Unnecessary Mountain: A Review of Battle Princess of Arcadias
Sometimes less is more.
It’s an adage that can be applied to pretty much any creative pursuit, be it writing, cooking, or fashion. Videogames have begrudgingly acknowledged its importance due to technical limitations – the diminutive storage space of old school cartridges and other physical media a silicone vice on their lofty ambitions.
Then came the modern era, and with it games like Grand Theft Auto III and Morrowind, titles that both blew previously held expectations about size and scale out of the water. You see that mountain? You can not only go there, but you can build a summer house there!
Battle Princess of Arcadias got lost on the way up that mountain, trapped in a quagmire of seemingly arbitrary game modes and needlessly complex systems that do little to improve the otherwise solid experience.
At its core, Arcadias is an arcade brawler not unlike something like Dragon’s Crown or the Dungeons and Dragons Mystara games. You move from left to right smacking a small range of palette swapped monsters with anything from a sword to an axe to a series of arrows depending on your character choice, occasionally using screen clearing super moves when a certain bar fills up. You gain experience points and numbers go up and you kind of get stronger as you go along. There’s an ice level, a forest level, a volcano level, and two types of desert level.
In short, it’s a niche genre title. It lacks the enticing co-op play options that make other brawlers a fount of nostalgic glee, instead opting to focus on telling a very long single player story that’s packed to the brim with every anime trope you can imagine. There’s the thinly veiled obsession of the tomboy best friend for the titular Battle Princess, the quietly lecherous underwear obsessed rogue, and even the silent and demur cute girl with a big sword.
All of this works in a strangely comforting way, hearkening back to the days of anime series like Slayers and Ranma ½, even if it is a little shallow. The fighting is equally boilerplate, satisfying in its simplicity but lacking the kind of depth that would set Arcadias apart from a whole host of other similarly styled games.
Enter the mountain.
That basic left to right beatdown is only one part of the game. There are two other modes, ‘Siege’ and ‘Skirmish,’ that task you with commanding a small brigade of soldiers as they fight either a large monster or another army. Remember those RTS-lite missions from Black Ops 2? They’re that, just in 2D. You give commands, hope that the AI is smart enough to effectively follow them, realize they’re not, go grind out a few levels, and come back and flatten it by yourself. It’s so easy to brute force them, it’s almost like the developers knew that they were unnecessary fluff and included a thinly veiled “skip” button in the form of easily acquired experience.
Not to mention the other easily ignored filler features in the game: the oddly complex weapon upgrade system that grants middling increases to already slightly too high power ceilings, or the “favor” rankings that increase the odds different characters will randomly jump in for a one-off attack. Neither of them carry the weight of something like Dragon’s Crown’s cooking minigame and its incredibly useful mid-adventure buffs. Perhaps they gain prominence in the postgame, which features an endless dungeon, but after an hour of killing the same enemies over and over, it sure didn’t seem like it.
There are things to like in Battle Princess of Arcadias. The different combat styles feel really good, with swords favoring a more nimble action set while axes plow through enemies with reckless abandon. Spears are suitably difficult to master, favoring defense over offense, and the lone archer is petrifyingly precise in his attacks. Wreaking havoc on the local monster population in the genre standard ‘Combat’ missions feels exceptionally solid, no matter what flavor of violence you prefer.
But once it strays off that well-trodden path, Arcadias loses its way too easily. To drive the metaphor into the ground –it’s a game that can’t see the forest for the trees, even if it’s desperate to ensure that each is in place.