Chances are when you go to buy a video game 90% of the time you’ll know exactly what to expect before you even pick up the box. You’ve seen the trailers, lets play videos or you know most of what to expect from it before going in. Imagine just going by the box art with absolutely no marketing whatsoever. You pick up a box and it has 4 different classes of anime girl on the box, a title that sounds like a movie from the 90s and screenshots that look like a basic indie action romp. Then you notice the little card on the shelf “Something for the weekend” and decide it’s not too pricey, why not? Is this going to be a wild ride that you never expected or should you have stuck with a generic white dude on a motorbike fighting zombies?
Really the first thing that surprised me the most about The Princess Guide is how much fun it is. It’s impressively deep with the gameplay being split between 3 easy to enjoy sections. A story visual novel section with occasional input on scolding or praising but in a welcomingly non-lewd and literal teaching manner. A management real time strategy section where you balance resources, levels, equipment, princess training and unit placements to complete missions. Finally a top down action smasher section where you have to manage using your minions to backup your main character, chaining combos and various attacks to make sure you win. All of this mixes nicely into a loop of enjoyable chunks of story, a bit of management and then a lot of action.
Even though The Princess Guide does imply from the start that picking a princess will lock you to one of the four for the rest of the game once you complete a chapter you’re booted from your current princess to the next. Restarting to level 1 minions and a new princess can be a bit jarring but thankfully you carry equipment and your own main character stats between the princesses worlds. Each story is unique enough to separate them and they are light enough to be entertaining while still keeping the serious edge on occasion. All of this combines to give you an investment in their well-being. There are moments where you expect The Princess Guide to either be finished or to combine the plots and you’ll just carry on with another story chunk for an individual princess instead. It’s one of those games that does keep giving without stretching itself out and is better paced for it.
A lot of The Princess Guide is spent blasting through the action with multiple enemy encounters and this is where the gameplay is just fantastic. The Princess Guide really shines when everything starts to get hectic and it feels like a top down Guardian Heroes style brawler at times. Leveling up your units, sending them to attack the nearest monster, taking command of useful level traps and healing totems, using booster skills to continue and learning the patterns of bigger monsters and bosses. It all comes together nicely and the controls are perfect for the systems in place. There are moments of grind and the balance feels a little off but these are rare moments in an enjoyable system that encourages trying different weapons to use and new super moves. Having a button assigned to dashing allows for quick movement through repeated areas and the benefit of each princess having a different fighting style allows the gameplay to stay fresh even when it’s your hundredth encounter.
Mastering the strategy world map is unfortunately where The Princess Guide takes its biggest misstep. There is the option to purchase additional commanders and have them level up their minions but given how I managed to complete every mission with either just the Princess or just the support of my main character it seems a wasted opportunity. There are no options for the minions to take out weaker enemies automatically or repeat training either so each time you want to progress anyone it’s a lot of grind through familiar territory and it feels like a waste. The enemies don’t take over positions, they only roam the map to bump into allied units and initiate combat. This is a shame because managing your allies equipment and the skills of the princesses is interestingly well thought out. Most missions will be “protect an area”, “escort a unit” or “kill all enemies in the time limit” which doesn’t encourage the player to use all the tools available just make one character and their minions really sharp.
Putting aside the fact that having literal bouncing characters in The Princess Guide is possibly the most annoying animation you could give a 2D image, the artwork and visuals on show here are superb. There’s something to be said for when a game manages to package up what are essentially a lot of high quality 2D sprite-like characters and makes them into such a vibrant visual treat. There are plenty of lovely little touches at play here, the MISSION CLEAR text and various big important messages appearing on the floor, the way units can easily be told from enemies and the UI that gets a lot of information across without feeling cluttered. There are times when your AI friends will get snagged on a really well drawn iron gate but if you push on they do re-spawn later next to you and the more you play the more you start to get a feel for the way the boundary boxes work. The enemy bullets even have shmup like colours to tell what to avoid when the action on screen gets cluttered.
Unlike most Japanese anime tropes the princesses have voices that don’t sound like a dogs squeaky toy caught in a vice. The voice-work for The Princess Guide is fantastic throughout and the sound effects all have punchy weight to them with suitable clangs for swords and spears. There is a annoying “low health” claxon but thankfully it’s not too intrusive. The Princess Guide also has a good soundtrack albeit nothing that really stood out but enough to merit knowing what’s going on at the time. The only problem is that during all the action and concentrating on screen it’s hard to tell what the Princess will be shouting to you unless you know a bit of Japanese or can look over at the corner subtitles.
Four main protagonists can get a little much and this feeling isn’t helped by there being 3 endings for each princess with clear multiple options to level them up by scolding or praising. Thankfully there are little touches throughout to feel less like a slog with each princess having a little hidden mini-game. There’s nothing too complex, it’s just a welcome little gem that gives you a different bonus for each and breaks up the epic. There are multiple levels for your own character who can gain stats and skills of your choice. The option to dig deeper into the units, extra commanders you can hire, all the levels and bonuses is there and it will keep you busy for a long time. It’s a surprisingly deep game that doesn’t explain a lot of its merits to easily but in its own way demands experimentation.
Finding the best way to describe The Princess Guide has been frustrating. Essentially however you look at it you’ve a title that if it had a more generic aesthetic a lot more people would just jump to play it but if it had that aesthetic it wouldn’t have the beautiful unique visuals and heart that carries the look throughout. It’s not perfect and there are moments that are either a little too grindy or unexplained to benefit it overall yet you’ll still find yourself pushing on or experimenting with the systems to make it that more an enjoyable experience. The Princess Guide should definitely be held aloft and shouted to every person who ever enjoyed an action game in their life. It’s funny, enjoyable and a really great game that deserves to be ruling from a lofty throne. The kind of absolute gem you find and wonder why nobody else saw it at the time, until you remember the new Avengers came out.
8/10 – Guided like a Guardian Hero
Code provided by EU Partner Relations – NIS America Inc. Check out NIS here
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