Proudly continuing the Japanese tradition of awkward-sounding fantasy game titles, Code of Princess arrives on Switch in ‘EX’ form courtesy of new publisher, Nicalis. The 3DS original launched back in 2012 and positioned itself as a spiritual successor to the SEGA Saturn cult classic, Guardian Heroes. This souped-up edition promises a range of improvements, although it’s not quite the revamp we were hoping for.
This is a hack-and-slash game with some RPG trappings (you level up and use stat-altering equipment). The story is broken into thirty-or-so ‘Quests’ – essentially side-on battle arenas. You arrive in an area, get attacked by waves of enemies, perhaps defeat a boss, then the narrative takes you to a new area and the cycle repeats.
As with classic 2D brawlers, the controls aren’t too complicated. ‘A’ and ‘B’ offer different attacks, with special moves available by pressing down twice on the analogue stick before attacking. Each fight screen is separated into horizontal ‘rails’ which you hop between by holding ‘L’ or ‘R’ and pushing the stick up or down. It feels restrictive at first (and we’d have preferred the option to jump between rails using the more easily-pressed Z-triggers), but success relies on herding and prioritising enemies to your advantage.
Pressing ‘Y’ locks on to a specific foe and increases the damage dealt. You can also activate a limited number of ‘Bursts’ which drain a Magic meter for additional damage. This was toggleable on 3DS but deemed overpowered, so now, once activated, it can’t be paused. You develop a satisfying flow with your chosen fighter, but after hitting a couple of frustrating difficulty spikes in the middle of the campaign, we found ourselves wishing we were a little OP. Hack-and-slash enthusiasts will certainly enjoy it, but Code of Princess won’t convert naysayers to the genre – take the score at the bottom of the page and add or subtract a point according to your appetite.
Quests are spread across multiple modes: Campaign, Free Play, Bonus and Tutorial. Free Play allows you to replay quests using any of the fifty characters you unlock throughout the game proper. The original four Campaign characters are now joined by a handful that were previously relegated to Free Play. Bonus Quests offer further opportunities to level up and online multiplayer is available in co-op and versus flavours. Lobbies were empty at the time of review, but we’ll be sure to update if online play isn’t up to scratch.
The original roster remains unchanged, from the heroine who wears little more than a belt into battle to the genteel villain who got lost en route to the masquerade ball. It’s a suitably oddball (and pleasantly female-strong) cast with impossibly large swords and impossibly larger hair. Rather than spoil any of the story, we’ll leave it to the description of the eponymous princess to give you a taste of the tone: “Solange Blanchefleur de Lux, Princess of DeLuxia and protector of the sacred blade, DeLuxcalibur.” Quite.
Suffice it to say, it’s nonsense of the highest calibre, but – crucially – the game’s tongue is firmly in its cheek. It jokes about inappropriate battle attire and fantasy conventions, and the localisation is possibly the best thing in the game. Cutscenes are skippable but you’d be missing out.
Which leads us to our first doubts over this Switch edition: the cracking English language voice over is not included here. Whether due to oversight or bureaucracy, it’s a baffling omission. A Japanese VO option would have made a fine addition to the package but losing elements from the original is disappointing, especially for a game purporting to be the definitive version.
In general, the audio varies in quality. A barrage of MIDI trumpets grate on your nerves in the introduction, as do the repetitive battle cries during combat – you get the feeling that those diminutive 3DS speakers helped disguise this. Perhaps our expectations are simply different on a home console in 2018, but the soundtrack doesn’t quite hold up like other games of the period.
Elsewhere you’re left wondering where exactly the ‘EX’ is hiding. Fire up the game in docked mode and welcome to Jaggy Town, population: Princess Jiggle-Physics. While portraits and text look sharp (and pleasingly large), the character models display line artefacts and the action looks a bit ropey on a big screen. The little 3DS helped to gel the art styles together in the frame but there’s a visual disconnect in HD. Change to handheld mode, however, and the softer presentation makes everything look significantly better – portable mode certainly offers the better visual experience.
So what else is there to justify that ‘EX’ tag? Well, 60fps is a notable upgrade over the original, which struggled to deliver a steady 30fps. Couch co-op is now possible without needing multiple consoles and copies of the game, and the simple controls lend themselves well to snapping off a joy-con with a mate. Stat allocation is now automatic, with manual customisation limited to the gear you equip. While this preserves each character’s individuality, we’re not convinced removing the ability to tailor your favourite fighter to your specific playstyle is necessarily a change for the better.
Other alterations include rebalanced AI and some redrawn textures, although you’ll only notice if you have an intimate knowledge of the original. Your entire party now earns XP as you play (although at a reduced rate), making levelling up less of a chore. All-in-all, there are changes, then, but not universally positive ones.
If you’re a fan of the original, you’ll likely enjoy the minor tweaks and upgrades on offer, but don’t dive in expecting a ‘remaster’. You get couch co-op and a healthy framerate, although it doesn’t look great on a TV and the original’s excellent English voiceover is AWOL. Despite modest enhancements, the 3DS origins of this six-year-old game are plain to see, which may put off newcomers. It’s a solid hack-and-slash experience, as it always was – we just wish it did more to earn that ‘EX’ addendum.