In taking a look at this new Nicalis-published action RPG, it was just as important to peer into the past as it was to observe the current state of Code of Princess. That big, meaty “EX” on the end of the title implies that there must be some substantial changes to the previous product in order to warrant a new release on the Nintendo Switch. Fortunately, I have history with the original product, a 3DS title with some woeful flaws that made it hard to recommend. In many ways, the 3DS version was ripe with potential – a title utilizing many of the mechanics found in the Sega Saturn’s Guardian Heroes (something the newest version takes pride in acknowledging), but lacking in performance stability and variety. With that being said, does this newly revamped version of the game follow the code of conduct for a proper enhanced port?
Code of Princess is similar to beat ’em up titles like Streets of Rage and Double Dragon, but it takes the most inspiration from the aforementioned Guardian Heroes. In that title, players were limited to three “planes” of two-dimensional movement: the central, foreground, and background. This element carries over into Code of Princess as enemies will often appear on certain planes and can also hop from one to the next. The player’s freedom to switch from one to the other acts as the most effective defensive option, however.
Attack inputs are mapped to the face buttons – B for a light attack, A for a heavy attack. Y acts similarly to A, but allows the player to lock on to the enemy that their attack connects with – this reveals their hit points and also gives the player the chance to deal double damage. X is reserved for the Burst function, a mode adding another double damage multiplier across the board, which can be activated three times during a mission. As the game itself states, stacking lock-on and Burst can equate to quadruple damage, so its best to reserve this function for extra-tough enemies. Aside from the face buttons, players can also block attacks using the left bumper.
Attacks come in a variety of forms, with light attacks easily chaining into one another, and heavy attacks being slower and more situational. By using directional inputs, the player can execute other situational options, as well as special moves that drain their MP meter and higher-damage combination attacks. As was the case with the 3DS version, I highly recommend using the D-pad for movement and attack inputs, as they will execute far more reliably.
Players can choose to play through the Campaign narrative, a series of missions accompanied by playing out on certain stages with varying objectives. While the main goal is usually more or less “pummel everything into submission,” there are a few unique exceptions, as well as one or two stages where movement is limited to specific planes. The main campaign isn’t very long, though there are a few difficulty spikes that justify the title’s Role-playing roots. There’s a substantial amount of equipment, some obtainable through mission completion and other prrrrrchasable from the game’s traveling merchant for a pretty penny. However, some of the higher-tier pieces offer impressive stat boosts that assist a great deal with some of the mid-to-late game bosses, who can mash the player into a pulp should they not defend and attack carefully. Sometimes, the best way to surmount these enemies is by grinding levels and currency in order to unlock a few higher rank equipment options.
While more mission variety would be welcome, there are plenty more options available in the Bonus Quests mode, which features a slew of tougher challenges that can be tackled with a much wider range of characters. The Free Play mode allows players to replay Story missions with any of the many, many, many characters unlocked via completing the Campaign – although only seven characters are available at maximum during the campaign, every enemy with the exception of a small few becomes a playable unit in Free Play and Bonus Quests – each with their own unique properties and attacks. There’s a sweet satisfaction in being able to fight as a dragon after getting mashed into dust by one.
Plus, you can play as an old lady.
Story and Presentation
Code of Princess is a straightforward narrative, leaning heavily on tropes and camp, and saved in multiple areas by its awkward charm. Princess Solange is tasked with guarding the Deluxcalibur, a mythic sword -very large and hitting very hard – as the threat of monsters and a mysterious Queen Distiny seek to destroy her kingdom. She is joined by a motley crew consisting of a thief with a padlock bra, a sage with an electric guitar, and a rather sensible zombie mage, stoic martial artist, and awkward samurai. The first four have the most dialogue, but each has their own distinguishable traits and moments in the narrative.
However, aside from a few very self-aware jabs at Solange’s attire and the delightful advances of Juppongi, the localization is somewhat stilted. The plot revolves around the gathering of “codes” and the Empyrean Stone, the latter of which has a surprisingly good end-of-game twist. The majority of the dialogue – and some specific characters – lacks subtlety or depth, which, given the briskness of the campaign, is not all that surprising. Though the bulk of Code of Princess’s gameplay comes from its other optional modes, its narrative is neither remarkable nor wholly inoffensive. At its best, it has a few smile-inducing quips, but none of its characterization feels very warranted.
This is perhaps a result of the game’s presentation. Although this EX version of the game does feature some revamped textures and cleaner visuals, the animations outside of combat are painfully repetitive, with some of the cutscenes showing off garish character models. While they do bear a strong resemblance to their illustrated counterparts, they lack detail in some places and don’t display well in others. Anything closer than the standard gameplay camera view reveals some smudged appearances, which is strange, considering the character selection screen often shows off much cleaner-looking models than what can be seen in gameplay. Even stranger is that this problem isn’t universal – certain characters look very clean in-battle. There is little difference in regards to the visuals when switching between handheld and docked mode.
