La Pucelle Tactics - Review  

Open Your Heart
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

25 to 40 hrs.


Rating definitions 

   La Pucelle Tactics is a traditionally styled Tactical RPG which adds just enough to the formula to make it unique. La Pucelle places far more emphasis on its story than the other Nippon Ichi games released recently, and does a wonderful job of tying its themes into all aspects of its design. In the end, La Pucelle Tactics is a fun game with a solid plot and some good design, but its saccharine attitude and bright visuals may turn some gamers off. Ironically, the gamers who will enjoy this tale of purification and acceptance are those who can accept its flaws.

   La Pucelle Tactics is a game steeped in western European ideas of religion, God and truth - hardly surprising for a game whose title comes from the French word meaning "The Virgin." The plot is largely about the triumph of good and the nobility of standing up for what you believe in, and even carries a little bit of the Joan of Arc story along for the ride. On a deeper level, though, the story takes the themes of acceptance and understanding and runs with 'em - there is no such thing in La Pucelle Tactics as a truly evil enemy. Even the game's primary antagonist has a positive side to him, though his hatred for humanity cloaks this well enough. In the end, the writing is a bit weak and the story borders on the maudlin, but the characters are fun and the overall arc works well.

   The point the game is trying to make becomes clear not only throughout the plot, but also through the game mechanics. It is perfectly possible to ram through the first part of the game on the strength of the main characters alone, but by the time players get to the more difficult maps it becomes a whole new story. To really make it through this game, players will have to accept monsters into their party - not only that, but through the Training system which governs their stat growth, the monsters will have to learn to accept the player too.

Caption Prier has some aggression issues to work out.

   The game runs on a fairly standard TRPG base - grid-based movement system, et cetera. It does have a few new and unusual ideas, but what's most interesting is how easy it is to spot the direct evolution of mechanics from La Pucelle Tactics to Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, particularly in the Dark Portal mechanic. These Portals are small holes on the battle which disgorge multicolored energy streams and, at set intervals, enemies. The Purify command can cleanse these portals and set off the energy trails, damaging enemies, healing friends, even unleashing a summon - or Miracle - attack on the enemy. The main difference between Dark Portals and Geopanels are simply in the type of effects unleashed and in the movement of the energy released. Overall, the combat system is a fun, complex affair, though marred by a number of bugs. For instance, it is perfectly possible to equip a character with four pairs of shoes, thereby boosting their Move stat to an astronomical height, have them walk to the edge of their range and then re-equip their normal items. Still, none of the bugs are enough to destroy the combat system, and in fact none of them even have to have an impact on combat should the player choose not to make use of them.

   Overall, the music is repetitive and forgettable. Its classical European instruments and themes work well for the game's setting, but the composer doesn't really do much with what he's got. Along those lines, the soundtrack works primarily as a testament to the degree of improvement Tenpei Sato experienced between La Pucelle Tactics and Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. The game's extensive voice acting is solid, particularly amongst the lead cast members, though Tara Strong's portrayal of the feline Chocolat Gang is probably a bit more disturbing than good.

Caption Purify an entire stage for a massive amount of cash.

   As with many NIS games, La Pucelle Tactics is simple, visually speaking. The use of illustrations and sprites as opposed to CG lends it a very personal and unique feel, though the limited scope of the cutscene visuals do hamper the story a bit. Character design is interesting, at times even inspired, though I would point out that based on complexity of design, the designer seems a bit more interested in the female cast members than the males. Monster design is a bit lackluster, but could've been improved with more unique designs. As it stands, many of the monsters encountered are merely palette swaps of one another.

   For the most part, La Pucelle Tactics is a fairly easy game. There are a handful of maps which may present a problem, but nearly every challenge can be overcome with either a slight change in tactics or a bit of levelling. The game does present a fairly staggering bit of sidequesting - beyond a number of optional bosses, Prier can actually enter the Underworld and get a unique alternate ending. All told, the game can take between twenty five and forty hours to complete, approximately.

   In a sense, La Pucelle Tactics truly is a work of art - it takes a theme and combines it with emotion and skill in order to tell a story and make a point. La Pucelle is not just a story about love and friendship, it's also a plea for understanding. Every person has good parts and bad parts of themselves - it's not necessarily Light and Darkness, it's just humans being human. While La Pucelle Tactics is marred by haphazard combat design details, somewhat weak dialogue and dull music, the flaws that exist within it act to further it's point - La Pucelle Tactics has good points and bad, but if you can accept it for it's problems, you'll have a far better time with it.

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