Going into E3, Code of Princess for 3DS barely registered on my radar. I had heard of it and seen a few screenshots, but I just assumed it was going to be just some weird Japanese beat-’em-up. Okay, it definitely is a beat-’em-up from Japan, and there are more than a few weird things about it, but it has more going for it than just that. Given the fact that this is an Atlus title, I probably should have expected more from the start.
One fact that needs to be pointed out right away is that Code of Princess was developed bu a team that includes Treasure alums who worked on the cult classic, Guardian Heroes. This is important because Code of Princess is, in many ways, a spiritual successor to the revered brawler. Code of Princess borrows many gameplay features from its fore-bearer, mixing action RPG elements with combat mechanics that go far deeper than your average brawler, bordering on the level of what you would usually expect from a fighting game.
Just like Guardian Heroes, Code of Princess is a story driven, fantasy themed beat-’em-up that has players jumping between three horizontal planes in side-scrolling stages filled with baddies just waiting to be pummeled. Moving from one plane to the other takes some getting used to, but the mechanic makes positioning both clearer, and more tactically relevant. Combat is further complicated by combo-based mechanics that make use of directional presses, heavy and light attack buttons, as well as special moves. Once again, the uniqueness of these mechanics can catch you off guard, but the intricacies made it very fun and rewarding to play around with.
What Code of Princess just that much more intriguing, I think, has less to do with the mechanics and more to do with the slew of playable characters. The handful of character playable in the demo varied greatly, there was a ninja with expert air juggling techniques, a generously proportioned female knight with a massive, slow moving sword, and even quick and quirky cat dressed like an Egyptian pharaoh for some reason. Each character I tried felt unique, with the sorts of strengths and weaknesses you would expect from different classes in a more traditional, class-based action RPG. This is made even more promising by the number of characters you can play as; the story will only feature a half a dozen or so, but dozens more will be playable for replaying levels or joining four person multiplayer, either locally or online. Unfortunately, the multiplayer was not available on the show floor. Add into the equation a level-up system as well as equipable weapons, armor, and accessories and you have even more room for character growth and customization.
All of these gameplay ideas and promised features were definitely enough to peak my interest, but the visual presentation is probably is what has me impressed most at the moment. The anime art style present throughout the entire aesthetic design of the game is realized brilliants, from the detailed portraits during dialogue scenes, to the beautifully animated character models in the heat of combat. Everything flows amazingly well, all without slowdown or any apparent drop in the attention to detail. Topping it all off the well implemented 3D effect, which works wonderfully with the game’s three-plane system.
So far it looks like Code of Princess has all the pieces in place to make it another classic Atlus release, loads of deep gameplay wrapped up in a quirky and/or unique package. Considering that, I don’t necessarily see this game having too much in the way of universal appeal, but Atlus has a way of finding niches. Should you belong to this niche, I highly recommend keeping an eye on Code of Princess, and check back in the fall to see how final product lives up to the high expectations its great E3 showing has set up for itself.