Code of Princess’s box art gives an unusual impression about the game that might put players off, as I know I waited to pick it up for a while based on the two messages I seemed to be getting from it. First, the scantily clad protagonist seems to imply the game is hoping sex appeal might draw in audiences, but then the puzzled expression of the woman makes it difficult to glean what the tone of the game could possibly be. If you do decide to give Code of Princess a chance though, you’ll find it is actually a light-hearted game with very little reliance on skimpy outfits to make its gameplay or story interesting.
Code of Princess’s plot has a very simple set-up that is helped along by how much color and character its core players are given to enhance it. The game takes place in a magical world similar to most medieval fantasy settings, the humans and monsters seeming to get along until one day the monsters begin attacking human settlements. When an attack hits the kingdom of DeLuxia, Princess Solange is forced to flee, taking with her the DeLuxcalibur to both protect the important blade and fight her way through any trouble she might find. Very quickly it becomes clear that the monster attacks suspiciously line up with the rise in power of a certain group who appears to conveniently defeat the monsters, and Solange aims to reclaim her kingdom and take down the monster threat, joined by a steadily growing cast of characters along the way. The characters are absolutely what enhances the game’s story from a boilerplate excuse for battles to something with fun cutscenes and conversations, although the game does lay on the story scenes a bit thick at the start, barely squeezing in any gameplay before it finally balances the two better after the first few levels.
Code of Princess contains a lot of what I call high personality characters, where despite not going through much character development, the cast has plenty of fun and distinct character traits that makes their interaction enjoyable to watch. Solange quickly picks up a party of adventurers to join her in her quest who are great for setting up humorous moments with each other. Ali the thief is essentially the straight man to everyone’s nonsense, quick to chastise or quip at the silliness of characters like the bard Allegro, an elf who speaks more like he’s a modern age teenager than a medieval fantasy character and is quick to play his guitar like a rock and roll musician. Lady Zozo probably is the least interesting of the four main characters, the necromancer falling back on a running “not a zombie” joke that never evolves, but other cast members carry the weight as well. Solange’s ally Master T is portrayed as a big tough martial artist who draws on animal spirits for his power, only for it to be revealed his attacks are named after mundane actions from unassuming critters, and Solange’s team of heroes will go up against villains like Sergeant Emble and Ergeant Semble, a pair of knights who can’t even keep their names straight, and Baku Juppongi, the leader of a group of ninjas who speaks in an interesting roundabout way and acts as if he is in a stage play. Princess Solange is probably the only genuine character in the game, the trusting and friendly princess drawing humor more from her obliviousness to the oddity of the world rather than going along with the silliness the other characters are engaging in. While these characters and their scenes together certainly enhance their game, it does feel like they’re being held back a bit by the medium, because if the beautifully animated intro cutscene is any clue, this would be much better off as an anime. More time to watch the characters interact and giving them the room to develop would benefit them much better than trying to find room for it between gameplay segments.
Thankfully, while the gameplay does pull away from the characters the game is clearly having fun writing for, the 2D beat ’em up action manages to carry its weight as well. Most levels in story mode contain at least one battle, the player taking one character into the action to beat up all the enemies or take down the boss before time runs out. The timer is mostly to prevent things from dragging rather than a constant pressure, as many battles, so long as you’re strong enough, can be ended in a reasonable timeframe. In Code of Princess, you have what are called Weak and Strong attacks that can be chained together to execute different techniques, and directional inputs can change them to be things like a rushing strike, a launching slash, or an aerial slam down on your opponent. There are certainly uses in varying up your approach based on how strong an enemy is in order to make them more vulnerable, many characters packing magic attacks as well to let you hit foes from afar or otherwise impact them. This decent base is further enhanced by Code of Princess piling on extra elements to its battle, such as the battlefields having three horizontal planes you can hop between, allowing you to evade enemies better than just jumping and guarding would allow. If you need a power boost against certain enemies, you also pack the ability to lock-on to a foe to increase the damage they take while also seeing their health bar. You can also activate Burst for another boost, which briefly stuns nearby baddies and gives you a damage boost as long as you have the magic power to sustain it. While you won’t likely need to get too saucy with basic enemies, the tougher ones and bosses encourage exploring the extent of your abilities to better survive and dish out damage, especially since they start getting more complex moves and unique side effects to their attacks as the game gets harder and new types of monsters appear.
