By Video_Game_King 3 Comments
How crazy is it that somebody managed to finish that Princess Crown translation after all this time? Probably not as crazy as me beating the game in a coke-fueled frenzy lasting 36 hours. But still, i.....oh, wait, this is Code of Princess, a completely different game unrelated to Princess Crown. Too bad. I was hoping for some proto-Vanillaware action. Instead, we're gonna have to deal with a beat-em-up that's more concerned with being funny than it is with actually being fun.
And it's not even that good at the whole "funny" part, either. I mean, that isn't to say that the game can't be funny, because clearly, it can. On your quest to ignore the genocidal implications of your quest (and restore peace to the Kingdom, I guess), you'll come across a wide array of colorful characters, like the vastly incompetent princess Solange or the androgynous "I honestly had to look up her gender" Ali or the annoying "he's a rock star magician because why the fuck not" Allegro. My personal favorite has to be Juppongi, if only for the antisemitic levels of ham in his performance. None of the other cast can reach such ham levels, but the levels they do reach are quite good on their own. Everybody plays off each other very well and they each have good comedic chemistry, leading to some funny scenarios here and there. Well, at least I think they're funny. I imagine they'd have to be if they weren't in this game.
No, I don't mean that in the BioShock Infinite sense, but more in the sense that Code of Princess sucks as a game, and the writing isn't funny enough to hide that fact. Sometimes, it feels like humor's used as a cheap excuse for bad writing. Why bother writing non-expository dialogue or giving your characters proper motivations to beat things up when you can simply ignore all that and say it's funny that you ignored all that? Worse yet, the humor can also bring those flaws to the surface for all to see. Perfect example: remember Allegro from before? There's this recurring joke of his about being a few experience points shy of becoming a sage. Now while Code of Princess does have an experience system, it doesn't have any type of class system (at least not any that I know of), so the joke only calls attention to the fact that it doesn't make any damn sense. And for that matter, if there are only two races in the world, then what the fuck are Allegro and Zozo? Do elves and the undead still count as human? And why does this guy only speak in grunts when he introduces himself with full sentences? And don't get me started on all the contrived end-game plot twists that create more questions than answers.
Mainly because I'm gonna talk about the gameplay now. Not the core beat-em-up gameplay, though, because that isn't very good. Instead, I'm gonna talk about the RPG frills that somehow manage to be much better than anything else. Not perfect, mind you, but certainly better than what the rest of the game's offering you. The multiple characters come to mind easily enough. I know I mentioned their distinct personalities before, but it goes so much deeper than that. From the ridiculously fast Ali to the magic-spamming Allegro, each character has their own unique play style to fuck about with. Rather appropriately, I stuck with the only two characters I mentioned specifically because the others were heavy and unwieldy messes. Granted, they could have become more than that had I bothered to use them more, but why I would continue using a character I didn't enjoy using is completely beyond me, especially when I had those two other characters I could always fall back on.
Wait, what was that about them becoming more than that? Oh, right, I forgot to mention all the cool customization the game throws your way. The various weapons you get are neat to experiment around with, if only for the myriad strategies they open up, but I'm more interested in the leveling system. After every level, whatever character you happened to be playing as jumps up about twelve quadrillion levels. Hell, this even applies to the tutorial levels that aren't even a part of the main game. While this may seem to devalue the act of gaining a level, that's only because it does. But it's OK, because the real value comes from your new found ability to customize your character any way you damn well please. Do you want the princess' defense to shoot through the roof? You can do that. How about a rocking elf sage who can one-shot anything in his path? Because that's possible, too. Maybe you're in the mood for a character who can move faster than time itself (like I ended up making)? What the hell's stopping you? You You can make whatever the hell you want in Code of Princess. Within these RPG systems, the sky's the limit.
But at its core, Code of Princess isn't an RPG, but a beat-em-up. A really mediocre beat-em-up. There isn't a lot of variety, and the game doesn't do much to actively draw you in or engage you. The game just drops you into an arena with some baddies and then asks you to press A and B a bunch of times until you're the only one left standing. That's all there is to it; there are no other types of challenges to be found in the game. I know that sounds reductive, but there really isn't much else to get other than that. Oh, sure, there are some other mechanics to spice things up, but rarely did I find them necessary. Who needs to use magic or more than one plane when simply mashing buttons in a frenzied madness will get the job done 80% of the time? This isn't strong enough to carry an entire game. Maybe short bursts, but definitely not the few hours of your life the game asks you to invest.
That's not even my biggest problem with the combat, though. No, that honor has to go toward just how chaotic everything feels. Most of the time, I have absolutely no goddamn clue what's going on. The character I happen to have chosen will do some moves that I guess are tied to the buttons I pressed (it's never entirely clear that they are), and the screen will explode with action, along with explosions. Enemies fly all over the place, and my character has suddenly ended up somewhere completely against my knowledge. All the while, I'll just stare dumbfounded, wondering what I'm supposed to do with this. And so we come to the one issue at the very heart of Code of Princess: there's no real role for the player. The game doesn't really care about you. Not in a cruel sense, mind you, but in more of an apathetic sense. It can't be bothered to learn of or even acknowledge your existence, and the result is the repetitive, pell-mell mess I've just described for your. But at least it's funny. Sort of.
- An at least somewhat humorous story...
- ...and some decent RPG mechanics...
- ...can't mask the flimsy gameplay lying beneath it all.
Guys, I have something to tell you: hedgehogs on motorcycles.
