Before we begin today, let’s address one important thing right out the gate: if you have any problem whatsoever with frequent sightings of shapely princess bottoms clad in lacy panties, this game probably isn’t for you. And that’s okay! Conversely, if you have no problem whatsoever with frequent sightings of shapely princess bottoms clad in lacy panties and are in the mood for some solid point-and-click adventuring… well, read on.
In Prison Princess, you take on the role of a legendary hero. Unfortunately, you’re dead; your final battle against the Demon King didn’t go so well, you see, leaving the two once-prosperous kingdoms of Aria Zaza and Zanji Zed in smouldering ruins and their respective princesses whisked away to a dingy old castle.
All is not entirely lost, however; it appears that your spirit wasn’t quite willing to move on just yet. You awaken in a cell with Princess Zena of Zanji Zed, who is chained to the wall and not at all happy about the fact some weird ghost is staring at her unmentionables. In fact, she’s so upset at the situation that she ends up using the devastating combination of her raw physical strength and the force of nature that is tsundere energy to break free of her bonds… only to find herself with seemingly no escape. From here, it’s your job to help both Zena and her magically inclined, rather more gentle counterpart Aria escape the castle.
As a ghost, you’re unable to interact with anything directly. Consequently, all you can do is point the princesses’ attention at various things around the room and help them solve the various puzzles they’ll encounter. In essence, this is a fun twist on the usual point-and-click adventure format; here, rather than the protagonists or a narrator talking directly to you, an omniscient external observer, they’re addressing and interacting with a participant narrator. This, of course, leads to plenty of potential for cheeky, silly and innuendo-filled fun along the way – particularly when the princesses find themselves in a potentially embarrassing situation that they’re not sure they want you to see.
Your basic interaction involves moving a cursor around the screen and clicking on objects to tell the princesses to examine or operate them. Hotspots the girls can interact with aren’t indicated automatically; instead, you can use a spell to temporarily highlight them. You can only use this twelve times throughout the game, however – unless you cheat and save before you use it, of course, but we’d never suggest anything so underhanded – so it’s best saved for times when you’re really stuck.
All the action unfolds across five different rooms, giving something of a deliberately claustrophobic “room escape” feel to the game in its early stages. As the game progresses, however, puzzles start to span multiple rooms, and the overall structure becomes less linear. One aspect of the game that is a little obtuse in this regard is the fact that you sometimes need to return to previous locations and interact with puzzles you have already solved for a second time – and in a couple of cases, you need to use inventory objects on hotspots that no longer prompt any musings from the princesses and thus no longer appear to be relevant. The game provides helpful audible cues when you click on an object that has something new to see, though, and you can easily skip previously seen dialogue if you’re hunting for that elusive event you need to proceed.
The puzzles themselves are mostly self-contained affairs that unfold on a separate screen from the exploratory gameplay, and fall into two main types: timed and untimed. Untimed puzzles tend to be somewhat more substantial challenges of logic and reasoning that usually involve arranging a set of objects in appropriate positions, while the timed puzzles task you with experimenting to understand a simple mechanic, then making use of that mechanic to accomplish a particular goal. In all cases, you’re given all the information you need to succeed, either through dialogue prior to taking on the puzzle, or through pieces of paper you find scattered around the castle.
The timed puzzles have another little wrinkle, which is the fact that they’re accompanied by a beautifully animated Live2D depiction of one or both of the princesses in some sort of provocative, often lingerie-exposing situation as they attempt to follow your instructions under difficult circumstances. This is an obvious attempt to distract you from the task at hand, though it’s important to note that while you can click on the princesses during these sequences and get some distinctly erotic reactions, you are punished in the long term for this with a decline in their regard for you and a consequent inability to obtain the two “best” endings out of the possible five on offer. Conversely, solving a timed puzzle first time without getting distracted causes an increase in both princesses’ affection levels for you. Keep those ghostly hands to yourself, OK?
The game’s narrative is an interesting twist on and subversion of the conventions of Japanese fantasy video games, and the overall story presents an intriguing mystery that gradually teases you with lots of questions regarding the truth of the situation in which you and the princesses find yourselves. There’s a strong sense that the action is unfolding as part of a greater world, even though the game itself is very small-scale in geographical terms; it feels distinctly like Prison Princess could be followed up by other, quite different stories in the same overall narrative setting.
The presentation of the game is really beautiful. Princess Aria was designed by artist AkasaAi, who previously worked on developer Qureate’s visual novels Nin Nin Days and NekoMiko, while Princess Zena is the work of Waon Inui of doujin circle INU-Chord. The two characters have distinctive but complementary designs and act as good foils to one another, both visually and in terms of personality. The gentle and kind Aria is very much the traditional image of a princess, with her pastel-coloured clothing and blonde hair, and her delightful voice acting by Mao Amatsuka further enhances her pleasingly wholesome image. Meanwhile, Zena’s rough-and-ready, feisty nature is reflected through her monochromatic outfit and exaggerated facial expressions, and again her design is further complemented by actress Fumiko Uchimura’s energetic delivery of her lines.
The localisation is mostly solid, although there are a few little missteps here and there that should have been caught during proofreading and editing. Most notable of these is the obviously machine-translated interface text when you beat the game that helpfully informs you that extra features have been “turned off” rather than “unlocked”. There’s also one instance during the game itself of the wrong English word being used thanks to the source word being a homonym in the original language; some valves are incorrectly described as “bulbs” thanks to both “valve” and “bulb” being spelt and pronounced バルブ (“barubu”) in Japanese. These are relatively minor issues, however; the overall script is good, and the two princesses come across as extremely likeable characters with whom it is very pleasant to spend a few hours of your life – and that’s the really important thing in a character-centric game like this.
Prison Princess is an enjoyable puzzle adventure that combines invigorating brain-teasers with appealing characters, beautiful artwork and an intriguing narrative. While it’s pretty short – we cleared the game for the first time in four hours without having to resort to a walkthrough at any point – its multiple endings and unlockable features provide some replay value, and it’s worth bearing in mind that even classic adventure games from the genre’s “golden age” were only a couple of hours long at most. Here’s hoping we see more games of this type from Qureate in the future; they’ve clearly got a talent for them.