfying experience within the cutesy package on display here. The end result is something that successfully brings elements both new and old to the table.
At its core, Battle Princess of Arcadias is a game in the vein of classics like Final Fight and Double Dragon. The core combat is more refined and satisfying than either of those titles, however. Plume and company can dash, block, double jump and use special and super moves to great effect. The super moves aren't too over-the-top or flashy, but they definitely get the job done, often clearing half the enemies on screen.
During combat, enemies will often approach from both sides with as many of 15-20 enemies on screen at once. Weaving through attacks to cut down enemies is a blast, especially as you watch your combo counter climb into the hundreds. Getting hit resets the counter, giving you a great way to challenge yourself.
Battle Princess of Acradias' sieges and skirmishes stand out as one of the best ideas I've seen in this genre in recent memory. In both sieges and skirmishes, you'll take command of your brigade to take down either a single boss character or an enemy brigade.
In either mode, you'll be able to issue commands to your brigade to change between basic, attack and defensive formations. In sieges, you can command your brigade to retreat, allowing you to fight the boss one-on-one as your brigade regroups, replacing any lost members in the process. In skirmishes, you can swap brigades back and forth; each playable character can command a different brigade. A brigade's probability of winning is based both on its level, which can be as high as that of its highest leveled commander, and the strength of its weapon (brigades are broken down by weapon type) versus that of the opposing brigade's.
As a bonus, in sieges you can also pull of some pretty awesome character-specific attacks by filling the boss monster's stun meter through repeated attacks. Once the meter is filled, you can issue a showdown command, which results in your character dealing a heavy blow to with typical anime flair.
One look at Battle Princess' visuals will leave little doubt of its country of origin and anime-based inspirations (though Plume does look a bit like Child of Light's Aurora). The game also boasts tracks that would feel at home in just about any anime series, and they're quite good.
The voiced tracks, like the one below are excellent, and the instrumental tracks—the tracks played on the map and in town are particularly catchy— feel like they'd be at home in a bigger budget production like a Mega Man, or Mighty No. 9.
Lurking beneath the surface of Battle Princess' combat system is a simple but engaging set of RPG elements. You can level Plume and her compatriots up, equip new weapons and charms (charms are essentially armor), upgrade or enhance your weapons and level up your brigade.
The idea of including RPG aspects in a side-scroller isn't new. Guardian Heroes successfully pulled it off years ago and Battle Princess of Arcadias improves on that format. It's not exactly the improvement I'd like to see 18 years after the idea was popularized, but it's still a positive addition to the game overall.
When I start playing any game, I comb through the options screen first. I just like to know what's there, see if voices are available in other languages (all voiceover work is in Japanese in this game) and what have you. There was an option I don't see often in Battle Princess' options screen—you could turn the story off.
If that doesn't give you an idea about this game's story, I'll try to illuminate it further. Plume's tale feels like it tries to do too much with too little time. The tale of an apocalypse wrought upon mankind by a race of murderous songstresses and their ensuing salvation by a goddess is interesting, but under-explained.
By the end of the game, I felt as though I knew nothing more of the characters I spent my time adventuring with than I did at the beginning. With the characters being as flat and predictable as they are, that option seems like it's there for good reason.
At the end of the day, Battle Princess of Arcadias is a game that values gameplay over story, and that's not a bad thing. The game's borrowed RPG elements fit nicely into the classic side-scroller formula, and the combat is fast and chaotic enough to remain entertaining all the way through.
Battle Princess of Arcadias is a fantastic reminder that even without a compelling narrative, a game can still be too addictive to just let go of. If you're a fan of side-scrollers, this game is an absolute must-have.