I really have to stop choosing games based on whatever stupid pun I can make with their titles. That's how I ended up with Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom. Some of you may be looking at this game right now, unable to comprehend why I'm getting so worked up over it. What's so bad about this game? It's just a cutesy little adventure game for the kid folk, right? Oh, how wrong you are. With no consistent logic and a story more concerned with mediocre humor than it is with actually making sense, Princess Tomato somehow manages to be one of those rare games that doesn't warrant the amount of attention it's garnered over the years. And with most of you not knowing just what the hell this game is, that's saying something.
Of course, not knowing anything about the game, you'd assume there was more to it than the title. There isn't. It's nothing more than a structureless mess that makes shit up as it goes along. Hell, look at the basic premise: You are in the Salad Kingdom, there's a Princess Tomato who has been captured by the evil Minister Pumpkin. You're supposed to rescue her. That's pretty much the whole story. Not much more development of the world or the political situation or why such a squishy game is dealing with the incredibly dark themes of political betrayal, terrorism, and glory holes. It's just a vague quest to rescue a princess and even vaguer, more spurious means of accomplishing that goal. It's all terribly confusing, and without any organization or even charm to make up for that, I feel like the game's simply wasting my time. What of value is this game supposed to impart unto me?
A billion vegetables references and puns? Joy. I guess it's supposed to be lighthearted and whimsical, but it honestly comes across as the very definition of gimmicky. I may be harping on this (if I'm not now, I will be soon), but there's no real logic or reason why the characters are named after vegetables. Few of the characters are definitively tied to their vegetables, since the game can't decide if the characters are actually vegetables or just humans that are vaguely vegetable themed (it doesn't help that there are actual humans in the game (and whatever the hell this is)); and there's no readily available logic for why a certain character is named after a certain vegetable, so it just looks like the game's pulling it all from the deepest corners of its monstrous rectum. For example, that Princess Tomato in the title? Her father is broccoli. Wrap your head around that one.
OK, so the story can't be bothered to try, and the vegetable motif makes no real sense. That can only mean the gameplay is strong enough to make you ignore all that, right? Precisely, and by "precisely", I mean "not in the slightest". Your quest to save the Princess involves choosing among five trillion useless options to solve puzzles that will advance the story. You're usually limited to a small handful of areas, each only having a few things to do in any of them. While that may sound limiting, you'll soon learn that you're going to need every advantage you can get, because these puzzles make absolutely no sense. Because isn't that what you want in a game that tests your reasoning abilities and problem solving skills? Puzzles where you're forced to brute force your way through the story until you "figure out" what the developers expected of you?
The reasons for this failure are numerous. Many of the puzzles require you to act on knowledge that you possibly couldn't have known until after you solved the puzzle, like when you find out that you can trade an umbrella for water wings after you've already done so. Why would trading an umbrella get you water wings? Because
how else are you supposed to catch the sewer fish most of the puzzles establish absolutely no link between action and consequence. Perfect example: you're tasked with escaping a police station, and you need a lamp to disguise yourself. (It gets stupider.) Search as you might, there isn't a lamp to be found anywhere in the station. Until you enter a room with an on-duty cop who had just moments before trapped you in a torture room. Somehow, this magically spawns a lamp in a storage room that was utterly bereft of lamps just before. How were you supposed to know the game stocked that room with lamps? You weren't, especially since the game had explicitly warned you against doing the very thing you need to do to advance the game.
And you know what? Amazingly, it gets worse from there. Some of the puzzles don't even make any damn sense from....well, any perspective, really. For instance, early in the game, you encounter this book shop guy. It is your job to beat the shit out of him, steal his property (in this case, a key), and then get thrown in jail for it all. Why did you grab the key? Because it opens the door to the torture room that your jailers eventually throw you into, duh! Why did the book store owner have this key? And why did the police let you keep this key (and your aspirin and trash donut)? Nobody knows. Apparently, the fine people at Hudson were too busy listing off vegetables to be bothered to think any of this through. Still, it could always be worse. You could always hold onto grape juice for three chapters just to give it to a person whom you never knew and who never serves any purpose in the narrative after you give him the juice. You know, like what happens almost immediately after the key incident.
Oh, but the suck gets worse from there. It gets far, far worse. Do you like having to select the same option over and over again to get anything done in the game, the game not even bothering to meaningfully engage your time or mental faculties? Because that's a heavily recurring element in the epic that is Princess Tomato and the Salad Kingdom. Or what about when your useless sidekick dumps items out of your inventory arbitrarily (only so the game can make you collect them all over again)? Those of you thinking to utter the phrase "narrative value" to defend such horrible crimes must remember that this is a story where our hero tries to evade enemy attention by focusing it on himself. If pressed to find something positive about the game, I'd probably fail miserably. That's because the only thing I could think of was the instrumentation. Not the music, mind you; I can only call that "peppy", which isn't saying much. Instead, I can really only very vaguely compliment the instrumentation. Man, you know your game sucks when that's the best it has to offer. You also know it sucks when it has a simplistic art style that would make MS Paint proud, absolutely no consistent logic in either its story or its progression, and half the mechanics rely on sheer dumb luck. Sometimes, I have to stop and ask myself why I feel obligated to restore these games from the obscurity they'd previously enjoyed.
- Hark, brave hero! The princess calls for your aid! But first, here are a bunch of vegetable references.
- Also, can you find a connection between a scorpion and a broom? Fuck it; we'll make it work.
- Oh, and something about rock/paper/scissors. Guess what? It sucks, too.