Code of Princess on the 3DS. I’ve mentioned it in passing to some of the GA staff but never got around to writing anything on the subject. It’s a weird, cultish game that doesn’t just mash genres, it sends them flying towards each other with the force to make neutrinos seemingly move faster than light. But what exactly is Code of Princess and how does it make one feel on the squishy, gamey inside parts?
In a word: Respected.
I find games that respect the player few and sparsely spread these days. There are too many tutorials, too much hand-holding for those first tiresome hours, too much “streamlining” for playability. Amongst friends, I have adopted and updated the legendary “Start to Crate” review system of games to the date-appropriate “Start to ‘Use the Crouch to get through’” system (this is an article I have just decided that I need to write). Happily, Code of Princess acknowledges the idea that maybe, in your spare time, you might have played a video game before.
It does this in several ways. Firstly, the tutorials. While the gameplay is startlingly deep, the tutorials are as meager as possible. Here’s how to attack, here’s how to block, here’s how to Burst and Mark, now get out of here and discover the wrinkles and folds yourself. From there, you can immediately get into competitive online or local PvP, co-op, or the campaign. I suggest the campaign because you’ll actually want to learn how to play the game.
Once in, you will find the writing is decidedly postmodern, referencing the fact that it is a video game if not openly breaking the fourth wall. Upon meeting my character Allegro, he says that he’s just a few EXP fromm becoming a sage … as a story point, not a gameplay one. Brilliant! The characters also frequently point out the tropes of being within a JRPG, like mocking absurdly-named monk stances like “Stance of the Territorial Alpha-Goldfish!” Every name is silly and every character is snarky. I love it.
Additionally, the main character Solange is presented basically naked with a humongous sword named the DeLuxcaliber (pronounced The Deluxe Caliber) and equally large … assets. Of course, she is uber-naive and, upon finding her spiritual motivation, uber-powerful. We’re talking NSFW, borderline-hentai stuff here. While some find this off-putting from a misogynistic point of view, I actually find it simply another commentary on the worn-out banalities of the genre the game skewers. Code of Princess is simply too smart to fall into such juvenile pratfalls of games so played out.
Speaking of playing the game, what is it? In my best ability, it is a Super Smash Bros.-style beat ‘em up JRPG that takes place within three lanes of depth (like Little Big Planet) with robust multiplayer options and over 50 characters (granted, some are joke characters). Fighting is pure Smash with a bit of Street Fighter in there; smashes and combos. However, on top of it all is a staggering pile of gear and 495 points to put into five stats, allowing for a ton of variety in your builds.
You go from battle to battle via cutscene and dialogue (fully voice-acted and ultimately enjoyable). There is no map or exploration, just battling, leveling, shopping and a bit of giggling. Along with the superb writing, this keeps the game from feeling fluffed in even the slightest. You level at a blazing pace, one — sometimes two — levels a fight during the four campaigns. Did you expect anything less from Atlus, masters of providing clean, direct, no-nonsense games?
My time with Code of Princess has been immeasurably fun and I cannot wait to review the whole shebang when I manage to beat the campaign. Its wit and depth are truly refreshing and any 3DS owner should get in on this title before it blows up.