Friday, 8 January 2016

Played: Code of Princess (3DS)

Format: 3DS (e-shop download)     Also On: N/A     Developer: Agatsuma     
Publisher: Agatsuma     Release: 2013 (EU)

I have a feeling that I might upset or p*ss a few people off with my thoughts on this game but hey-ho, that's how it goes sometimes! As you may be able to deduce, I don't like Code of Princess all that much and it is perhaps down to a sense of feeling underwhelmed; the game isn't actually something I would describe as bad - it just doesn't excite me as a I thought it would. After all, I love games with a retro throwback to their design and I also love 2D side-scrolling fighters. The fact that the main art and design was produced by none other than the extremely talented Kinu Nishimura certainly sealed the deal for me and I was quite annoyed when it was decided that us Europeans weren't getting a physical boxed copy (I'm very snobby about having CIB physical media) but a digital version on the 3DS' e-shop is certainly better than nothing.

Recently, I finally got around to downloading the game with some e-shop credit that I had given to me at Christmas. I'm much more open to digital purchases these days but even so, I tend to be quite ignorant of what's actually available on these virtual stores and I hardly ever remember to go and download something that catches my eye. That's why it's taken me a few years to get around to Code of Princess but the deed was eventually done and two things immediately stood out for me.

1. The game takes up over 9000 blocks on the 3DS' SD card! Considering I only have a few bits of DLC and a couple of the Sega '3D Classics' downloaded there, 9000+ blocks out of my remaining 11,000-ish was a real shock (are all full games this huge?).

2. The price! Code of Princess was reduced to £12.49 in December but usually retails for £24.99. Now I'm one of those gamers that baulks at paying more than a tenner for a download when there's a) nothing to physically hold in my hands and b) no way of re-selling the game if it's not my idea of fun so I would honestly struggle to lay out 25 notes for this. Given that I'd been eager to play this game for a long while however, I stretched to £12.49 but even before I type the rest of this review, I will state that I really don't think CoP is worth paying £25 for. To think that at one time, I was tempted to import a US 3DS and a the Collector's Edition of this game! Lucky escapes and all that...

Those two niggles aside (and a painfully slow download courtesy of our extremely standard broadband) I was genuinely excited to get stuck in and see what I'd been missing. Without meaning to sound overly negative, the disappointment didn't take long to rear it's unwanted head.
To start with, there is the intrusion of some sort of plot (to do with evil queens, monsters and legends - everything you've experienced before) and lots of cutscene conversations with characters that I immediately took a disliking to thanks to the stereotypical personalities and un-funny humour.

I personally think it would look nicer on a big screen.
When I finally got going with the gameplay, I was gutted to discover that there are usually 2-3 screens of enemies to defeat in each mission. Rather than traditional side-scrollers with longer levels and branching routes, Code of Princess favours smaller, bite-sized bursts of battling before taking the player to another cutscene where the cast have another chat and talk about cliched fantasy things. It doesn't help that the backgrounds are simply 'okay' and the music is always the same unless it's a boss battle. Some variety and longer, more involving stages would have been very welcome.

The gameplay itself could have made up it however and at first, it does seem promising. You are able to jump back and forth between multiple planes of movement (in the style of Guardian Heroes on the Sega Saturn) and special moves are performed using Street Fighter/2D fighting game style inputs. There aren't enough of the latter however so all too often, I found myself simply hammering the attack buttons and spamming the same few specials constantly. The fact that it is perfectly possible to win with ease this way and not be punished by the game doesn't exactly persuade the player to construct an elaborate combo or play strategy. Another related issue is that there appears to be a great deal of enemies that drop bombs when hit or defeated so sometimes, I was able to stand back and watch a comically lengthy chain reaction of explosions simply juggle groups of enemies helplessly. This can also work against the player however as getting caught up in a blast or combo of enemy attacks yourself will result in you being tossed about in the air. Later on in the game - when the difficulty ramps up and enemies deal out greater damage - this chaotic aspect of the gameplay can be deeply frustrating. I've swore at the screen a few times!

Don't be fooled by this guy's size - he falls quite easily.

There is also an RPG-like aspect to the game in that EXP earnt during battles can be distributed amongst a variety of the main character's attributes such as Attack, Defence, Speed and do forth. Gold can be used to purchase new equipment which, as well as affecting stats, also bestow additional effects such as being able to do more damage to higher level enemies or cause damage when 'Bursting' (using the MP meter to temporarily boost attack power). This is a nice aspect of the game as it encourages a bit of experimentation but the dark side of earning EXP and Gold is that doing so involves loads of grinding by replaying cleared missions in the 'Free Play' mode. Mercifully, you aren't required to re-live the cutscenes in Free Play but even so, repeating past missions is hardly stimulating when there is essentially no variation or stand-out moments. This isn't like Dragon's Crown where the presentation and jaw-dropping art style were more than enough to make grinding for rewards enjoyable.

Speaking of the art style, there's no doubting that the characters are well animated and attractive to look at but I find them to be too small on the 3DS's screen. Code of Princess would seriously benefit from being on the big screen and in HD - I have the feeling that the game would be a real stunner then. Switching on the machine's 3D effect doesn't really do anything special either; it creates more definition between the different planes and some depth to the background but it isn't essential and I play the game with that switch firmly in the 'off' position.

I feel like all I have done is moan but these are my genuine feelings for Code of Princess. It's one of those games that I really have to push myself to keep playing and complete (especially since I paid £12.49 for a game I can't re-sell!) because the gameplay, grinding and story are all so crushingly average. Like I said at the start of this write-up, this isn't a bad game and I wouldn't go so far as to slate Code of Princess when its only crime is of being average. If I did scores for games then this would likely get a slightly-above-average 6/10 but a lot of reviewers gave out 90%+ ratings and it seems that Code of Princess already has a cult following of dedicated fans. I like side-scrolling beat 'em ups. I like 2D games. I adore Kinu Nishimura's art wherever it appears. I just don't enjoy playing Code of Princess all that much and nobody is as disappointed about that as I am!

Is this really so much of an issue?
To conclude on a bit of a tangent, the one thing I will gladly take away from this game is the superb concept art and character designs. I will certainly be seeking out the official artbook for my bookshelf because I think that Kinu Nishimura's art is simply beautiful. Some people didn't see it this way however and Code of Princess generated a a fair amount of publicity (even in native Japan) for its sexualised female designs, especially for the main player character of Solange (right). These groups weren't best pleased with how the game depicted women and heavily criticised the character designs. Everybody is of course entitled to their viewpoint but to these critics I say "bollox". All the censorship, out-of-control political correctness and pressure groups telling us what we should think are becoming tiresome and more importantly, a genuine threat towards art and creative expression. Forgetting that the Kinu Nishimura is a woman and forgetting about how much sexism there is against men in media, does it really matter? Speaking for myself, I admire scantily-clad women in art, games, films etc. but it doesn't change my attitude towards women in real life. Art is about creating what the artist wants to or what they find attractive but clearly there are those who don't like this and want artwork to conform to their own vision of what is 'correct'. This is the direct enemy of creativity and art itself. So what if I want to draw idealistic females in a state of undress? I wouldn't have any objections to women painting pictures of buff, idealistic men that I couldn't ever hope to resemble. 

Best not show these people the PVC statue of Solange that was released then eh? 



(I wish this was mine...)

( isn't)

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