Japanese game developer Nippon Ichi is best known for its work with the tactical turn-based RPGs Disgea and Phantom Brave, but there’s another overlooked title that has been granted another chance to shine on within the downloadable PS2 collection available on PlayStation Network: La Pucelle Tactics.
Setting out to become the next Maiden of Light, Prier and the rest of La Pucelle go off to cleanse the world of demonic influence. And while the charming tropes of that familiar anime aesthetic add to the experience, there isn’t much else to take away from this variable crunching grid game.
The gameplay flow and structure of La Pucelle are unique, and these elements alone are the most merit worthy. For starters, in between the cut scenes you’re able to travel back in forth to shops or NPC in a 2D side-scrolling fashion before entering a world map, which serves as the hub world for other towns or dungeons. These sorts of scenes do an incredible job of fleshing out the presentation.
The graphics are distinctive for the look that was intended in its composition. Sprites are both highly detailed to any of the changing frames of movement and expressions from the characters, and yet still manage to have a pixelated design that captures the right reverence to the visual design of the 16-bit era. Combat scenarios initiated from the map further enhance the bright anime whimsy with more 2D backdrops that feature several points of animation to attacks harkening the look of a traditional turn-based RPG. The same kind of praise doesn’t speak for the music -- it’s just plain awful and will have you frantically searching for the BGM Volume options within your game menu. Voice acting, however, gets a pass (no Japanese dialogue option, weirdly enough).
Once in a dungeon, you can tackle it section by section, or to the world map in case you needed to restock your supplies and recuperate health. This mechanic alone chips away a lot of the inaccessibility from the barrier of entry that’s synonymous with strategy RPG gameplay, and makes it easier to invest the kind of time that this genre of game demands. Though these generous perks are comforting, the featured twists in La Pucelle -- inserted to shake up combat -- ironically hold it back from being anything but less than stellar.
The first mechanic of demonic tiles offers so little for hits, and instead delivers too many misses. The tactics involved with directional tile manipulation (which "purifies" the fuse and inflicts elemental damage) are sometimes more frustrating than beneficial. To the get the most out of igniting them, you’ll need to maneuver your team in to positions that will allow them to change the direction of where the tile trail will lead into a different angle. This will involve movement across the map, and doing this will attract most of you enemies from the position with aggressive A.I. that will sabotage any strategy you aimed at using. The second factor lies within the fuses for the tile paths -- they act as spawning points for perpetuating reinforcements that will be just as aggressive and twice as overwhelming. The only way to close the portals is to purify the fuse, but this will ignite the tile trail and any effort you undertake towards it will be ultimately fruitless.
The potential is there, especially when the tiles are conveniently placed and have moments that will allow you overlay another tile path along another, and mix colors to create additional effects. But again, this is all dependent on how effective you are at positioning your teammates and fighting off some straggler enemies. The payoff of additional damage with each tile (depending on the trail length) just becomes an exercise of exasperation to setup in the end, and will have you overlook them during play. The act of converting enemies is novel, but not if you’re trying to increase your ranks for immediate use. Micromanaging your growing roster and converting teammates in currency via monster trafficking can be addictive, but won’t do anything to keep the grind of the maps fresh. The combat itself is fairly derivative of its peers and feels really uninspired, only adding to the burn that you’ll soon feel playing through it. La Pucelle is long too -- obnoxiously long. Playing it just for the sake of completion from point A to point B will have sink over 80 hours of play.
Overall, La Pucelle has a visual charm and a whimsical premise that will entice any anime fan, but the underlying gameplay is a bit bare bones and the most innovative spin on combat ends up hurting the experience. I can only recommend this to the most dedicated fan of tactical strategy RPGS who has too much time on their hands.
Press Pause Radio's Vintage Play focuses on the retro age of video games. Whether it’s special podcasts, editorial, or even reviews, when you see the mark of Vintage Play, you can expect a trip back to the time of plastic cartridges and CD-ROMs (which makes us realize we’re old as shit).