For a while now, hack-and-slash has been significantly undermined as a legitimate genre in video gaming, but Code of Princess doesn't care about any of that. Code of Princess spits in the face of modern 3D gaming and says “I can do things better,” and then goes out and does it. Being touted as a spiritual successor to Sega Saturn classic Guardian Heroes, fans of this long-slumbering genre should already know that they’re in for quite a treat.
At its core, Code of Princess is a simple 2D hack-and-slash affair, but it also offers players some RPG elements as well. At the completion of each quest, you will earn experience points, gold, and sometimes even equipment. With enough experience points, your characters can level up, at which point you will be given skill points to distribute between different attributes such as attack, speed, or vitality. Being able to distribute these points however you’d like allows for much character customization, as does the ability to equip dozens of different weapons, accessories, and pieces of armor. There are four different playable characters in the main campaign, each with a very unique play style, so choosing the right one for you is another element to factor in. Rather than forcing you to use a balanced character, this game allows you to play however you want.
Combat in Code of Princess is simple. Pressing the A button will cause your character to perform a strong attack with B providing a weaker — but much quicker — swing. Chaining attacks is simple, but learning to time your blows for those perfect combos can take a bit of getting used to. Other simpler combos that are useful for tight spots can be performed with inputs such as pressing down on the D-Pad or Circle Pad twice before pressing A or B as well. You character’s movements can be controlled using either the D-Pad or Circle Pad, so finding a comfortable way for you to play shouldn't be too difficult. Not utilizing the 3DS’s touch screen for additional attacks or combo inputs might seem like a missed opportunity, but to be honest, having to factor in touch commands would only distract you from the intense on-screen action. The traditional 'pad and buttons' formula laid down by Guardian Heroes all those years ago has been adhered to, which is no bad thing at all.
There are new additions to the controls that weren't present in Treasure's 32-bit classic, though. Along with the basic strong and quick attacks, you can also lock onto a target by pressing Y. Once you’re locked on, all of your attacks will do twice the normal damage. Another option for delivering massive damage is to activate your character’s Burst by pressing X. Once Burst is activated, you will be able to deliver twice the normal damage until you deactivate it, or run out of MP, whichever comes first. The best part about all of this is that the amount of damage you can cause from locking on to your target and then activating Burst actually stacks, so you’re able to do up to four times the normal amount. This may seem like a bit of over-kill, but it can be incredibly helpful when dealing with some of the later bosses.
All of the action in this game takes place on battlefields themed to look like a forest, tavern, or wherever else you may run into evildoers. Each battlefield is divided into three parallel planes — or rails — that players can jump between by holding the L or R buttons and pressing up or down on the D-Pad. Having three separate planes to battle on adds an element of strategy to battles, as well as giving players more opportunities to avoid enemies when the going gets tough.
Code of Princess knows exactly what its players want, and that’s fast-paced frantic action without too much plot getting in its way. The story is kept simple, sticking to the basic “an evil queen has summoned monsters and now you need to stop them” shtick, but the way it’s presented makes you care about both your characters and the generic citizens you’re saving. The script is actually fun, and it doesn't take itself too seriously. So many games try to connect characters with players on a deep, emotional level, but here we have individuals who mercilessly poke fun at each other and actually attempt to make players laugh. The best part is that even though there are scenes of dialogue between each quest, the chatter is usually kept short, and can be skipped by anyone who really just doesn't care about plot at all — something that comes in very handy when you're playing through for the second or third time.
On top of the characters being so darned charming, this game is fully voice acted, so not only do you get to read their dialogue, but you get to hear it as well. Similar to the exceptional quality of the voice acting is the robust and lively soundtrack. Sweeping musical movements infiltrate each and every one of Code of Princess’s battle and story scenes, making for engaging and emotionally driven results. Turning the volume off and playing in silence would be a disservice to the game, and yourself.
All of the characters and environments have a beautiful hand-drawn look to them, all of which retains a Japanese anime style. Though the story scenes are displayed through a series of still images rather than full animations, the stills are detailed and do well to reflect the attitude and tone of the individual characters. The action is mostly smooth and seamless, but you will experience a little bit of slow down in some of the more frantic scuffles, especially if you have the 3D effect turned on, but it definitely shouldn't be considered a game-breaking flaw. Another point worth noting is that as beautiful as they are, some of the environments can be a bit repetitive. There are only so many ways to represent a forest, and after so many battles in the same setting, it’s nice to be able to move on. With the exception of some latency issues and repeated settings, Atlus really went out of their way to make Code of Princess as polished as possible, and their efforts shouldn't go unnoticed.
As you complete quests in the main campaign, you will also unlock those same quests in Free Play mode, and Bonus Quests that correspond to the campaign levels as well. While there are only four playable characters in the campaign, Free Play and Bonus Quests allow you to choose between eight different characters, more of whom you will meet as the story progresses. These additional two game modes provide a bit of variety to the gameplay, and they also act as an opportunity to gain more experience points and level up for the campaign.
On top of the two additional single player modes, there are also options to play multiplayer both locally and over the internet. Multiplayer includes both co-op and versus play, but unfortunately, all players will need to own their own copy of Code of Princess as no download play option is available. The incredible news, however, is that there are over 50 playable characters to choose from in versus play. As you complete each level of the single player campaign, the enemies and NPCs that you encounter become playable in versus mode, including the boss characters — another awesome feature that has been carried over from Guardian Heroes. There’s just something so satisfying about crushing an enemy while playing as the giant, screen-filling Juggernaut - it simply does not get old.
Are you a fan of hack-and-slash games? Do you enjoy video games with an engaging plot and silly yet interesting dialogue? Are you looking to have a genuinely fun time on your 3DS whether you’re playing alone, with friends, or over WiFi? Are you a massive fan of the retro classic Guardian Heroes? If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Code of Princess. This is the rare kind of game that seamlessly blends classic brawler gameplay with RPG elements while still managing to remain simple and fun, and is one of the most appealing games we've seen on the 3DS so far.