An unfulfilled potential for greatness
Atlus's latest US release Code of Princess has an unfulfilled potential for greatness marred by technical issues, a shallow plot, and erratic character designs but, through it all it manages to show that the beat em' up RPG sub-genre is still alive and well.
A spiritual successor to Treasures' classic Guardian Heroes, Code of Princess blends classic side-scrolling beat-em-up action with RPG leveling mechanics and loot with moderate success. The game follows standard JRPG conventions of having the titular "Code of Princess"(Yes, she is referred to as such), being thrust into a world in the balance struggle where she must awaken the power within her magical sword the "DeLuxcalibur" in order to vanquish the invading armies of monsters and enemy troops, along the way gathering allies and thwarting evil wherever it's found. What the plot lacks in originality it more than makes up for in humor and character design (main character aside). With dozens of characters to unlock and play as, featuring different and fun movesets, fully voiced dialog, and some truly great character designs Code of Princess actually reminds me more of the Suikoden series more than Guardian Heroes.
The character design in Code of Princess is in a word astounding, the myriad of interesting characters from a battle nun, ninja masters, a necromancer who uses a sentient skull as a ventriloquist dummy, and a bard who inexplicably uses a lute/keytar as an electric guitar. The characters are well thought out and cleverly designed, everyone that is except our heroine Princess Solange Blanchefleur de Lux who is wearing what can best be described as pasties a thong and plate gauntlets. Her outfit which is described in game as "A royal gown" is probably the worst case of fanservice I've seen in a long time. Which is made all the more strange by the fact that no one else in the game either acknowledges this, other than a few throwaway lines from thugs, or wears anything else resembling it.
The heart of any beat-em-up is its combat which is fluid, fast, and fun. Having 2 main attack buttons for combos, a lock on attack that increases damage of the last enemy hit, and a charge button to unleash more powerful attacks that can be combined with the lock on attack to increase your damage output 4-fold, all while keeping a "3 plane system" to give players and enemies the foreground and background to fight in as well as the central fighting plane. The ability to dodge roll and block round out your characters' arsenal of moves with which to dispatch your foes. The soundtrack to the game is nothing to sneeze at, it closely resembles arcade beat-em-ups of days past, and the first run of the game does come with the soundtrack and an artbook featuring character art of 12 of the games characters. All of this would be well and good if major technical issues didn't hold the game back, even when playing with 3D mode off I was unable to break what looked to be 20 frames per second even with one enemy on screens and neither of us attacking. Though in its defense turning the 3D on all the way didn't hurt the framerate noticeably.
In the end (technical issues aside) Code of Princess had a lot of potential but it just that potential, it fails to live up to the legacy of Guardian Heroes and fails to carve out its own identity. The true saving graces for this game are it's well thought out and executed combat, truly great character design for the most part, and its truly wicked sense of humor though in the end it isn't enough to make anyone overlook both its technical issues, bland plot, and fanservicey nature. It's worth playing through at least once if only for the humor as it at times has made me laugh just as hard as something like Saints Row the Third or Sam & Max.