(I apologize, but I was unable to find the lyrics to the song, titled Gather the Light, be they English or Japanese.)
This is an important week for Under Your Radar. And I don’t mean just because I’ve made a new logo. Starting this week, Under Your Radar will cover works that may or may not be up to snuff, not just ones that I think are. At the end of each of these posts, I will make a binary judgement as to whether its status as a work that is under your radar is rightful or unjust, with my reasoning included. I was initially considering using numerical values (in this case, adjusted for flavour, the amount of “blips” any given work should make on a properly-functioning radar), but I agree with the general opinion that numerical values create more problems than they solve. In any case, I won’t be using numbers. You can consider all of my previous features as having been rated “Unjust”, though some are closer to the middle-ground than others.
In any event, this week’s feature is Code of Princess. The game is published by Atlus, who also handled localization, and the game was developed by Agatsuma Entertainment with animations from the famous anime studio Bones (who handled titles such as Gosick and Fullmetal Alchemist). The game is apparently a spiritual successor to Guardian Heroes, which I’ve never played. All copies are bundled with a mini art book and a soundtrack/visual CD.
The game is simple, yet solid, but ran into timing, supply and advertising issues. Code of Princess received about as much media coverage as the average indie game, and stock shipped to stores was so low that some stores literally only got pre-ordered copies (my local store only got one extra… and they still have it, since there was no advertising for the game).
Furthermore, in what was either an idiotic or a brilliant move, the game’s Japanese release coincided with the release of the newest Fire Emblem game, while the North American release was a mere two days after Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, and on the same day as a bunch of other titles such as Dishonored and Just Dance 4. Normally I’d have no problem calling that a brilliant move, especially with their choice of cover for the game, as it would run on impulse buys. However, a rather obvious point that must be made is that such a strategy requires a presence on the shelves, something that’s impossible when print runs are so low. Sadly, however, low print runs are an Atlus staple. At least Amazon has a few copies (the American site moreso than the Canadian one). Still, they could have made it a retail eShop title to sell more despite the low print runs…
But enough about that. I wouldn’t be complaining if the game didn’t have the content to justify those complaints. When you look at the game, and try to ignore the skimpy so-called armor worn by the protagonist, Solange, it’s a simple, satisfying, lane-based beat ’em up. You have light and heavy attacks (which can be mixed with directional inputs for more basic attacks), as well as another attack that allows you to lock onto the opponent (which makes you deal double damage and lets you see their health bar), and the Burst mechanic, which (among other things) makes you deal double damage. In addition, you can gain levels and upgrade stats, as well as buy equipment (though decent equipment requires a lot of saving up).
This is very simple stuff, but the game stops you from getting bored by throwing a whole bunch of enemies at you and making you rip your way through them. The game is also fairly difficult at times within this simple gameplay. A few levels quite literally had me stuck due to lack of strategy – and you’d be surprised just how much you have to think about every swing of your sword, every lane change, when to activate your burst, and whether you should equip armor that gives you positive effects or better stats. In my case, despite going with a balanced build on Solange for its relatively short campaign (rather than the min-maxing route with attack and speed… which is the most realistic, flavour-wise XD), I needed to get equipment that healed me during a Burst in order to take on later stages.
And speaking of a bunch of enemies, the screen can get extremely busy, to the point where you can’t tell what’s going on. The Japanese version had slowdown problems, among other glitches, but the issues are gone in the English release… mostly. You still see slowdown if there are tons of enemies and the 3D slider’s on all the way. The sad thing is that more enemies likely means a level with more lanes, and the 3D is best used in this game to tell the lanes apart (and I turned it on many times just for that).
There are arguments that the game gets stale fast, and I agree that it could get stale if you play through the campaign, free play, missions, and the like in quick succession, especially if you do so with all characters (who each have their own story levels and missions, though some lack story levels), but I’d like to present a counter-point. Each level and mission in the game takes 5 minutes, tops, to complete (with a few exceptions), starting at two minutes at the start of the game and going up as you go. The game is clearly made to be played in short bursts, which alleviates the potential staleness.
In terms of story, it’s very simplistic, with the main draw being its humour. Some people call Solange out on her skimpy outfit (a soldier even mistakes her as a prostitute), and then there are scenes like this:
Emble: Mwaha! Just as the reports said. The princess!
Ali: Uh oh…
Emble: I am the mighty Semble.
Semble: And I am the even mightier Emble!
Emble: No wait, I’m Emble…
Semble: Alright, but I’m still the mightier one. I think…
Emble and Semble: And we are the fearsome duo: Sergeant Emble and Ergeant Semble!
Zozo: You two want to make me rip my ears off.
Allegro: Are you guys a comedy routine?
Emble: I assure you, the only ones who’ll be laughing is us! After you fork over the DeLuxcalibur, that is. …And not a moment sooner!
Solange: I can’t do that.
Semble: Then the mighty–bordering on mightier–Semble shall have to take it from you!
Emble: Yes, it is truly my time to shine! For I, Semble the Mightier, shall… uh… um…
Semble: No no no… I think you got it backwards. This is MY moment to shine!
Emble: Correct! Allow me to show them how strong you are! *steps back*
Semble: What? I mean, YES! Allow them to be shown I must! With vigor!
I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t stifle my laughter the first time I saw this scene (though, admittedly, the voice acting helped sell it).
It’s nothing personal, but you’re a bard. And also yeah, it is personal.
Basically, the game shows elegance in simplicity for its gameplay, and pure hilarity for its script-writing. Each level being short means the game won’t overstay its welcome as long as you’re smart (i.e. Don’t be one of those idiots who plays Kid Icarus: Uprising for hours, ignoring the in-game warnings about needing a break, and then complain about cramps.). This game will go down as one of the great gems of the 3DS, provided enough people hear about it and then proceed to actually play it.
The game’s so good that I almost missed by train stop (and my train stop’s the final stop, so it’s really hard to do that) because I was so engrossed into playing it. That’s gotta count for something.