Princess Crown - Reader Retroview  

Surprisingly NOT a Crown Jewels Documentary
by JuMeSyn

30-45 hours


Rating definitions 

   The world of the action-RPG is a varied one, to say the least. Grouped into this enormous sub-genre are such seemingly unrelated titles as any given Legend of Zelda and any given Castlevania title developed by Koji Igarashi. Also into this overlarge sub-genre must fall what is unquestionably one of its pinnacles, the Japan-only Princess Crown. The Saturn was possessed of far too many quality titles that never saw release outside Japan, and one of the more pleasant to play must doubtless be considered this one.

   For an understanding of why Princess Crown is a perfect fit for the Saturn, its graphics must be observed in motion. Stills do not really do the fluid animation justice. More impressively, every sprite in the game is the size of what a player would expect to see in a fighting game. Indeed a random screenshot probably reminds one of a 2D fighting game; there is no overhead view, instead everything takes place in two dimensions. Slowdown is barely ever observed, although that is doubtless because battle is very rarely against more than one opponent simultaneously. Gradriel, the heroine, possesses a very large range of animations and they will (probably) all be seen by the end; but so does every enemy. This game is a beauty to behold, and deserves acknowledgement for such.

So THIS is where the WB frog ended up!  Good, because now he can be made to pay for his irritating ways! So THIS is where the WB frog ended up! Good, because now he can be made to pay for his irritating ways!

   Aurally the game is not as outstanding, though more because its visuals are so pretty to behold than because of any particular horrendous aspect to the sound. The music is not overly memorable, but all of it sounds good and there is a nice variety. Sound effects are also entirely respectable. There is no voice acting save unintelligible battle cries, which can be read as a plus or a minus to the sound.

   The battle system further cements the resemblance to a fighting game that the graphics will have placed within the player’s mind. This is unquestionably an RPG however, just one not beholden to any extant fighting system. Battles occur while wandering between towns randomly, with Gradriel being handed her sword by her fairy companion and then engaging in combat with her opponent. The presence of a fair amount of English text in battle helps orient non-Japanese speakers, also. The Power meter, which charges slowly if Gradriel is blocking and faster otherwise, dictates how much of anything in battle can be accomplished; if it is drained by her constantly attacking, Gradriel will take a breather and be left open to attack. Attacking is accomplished via a button press, with a combo attack unleashed if the attack button is repeatedly pressed. Jumping occurs by pressing ‘up,’ blocking by pressing ‘back;’ all in all this is a simplified fighting game setup. There is also the element of being able to dodge enemy actions by being observant; Gradriel can either retreat or go forward (usually onto the other side of the enemy) if the player has the reaction time to make it work. This does cost Power, however, so using it all the time means she won’t be able to do much else. Sometimes (more often later in the game) Gradriel’s fairy ally will also attack and do respectable damage, but her actions will not win the day. Enemies can use magical attacks also – but these can be preempted by Gradriel.

   Gradriel also uses magic, but it doesn’t work in the traditional sense. Various gemstones, once a Mana Essence is used on them outside of battle, are usable in battle as magical attacks. Gems have three charges however, and no way to get any more. Also, though gem use takes place quickly, it is not instantaneous. With almost all item uses, if Gradriel tries to use them while being beaten up by an enemy attack, the use will fail and the item will go flying. If an item is lost in this fashion (or thanks to more direct enemy action) Gradriel must recover it quickly or a goblin will snatch it (this happens within and outside battle). Healing items work in the same fashion, with the added caveat that most food takes a moment to eat and gain the benefit from – a precious moment that the enemy will all-too-often use as an attack opportunity. All items are limited in their usage, also, and having an item knocked away will usually deduct from its usage even if Gradriel derived no benefit from it! Upon victory in battle the enemy will grant experience points and a treasure chest. Opening the chest will reveal an item and some gold, which Gradriel must pick up quickly if it is not to either be goblin-napped or vanish.

Poor Proserpina just can't catch a break - who would have thought turning children into animals was such a problem? Poor Proserpina just can't catch a break - who would have thought turning children into animals was such a problem?

   Interaction is reasonably simple for the most part. Shops behave as would be expected, although there is nothing to equip. Money is also tight in the beginning, which means healing must be carefully meted out. The single large caveat with the interaction issue lies in the item arrangement. At the beginning, Gradriel has one item bag which can hold 8 items. These 8 items will vanish quickly in a tough battle, leaving her with no recourse. As the game progresses, a total of 3 additional item bags will be gathered, but these are held by her fairy companion and are inaccessible during battle. For storage of items not immediately required this system is useful – but it can make boss fights difficult. Navigation is quite easy, fortunately – when Gradriel reaches the end of an area she will see the world map and what destinations can be reached from her current location, and then either walk away or pick a destination and walk on.

   Challenge-wise, Princess Crown is particularly demanding at the beginning. The second boss is a dragon – and while these things remain unpleasant adversaries through the entire game, the first time is the most painful. It is very, very likely that the player will die more than once fighting it. Regular enemies come in numerous varieties, some nastier than others – but all demand attention. Once the player is acclimatized to the battle system the fights should be manageable but never easy – the demons that pop up in the later game are a pain to battle.

   Due to the game being in Japanese, there are occasionally objectives that are somewhat unclear, leading to some bouts of wandering – but even without getting lost the game should last at least 30 hours. In traditional terms the replay value is low (though plenty of optional quests are in the game and difficult to track down without a walkthrough) but upon completing Gradriel’s quest the ability to play a separate quest as Edward is attained. His story takes place somewhat concurrently with Gradriel’s, though it is much shorter. After completing Edward’s tale Portgus and Proserpina’s quests are opened up, and all together these quests take at least another 10 hours to see through. Once all of them are done, a final book is available – though what happens in that book I will not spoil.

   Princess Crown’s story is somewhat hard to follow, for the simple reason that it is in Japanese and the English usage of battles does not mean it was also weaved into the plot. By having as the protagonist a 13 year old princess, however, the game is already unique. Gradriel is the heir to the throne over her two older sisters because her sisters are twins, and twins are not permitted to take the throne. Initially Gradriel wants to aid her citizens directly, so she leaves the castle to take care of issues around the kingdom. This eventually leads her to issues that her mother was unable to resolve 25 years prior, in the form of a demon incursion led by the strange being Larva. Edward, who pops up in Gradriel’s story frequently, is searching for the Black Dragon due to its involvement in his family history. Portgus also pops up in Gradriel’s story; he has to deal with other pirates encroaching upon his sovereignty. And Proserpina is the first boss in Gradriel’s story; what Proserpina is doing and why can only be learned by playing her quest. I apologize for the poor story layout, but I have not found a translation yet. It should give a reasonable introduction to what is happening in the game, however.

   Princess Crown succeeds in being a unique title that is both cute and beautiful to behold (for the ‘cute’ definition, observe the opening where a little girl hands a storybook to her grandmother, from which the grandmother reads). For eight years a Saturn exclusive, it has recently been ported to the PSP – but for whatever reason the game remains stranded forever in Japan. It’s reasonably easy to play through without the story being in English, but such a quality title remaining outside the reach of import-shy RPGamers seems unfortunate. For the Saturn owner wishing something different, or the PSP owner looking for a worthy import, this title is unquestionably recommended.

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