Solid fighting mechanics; engaging RPG elements including full stat customization; 50 characters to unlock and choose from; over-the-top but lovable story and cast of characters; fully voice acted dialogue; plethora of gamplay modes; local and online co-op and PVP options; Some of the best 2D sprites on the 3DS; excellent character animations; delightful soundtrack
Occasional slowdown; not as many attacks as you'd hope for; character movements can feel a little sluggish amidst the frenzy of chaos happening around you; no four player co-op campaign
If you think Code of Princess looks a lot like another side-scrolling, RPG, beat-em-up hybrid that came out fifteen years ago, you wouldn’t be wrong. You wouldn’t be wrong because Code of Princess comes to us from some of the same developers who delivered the Sega Saturn gem, Guardian Heroes. Just like its spiritual predecessor, Code of Princess brings to the table a healthy offering of ripe, anime-inspired 2D sprites, gameplay that is a throwback to an era once forgotten, concussive amounts of content and production values that rival some of the industry’s best titles. Code of Princess isn’t without flaws, but it manages to make you forget about most of them thanks to the aforementioned qualities that ultimately make the title sing.
Let’s get it out of the way now: yes, the game’s primary heroine is a very scantily-clad, well-endowed, blond-headed princess wielding an outrageously large sword. And yes, it would appear that many of the game’s cast of characters are dressed up in very little clothing. So needless to say, if you’re not a admirer of fan service, Code of Princess’ characters and motif might be hard to swallow. But it’s this over-the-top, bat-shit crazy style that reaches into every facet of Atlus’ beat-em-up and brings a smile to the player’s face. From the extravagant moves you’ll pull off during the game’s combat, to the quirky though lovable characters, to the storyline that is absolutely wacky (though it does have some heartfelt, serious moments), Code of Princess is a title that lays on the zaniness, and lays it on thick. This is brought to light even more so by the fully voiced dialogue which is awesomely absurd and riddled with plenty of hilarious lines.
But where things get serious is in the gameplay department. Code of Princess is a 2D beat-em-up that takes places on three planes, allowing players to dispatch baddies in the fore, middle, and background with the press of a single button. These planes create a unique way for players to dispatch baddies as you’ll constantly dash between the three to dodge and cleverly survive some of the game’s more difficult encounters. This adds a certain tactical element to the button mashing which increases the combat’s nuances and complexity. To dish out the punishment, you’ll have four characters to choose from, all of which come complete with a unique move list that includes combos, singular attacks and special maneuvers, all of which you can string together for a compilation of hurt thanks to super responsive, intuitive controls.
Unlike straight-up sidescrollers of this ilk– and this is where Code of Princess most certainly distinguishes itself– Atlus’ beat-em-up incorporates RPG elements that make up much of the game’s fun. As you trounce endless strings of dastardly foes, you earn experience which can be used to level up, allocate stat points as you see fit, acquire new weapons and armor and just generally become more of a weapon-flailing bad ass. It’s because of this that Code of Princess transcends the ordinary beat-em-up to become an addiction-inducing masterpiece.
There is a certain amount of depth achieved here that’s not usually obtained by these types of games. Between all the items to collect, combos to unleash, and levels to gain, the four characters offered to players all feel unique and different. Each has their own style, both in terms of aesthetic and combat, which means there’s something for everyone. While these four are the game’s core characters, there are approximately 50 additional characters to unlock as you advance through the game’s campaign mode. As you plow through the story, you’ll be treated to a slew of talking scenes, in-game scenarios and beautifully animated cutscenes– and beautiful this game is. The graphics are gorgeous (though models aren’t as crisp as I would have hoped for), characters move with finesse, the 3D effect distinguishes the moving parts from the static backgrounds, and the overall artistic direction is undeniably awesome, if anime is your thing. Fortunately for me, it very much so is.
It’s not just the lovely blend of 2D sprites against 3D backdrops that will leave you stunned, it’s also the music that mercilessly infects your mind and doesn’t let you go. The soundtrack is truly glorious, and it struck me while playing that they just don’t make OSTs like the one found here anymore. ACE, the composer best known for their work on Xenoblade, really should be praised for the varied pieces of work that fit the game’s mood so perfectly. It doesn’t hurt that the opening theme is one of the best I’ve heard in quite some time.
The variety doesn’t end at the music; it can be seen in all corners of the title. If a hefty campaign mode isn’t enough, you also have open to you a free play mode, where you can work on leveling up your characters to use in said campaign mode, bonus quests, as well as local and internet play complete with four player co-op and six player PVP. I mean, the amount of content here is out of this world, and almost overwhelming. If you’ve been looking for a fully featured 3DS game, then really you need not look any further.
Code of Princess, for all that does it well, though, isn’t perfect. The adventure does possess some hiccups here and there. First off, the game experiences strange slowdown on occasion. I noticed this was most prevalent when I had the 3D turned on, where the game really chugged if there were multiple enemies on the screen at once (which happens frequently, mind you). It wasn’t game-changing, but it was frustrating, especially when I couldn’t perform a combo due to input lag. While on the topic of attacks, I would have liked more for each character, as each only has about ten. This usually translates to players using the same attacks most of the time. It would’ve made much more sense to allow players to unlock more attacks/combos as they progressed; why this wasn’t included is beyond me. Another gripe rests with the character movement, which can feel sluggish at times, detracting from the frenzied action that is so heart pounding.
Lastly, it’s a shame that you can only play through the story with one other friend. While you can take on countless quests with four people, the campaign is limited to a duo. I can imagine this is probably due to the aforementioned slowdown. The last, but super nit picky, issue I have is with the difficulty. Throughout nearly the entire game it’s very fair, but then you get to the last few quests and suddenly you’re getting one-shotted left and right, which often had me wondering, “where the hell did that come from?!” I never had to grind or try a quest more than a few times, but the abrupt difficulty spike was jarring nonetheless.
These issues aside, Code of Princess is truly a holistic success. This is a game that feels like a love letter to fans that enjoy beat-em-ups, RPGs and anime. It’s a courtship of elements that create a single piece of work that is both familiar and imaginative. Had the slowdown issues been ironed out, this would have felt like the total package. Even still, there’s so much to love here: the graphics are vibrant, the soundtrack is catchy, the combat is fluid and rewarding, the RPG mechanics generate depth and the sheer amount of modes and unlockables create layers upon layers of content. In all honesty, I sleep more peacefully knowing that a game like this can still exist in today’s industry. There’s a certain balance that Code of Princess manages to achieve; it does enough to welcome new players to its amalgamation of genres, while concurrently offering so much to gamers who grew up during the 16-bit era. Because of that, I sincerely hope more companies recognize what an accomplishment Code of Princess is, and in turn, give us more products that offer such truly wonderful experiences.