While these models are sometimes obscured by some very decent and charming character portraits during dialogue, there’s no denying that this is a port of a 3DS title. Some of the elemental effects – explosions, in particular – are very awkward looking and don’t telegraph their effects very well. The music is passable, with a few memorable tracks, though nothing outstanding. While poor presentation may be a sticking point for some, Code of Princess isn’t looking to wow based on this aspect.
Enhancements and Play Experience
There are a few aspects of this enhanced version of the game that truly help it stand out and increase its appeal drastically. The 3DS title was known for its atrocious framerate drops, which caused the game to chug at any point when projectiles and character models were being tossed around the screen. EX rids the game of these issues completely, resulting in a drastically smoother experience. This increases the flow of gameplay and turns previously plodding skirmishes into faster-paced affairs that require quick thinking.
Although Nicalis has advertised some enhancements to enemy AI, there was only one instance when I felt the experience fighting the computer felt new to me – a boss encounter that was one of the most intense moments in the original game that seemed to be further amped up in this version. I was sometimes caught in some sticky enemy juggles, and also found that enemies seemed to utilize their exclusive abilities more often, but for the most part, enemies tend to group up into clumps that can be wailed upon rather easily. The game’s difficulty increases in the Bonus Quest mode, where enemy formations are much more specific and require strict management of equipment, Burst charges, and inputs. This is when Code of Princess is at its best, forcing the player to weave in and out of specific planes in order to avoid enemy attacks, and deal with specific threats in order to minimize the potential for interrupted combo strings.
Another important addition is the ability to access local co-op gameplay in all modes, which can greatly increase the chance for survival in many cases. Creating specific equipment loadouts for certain characters enables players to negate specific threats, and a double lock-on, double burst onslaught can make short work of the most daunting enemies. This can also assist in character grinding, as the core cast is given a 50% experience acquisition rate when not being used during Campaign mode, but every other character must be leveled individually. Sharing the stage with a partner can allow for massive boosts if the players should tackle a higher-difficulty quest, enabling a greater variety of options and more engaging experimentation. The increased experience gain has also resulted in a loss of character-stat distribution, but this has in-turn created specific growth patterns for each playable character. Obtaining and applying the proper equipment bonuses in order to exploit their specific traits is one more layer of depth.
Code of Princess features additional multiplayer modes that, while unavailable in the review copy, allow for quest completion and versus play. While I was unable to access these features during my time with the game, they offer further playability, especially at a high-level. With the improved stability of the Switch version, I can imagine the versus mode being far more enjoyable than the 3DS version.
All of these features mean little, of course, if the core gameplay is unappealing to the player. Code of Princess is a very specific sort of action-based Role-playing experience, one that can be exhilarating because of the amount of damage a single player can unload, but also frustrating should they find themselves stonewalled by enemy aggression. There are a few skirmishes with boss characters that will truly test a player’s patience and perseverance. While a number of these can be avoided via the previously mentioned equipment and experience grinds, there is still a level of adaptation that needs to occur on the player’s part. Understanding specific character roles and their abilities, as well as the ability to exploit moments of vulnerability are crucial skills for one determined to tackle the challenges featured in the Campaign and beyond. The most important lesson to remember is this: not all characters are created equal. Some are made to function in very specific roles and can benefit or suffer from team play, but the intense experience grind needed to have each character come into their own can provide hours of gameplay.
Code of Princess is an interesting mix of mechanics that will make or break the experience. While some skirmishes can feel like a routine, others provide unique challenges that will try a player’s reflexes and gameplay mastery. While there are a wealth of options in both characters and scenarios, the title is best suited for someone with intense completionist tendencies. Obtaining all the equipment, grinding out the staggering character count, and racking up points for the online leaderboards are all aspects that can provide a great deal of investment. Even so, the core concept is one that the player will have to come to terms with: do you want to play a beat ’em up Role-playing game? If so, there are few other titles like Code of Princess out there, which might be a testament or a sign of caution, depending on perspective and preference. Will you be satisfied with simply completing the Campaign? If so, you should likely give this game a pass. The main narrative isn’t substantial enough to present a healthy variety of gameplay scenarios – it’s the additional content that is worth it.
While the original 3DS version was a title I enjoyed for its quirks, but could not recommend in good conscience, Code of Princess EX adds the right amount of polish in enough places to deserve a look. It may not be a game for the cinematic enthusiast, nor is it the most traditional experience out there, but if any of what has been said about the game thus far sounds appealing, it might just be the game for you.