On top of the basic combat mechanics, the game also has some RPG elements, and these, unfortunately, are hit and miss. In Code of Princess’s story mode you can play as any of the four main characters, each one having unique styles to their attacks and full movesets to match them, like Zozo’s magic focus and Allegro’s damaging music, but to stay at a decent level of strength to tackle the game, you need to level up characters by getting experience through clearing levels, something that is a bit tedious save if you want to start with Solange and stick with her, which is at least an enjoyable experience if you chose that route. It does mean that the variety is sort of hard to engage with, with even the post-game missions increasing in strength pretty quickly to make them hard to train up on save through repetition. The game does let you play as most any character from the game you like during those post-game missions though, whether they be a good guy, villain, monster, or even an old lady from the village, although some are clearly jokes or have much shallower movesets than important characters. The main problem with them though is again how hard it is to train them up to even be the right level for the battles. There is a bit of an equalizer that can make up for the level discrepancies in equipment, the player able to get new weapons, armor, and accessories that can increase stats or add special effects to the character like making them stronger against certain enemy types. The main usefulness I found though is that Code of Princess is much too stingy with healing, especially considering how some enemies have incredibly strong attacks or can juggle you with explosions or other constant effects, so once I found an item that let me heal while in Burst mode, it became a permanent fixture in my equipment. While the RPG mechanics do add an interesting secondary layer of depth to the affair, they also restrict it from being better enjoyed, with the game becoming more about strength grinding than intelligent fighting at some points, meaning it’s harder to enjoy the breadth of content the game tries to offer the player.
THE VERDICT: Code of Princess feels like a game that would rather be split into two separate pieces of media. The characters of the game’s story are funny, interesting, and would probably have the room to grow and interact more in an anime, but they still do make the game’s story enjoyable whenever a cutscene begins to play. The gameplay that tries to mix beat ’em up action with RPG mechanics feels like it needs to be either in a much bigger game or adjusted to fit the amount of characters and content offered, but it still has some strong core mechanics to provide varied and challenging battles with different characters to use if you can overcome its shortcomings. The two sides of Code of Princess come together to be something enjoyable, but had they split off to better explore and refine what they were going for, they could have been great by delivering on their promising designs.
And so, I give Code of Princess for 3DS…
A GOOD rating. Code of Princess is pulling off its balancing act of characters and combat just well enough that it still can be fun to play through, but certain things like restrictive RPG mechanics and little room to develop the cast keep it from being the strong, memorable experience it had the potential to be. Even with just Solange if you can’t find the time to level up her party, the game can still be a strong playthrough where battles can challenge you in different ways and you can answer them with quite a few different moves of your own.
Usually around this point in a review I would suggest some of the changes I think could be made to improve the game, but after finishing this 3DS title, I learned of its Switch remake Code of Princess EX that already has made many of the adjustments I’d suggest. More playable characters in the story like Master T and a samurai named Tsukikage are now available, and characters can level up in tandem, allowing you to more easily swap in a character and try out their unique moveset. Co-op, which was once restricted to extra missions, now is also available in the story mode, with perhaps the only change I’d consider a negative being removing English voices entirely rather than having it an option along with the Japanese voice cast. Still, it seems clear that Code of Princess EX fixes some of its issues with the RPG mechanics and makes for the more playable experience, but without a significant content update or other major change to basics, it is clearly the preferred way to play it, just not one that completely melds together the plot and gameplay that seem better fit for two separate and fleshed out experiences rather than one compacted yet enjoyable video game.