Developer: Agatsuma Entertainment
One of developer Treasure’s most beloved games is a beat ‘em up from the Sega Saturn known as Guardian Heroes. If that title sounds a bit familiar, it totally should, since it recently had an excellent HD conversion on current consoles. As far as beat ‘em up’s go, Guardian Heroes has remained one of the best over the past decade and a half, with little to no actual competition. But Code of Princess, debuting on the Nintendo 3DS from fan favorite publisher Atlus, developed by Agatsuma Entertainment, certainly tries to give it a run for its money. And with good reason, as it’s partly developed by folks who had a hand in Guardian Heroes, and plays a lot like you’d expect a spiritual successor of sorts would. In fact, a lot of its mechanics are downright identical, in all the right ways.
The game revolves around heroine Solange, who has the ability to wield the magical blade called DeLuxcalibur. When her castle gets overrun by the bad guys, Solange partners up with thief Ali, and sets off to turn certain wrongs right again. Along the way she’ll meet a whole host of wildly designed, and very cool looking characters. These include Zozo, a necromancer renting out a body composed out of rotting parts, and wannabe sage/guitarist Allegro. There’s a lot more that will fill out the main cast, plus dozens of additional characters and monsters that are playable outside of the campaign, via the bonus quests and vs. modes.
Gameplay revolves around a 2D stage that is short lived, typically pitting you against a certain number of enemies in order to clear said stage and move on. There’s a whole lot of stages that make up the main campaign, but most are fairly short in length, offering up not much more than a couple of minutes playtime. This helps to make Code of Princess perfect for the portable market, ensuring you can buzz through a few stages during your commutes and work time breaks without feeling like you’ve been left hanging in the middle of something important.
These 2D stages tend to be open ended, and while small, offering up five different horizontal “rails” to jump back and forth between. Some strategy comes from switching rails to avoid getting overwhelmed by monsters, but you’ll quickly find that the difficulty in Code of Princess is hardly what you’d label as harsh, and even if you do have a bit of trouble, it’s easy enough to grind out a few additional levels and stat increases to overcome anything the game throws your way. It’s one of the few negatives I’d level at the game, and despite the massive amount of content via unlockable characters, a leveling system that goes to 99, lots of unlockable equipment, and a number of bonus stages in addition to the campaign, the majority of the content featured is so easy to finish that you will find yourself getting pretty burned out on the game if you try to just buzz through it quickly.
From a visual standpoint, Code of Princess looks pretty great in motion, but I can’t quite shake the feeling that the game seems to chug at different points when a whole lot of characters are on screen at once. The game has apparently had some framerate fixes introduced prior to being ported to North America, but I still felt like things looked awful sluggish on screen at certain times. It’s not so much that it becomes unplayable or unresponsive, but it’s not nearly as fluid as I would prefer out of this type of game. This is a bit more evident if you opt to stick to Solange as a main character, who plays a little slower than most of the cast in general, but something definitely feels off.
Outside of some sluggishness, the game looks pretty beautiful in motion. Characters animate nicely, and all have their own little range of motion and idle animations that set them apart from one another. And the enemy/character design here is top notch overall. It does feature a bit of cheesecake in the form of the scantily clad Solange, but don’t be deceived by her look alone, as the game is hardly all about large breasted anime babes in little to no armor. The character designs are so varied that you’ll have a hard time picking a favorite out of the cast, and will certainly find yourself wanting to sample each new character as they unlock.
Likewise, Code of Princess features an equally top-notch soundtrack, and decent enough voice over work to boot. The localization as a whole feels pretty good, and the game is certainly filled with light humor and tongue in cheek moments that keep the multitude of short cutscenes interesting enough to watch and not skip. It never takes itself that seriously, and benefits from its light-hearted approach to fantasy tropes.
One aspect that Code of Princess does have some difficulty with, unfortunately, is its online play. My experience with online connections in Code of Princess have been decidedly poor, featuring matches that are often filled with huge amounts of crippling lag, offering little to no reason to even connect via the internet to other players. This is exacerbated by more players joining in, and while things might be a bit playable with just yourself and a friend, every time another player joins the overall experience is definitely lessened. There’s some hope that this could be fixed, via a patch possibly, but as it stands now Code of Princess is largely unplayable online.
However, as a single player experience, Code of Princess is absolutely worth checking out. I really, really enjoyed this particular beat em’ up, and while it does strongly resemble Guardian Heroes, it borrows all the elements necessary to make for a really great, spiritual follow-up of sorts to Treasure’s cult classic. There’s a hefty number of characters and stages to check out, lots of optional side content, and the addition of individualized move sets, special abilities, full stat customization, and more which make for a fun and rewarding throwback to old school beat ‘em up fun.