A pastime needn't necessarily be transcendent to make for an experience enjoyable. So long as there's a hook, something to keep one captivated throughout the journey's duration, it's easy enough to look beyond some frayed edges and just enjoy the ride.
In the case of Battle Princess of Arcadias, the hook never really manifests. The action role-playing game casts out some nice ideas, but none are quite compelling enough to really reel one in.
Battle Princess of Arcadias (PlayStation 3)
Publisher: NIS America
Released: June 17, 2014
Not every role-playing game has a great story, but plot and character interaction are hallmarks of the genre. Battle Princess of Arcadias eschews this tendency, crafting a tale that's inconsequential at best. In fact, the developer thought so little of this hackneyed saga that it included an option to turn off narrative entirely.
The option proves to be quite tempting, too, as the vacuous story offers precious little to savor. The adventure follows a band of clichés and anime tropes on a mission to save the land from evil. Along the way there's plenty of conversation, much of it long-winded and about nothing at all, astride some mercurial humor that occasionally delves into some creepy and potentially offensive territory.
Though the story certainly isn't charming, the aesthetics certainly are. It evokes memories of Odin Sphere, with gorgeous stylized visuals and a bright, cheery color palette. Really, the entire experience is somewhat reminiscent of Vanillaware's PlayStation 2 classic, which is no bad thing. You know, as long as you go in with tempered expectations.
Battles are the real focal point of the experience, though, and they come in three distinct forms. The standard Combat mode sees players take three heroes into battle for some vaguely clunky side-scrolling brawling. Each character has a unique fighting style, ranging from a nimble archer to a lumbering axeman, which players can rotate between one at a time.
It initially seems like a bog standard beat-'em-up, but things get more interesting with the introduction of the Skirmish and Siege modes. Much like Combat, Skirmish sees three protagonists enter the fray. However, they are backed up by a trio of brigades, each with their own specialized weapon type.
Skirmishes are much more tactical in nature, as players will have to select units based off the enemy's unique strengths and weaknesses. Then, while our heroes scuffle in the foreground, these brigades will duke it out in the backdrop, requiring players to engage in quite the juggling act. Beyond stacking the deck in your favor ahead of battle, players will need to know when to have units retreat, as the enemy will constantly try to counter your moves and machinations.
Sieges are akin to Skirmishes, but see all the brigades on the field simultaneously facing off against a powerful boss. Matching up against these formidable creatures can involve a fair bit of grinding, as bosses can plough through weak brigades and under-leveled characters with ease. It's these sequences that taught me the value of defense. At some point, I realized I could block attacks to build a special meter and unleash a powerful onslaught of my own. This game plan made for a pretty dull battle, but proved successful where more aggressive strategies failed.
That instance typified the combat experience, though. It's a slog. Even in its best moments, with killer battle tunes, magnificent visuals, and intriguing gameplay concepts; Battle Princess of Arcadias can be onerous. It lacks fluidity and the interface is often far too awkward or rigid for what the game demands of players. It's never insurmountable, but is frequently frustrating.
Battle Princess of Arcadias is a competent action RPG. Beyond the threadbare narrative and vacant cast are some interesting battle systems and lovely aesthetic qualities. Unfortunately, it has almost as much unfulfilled potential as it does promise, never managing to separate itself from the crowd or do much of note to truly demand your attention.
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