Towards the end of the life of the PS2 two very different games were released. Odin Sphere, a majestic 2D side scrolling fighter and GrimGrimoire, a beautiful looking, 2D side scrolling strategy game. Both incredibly niche and very Japanese they didn’t sell well but proved to be a couple of the best and most unique games on the system. Battle Princess of Arcadias attempts to merge the two different forms together with a mixed level of success.
Let’s get a major annoyance out the way right from the off. The game has an auto save but it’s turned off and nothing in the game will direct you towards it. Of course this means that it’s likely that you will lose hours of game if you aren’t careful as the game never saves unless you tell it to. It caught us out and it’s bound to catch some of you out as well.
The game breaks itself down into a number of different sections and play styles. The central hub area allows you to stock up on items, buy new weapons and also enhance them. Forging isn’t new to this type of game and you can upgrade and build new weapons to your hearts content and you’ll need to because the game has an incredibly tough difficulty level that requires a serious grind at points.
Once out in the world you can undertake missions which split themselves into different types of formats. The most standard mission involves taking your party of three chosen characters to a level and simply clearing it of any monsters. It’s likely you’ll need to revisit levels to level up and gather money and items. It’s also likely you’ll need to do this because you’ve forgotten to put the auto save on.
Aside from simply getting stronger you need to level all your characters up so that they can lead more powerful troops into the skirmish section of the game. These types of levels are like a simplified version of GrimGrimoire. Your character fights on the front screen with defeated enemies filling various morale and special move bars. The real battle in these sections goes on at the back of the screen. Your troops go charging forward and attack the enemy while you issue commands. You have a number of different soldiers to pick from and they act out an elaborate game of rock, papers scissors with you needing to keep swapping different types in and out.
In truth, though it’s an interesting concept it doesn’t really work as well as it could. In practice, trying to issue commands on a spinning wheel while fighting on the front screen is awkward and the amount of grinding required to get your troops up to a decent level is annoying. Something that works a little better are the boss battle ‘siege’ levels. Here a big beastie like a dragon invades a village and you lead a militia against it. This section allows you to issue orders to your troops to assist you take it down.
These fights can drag as you have to get the monsters shield down before being able to do any damage to its already sizable health bar. Do enough damage and the monster will become stunned allowing you to dish out a super damaging special attack. You can set your troops to attack and defend and also to retreat if needed. You need to be careful as losing all your militia will result in instantly failing the level. It takes some time to get used to and even the tutorial levels are tough but it’s an interesting system.
Battle Princess of Arcadias is not a game for everyone. There’s very little learning curve and it can be incredibly obscure about what you need to do or even how to do things. That said, it’s beautiful to look at and there aren’t many games out there like it. If you can break through the walls it puts up for the player then there’s a rich and rewarding experience to be had. You’ll need to be ready to make the investment though but players ready to take the plunge shouldn’t be disappointed. It’s not as majestically beautiful as Odin Sphere (what is), or as in depth as GrimGrimoire but it offers something different and works the majority of the time.