Release Date: March 26th, 2019 (Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4)
Genre: Hack and Slash, Strategy
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
ESRB: Teen (Fantasy Violence), Mild Language, Suggestive Themes
NIS America’s latest outing The Princess Guide is a curious mix of the strategy genre with some hack and slash elements. Gamers, such as I, always look forward to new Intellectual Properties in the entertainment space and are always curious to what new contributions will hold for the players. Will it offer enough depth for the strategy crowd to take note of the title? Can the gameplay hold up on its own to warrant spending your hard earned money to purchase it?
The Princess Guide sees the player taking the role of a retired military general turned instructor to guide four princesses in the art of war. Each princess has a separate motivation and story, with the option to choose which princess to start out with on a new save. This choice is not important as the ability to train the other princesses happens naturally as the main story progresses. This choice comes down to personal preference in the end. The four choices are Liliartie, who is a great warrior and obsessed with food, Veronica is a witch princess who wishes to conquer the world, Monomaria is looking to improve herself and finally Alpana, the dragon princess who wants to attain world peace through her faith. Each royalty option has enough separate characteristics for each person to be recognizable and allows for very different personalities to emerge. These stories told by each cast member is boring at worst and unsubstantial at best. The game does its best with what it was given regarding writing (which can be cheeky, with a couple of chuckles thrown in) but you can only go so far with ideas that fall flat and have no meaningful conflict throughout the stories.
Once the player chooses their princess to guide, they are dropped in head first into a strategy map. This screen reminds me heavily of a past NIS America title Grand Kingdom albeit without the solid gameplay, but more on that in a bit. Here you can dispatch and recall your various squads to the battlefield, observe objectives and complete main quests. There are also side quests to find as well as training areas to compete in. These missions can have an infinite time limit to complete or a set time (based on in game time). Whenever starting an assignment, the gamer gets a short dialogue scene before starting. The pieces on the map are moved like players in a board game and gives a very light strategy element to the scene. This can result in escort missions taking place or avoiding fights to make a destination on time. The strategy elements presented here are woefully undercooked. The Princess Guide had an opportunity to have a more proper tactical approach to the board game aspect. Something along the lines of Disgaea or Fire Emblem could have fit very well here, with more thought given to your actions on the game board. As it stands, the approach is too little to provide the scratch for the strategist gamer’s itch. Once the player encounters an enemy, the battle segment starts.
These battles take place in an overhead scenario within 2D animated standalone areas. Each area contains different relics scattered about that the squad can overtake to help ward off the enemies within. Such relics include mana towers that replenish health among a slew of other artifacts that deal considerable damage to foes. Using these relics to the player’s advantage is almost required sometimes, because the game had me replaying missions as they can get difficult. Gameplay here boils down to simple hack and slash styled attacks with special attacks, that are different for each character, adding a little spice to the mix. Dodging is very important with the hard-hitting enemies and frivolous button mashing can be punished. During these combat sequences, control over the soldiers that follow the squad around is given to the player. These tertiary NPCs can be used to deal some devastating Area of Effect (AoE) attacks or combo skills. Amid these battles, instructor abilities come into play with a system called “direct guidance”. This gameplay mechanic allows the instructor to either scold or praise the current princess in training. Each of these choices has a different effect to them, for example, praising a princess will make them happy and cause a recover health boost to be in effect. On the flip side, scolding them might cause her to generally be unhappy but the boosted effect will be a speed increase. I stuck with praising my princess 90% of the time as the difficulty in the late missions had my health always low. There are only three chances at this direct guidance system per fight so choose wisely when taking use of them. The battles end up feeling the same, mission to mission, leading to a repetitious experience that is only OK in the execution. The combat never feels deep enough to warrant multiple plays or grinding. It loses the initial appeal quickly, and could have been augmented further for a deeper, more rewarding gameplay loop.
Of all the things The Princess Guide does average, the music is something that stood out in the murky uncertainty of the title. Each princess has a different theme for the strategy map, and it is all very well produced overall. Most certainly a gold star amongst overwhelming bronze stars when looking at other facets of the game. Nothing about the technical features or presentation beyond the soundtrack stands out. Load times are acceptable, and it is a very small download file. The controls are responsive and work how one would expect them to. Something that needs to be mentioned about the presentation is the bouncing character portraits during dialogue scenes. The addition of this only leads to confusion and questioning as to why the developers decided to take this route. The talking characters bounce uncontrollably, and that strange aspect is unenjoyable. It comes off as an immature and childish way to show talking, knocking down the otherwise nice portrait art down a few pegs of quality.
A run of the mill title that squanders its potential in all aspects. A short experience, unenjoyable at certain points and far too expensive to justify the content the game ($20 USD digital and $40 USD physical). I cannot recommend gamers pick this game up at the current price, or even on a sale. Diehard NISA collectors or Switch collectors seem to be the only ones I can “recommend” trying this game. Wait for a sale, if the curiosity of the title ever gets the better of you. The shallow experience of The Princess Guide can be summed up in one word: Average. Unfortunately, it is a pass for me. I saw potential in its reveal and trailers, but it does nothing to warrant the appeal from those first looks. (Frank Granados; Gaming Staff Writer)
Review Copy Priovided by NIS America