Battle Princess of Arcadias is so cute it looks like it was designed by a team of scientists specifically to appeal to me. Not just the aesthetic, which is colorful and adorable and puts every single character in outrageous costumes; the main character has a ludicrously huge crown on her head because duh princess, which my friend Andi described as “impractical for everything, but especially fighting.” She is upbeat and friendly and unspeakably violent, and I love her and want her to be my best friend. The character designer is so dedicated to the concept of cute girls that their attempts to draw a grizzled veteran character are just hilarious, this axe wielding guy with sideburns and rosy cheeks and dimples like he is a forty year old baby. The king of the land is a goose and everyone is ridiculous and over the top. The humor is slapstick, non sequitur, and absurd, sometimes just a little too out of synch with how cutesy the whole thing is, which I especially enjoy, and the humor is weird and disjointed just enough to be interesting. It’s weird. In a fun way.
The aesthetic feels like a more plastic and pastel Vanillaware, without the worn look or attention to detail or heaviness of their animation. Characters in Battle Princess of Arcadias kind of flop around like puppets on strings in the same disjointed and abrupt way as the jokes go in the cutscenes. It is much less fun here. There are lot of moves that the characters start with and they gain more as they level up, but the options are actually fairly limited since most of their interesting attacks come at the end of combos; like the girl with bunny pajamas and a magic staff has a long range projectile, a deep hitting wave of energy, and can make herself glow and push everyone away, but in order to do it, she has to strike air with the first two hits of her combo. That’s a little silly, and combos are always exactly the same and don’t really offer much options for beginning an attack other than approaching from the ground or the air, and also, who the heck ever makes the input for a dive kick down down button instead of just down button? Smacking enemies around is as repetitive and easy as anything, but if you want to do anything interesting or different the game will not really let you, though you can use a limited, slowly gained meter to do a few little tricks. In contrast, Dragon’s Crown uses a single button for most attacks but is incredibly fluid and intuitive and gives you tons of options for different approaches and ways to start and finish combos and it’s not extremely favorable.
This game is not The Most Excellent Beat Them Up, but it kind of already knows that. It is the first effort of a brand new company, and it seems aware that it has to offer something a little different. It has some neat stuff; for example, you can switch between three characters instantly, and they will occasionally assist each other in a kind of Marvel vs Capcom 3-inspired fun time. That’s pretty nice, and it does help the characters not get too boring. What Battle Princess of Arcadias is really wanting to sell, though, is the skirmish and siege battles, which involve being joined by armies of non-playable AI troops to kind of do stuff around you.
Sieges are the boss battles, and they are pretty neat. You have a bunch of little guys following you, and they help you do damage to the boss. The boss does a lot of damage, which you can and must block effectively to survive, but the bosses are not quite as clever, and depending on their formation (defensive, balanced, ornattack) they may block some of the time or none at all and die in droves. It is fairly funny and sad to watch the latter. They help you raise a meter that lets you do a lot of damage, but if they all die you lose, so you have to make sure you’re not abusing them too much.
That’s fairly interesting in theory! In practice, the formation of the troops does not feel like it matters as much as it it supposed to matter, and maybe part of this is because you must hold down a button and enter a menu in real time to change it. While you are in this menu you cannot attack or block or move, and you have to scroll through a list of options to get to the one you want, and the boss has now done five thousand damage to you and killed absolutely everyone. It is frustrating to notice that your troops are in trouble and have to run off to a corner of the level to enter this menu so you don’t get beaten up during it. If the menu was intuitive or quicker or just mapped to the d-pad, which would be pretty dang easy, it would not be this frustrating. Dividing your attention between two events is fine, and even being helpless for a moment to do it is fine, but having an annoying menu to navigate slowly while you are being punched by a dragon is not.
It is so much worse in the skirmishes. In the skirmish, your army fights in the background against another army in the background, which are better and worse in arbitrary ways. Axes are great against swords and guns, but not good against spears. I know; obviously. It makes perfect sense if you just think about it. But I am not so well-versed in how weapons beat other weapons in seven-item rock-paper-scissors, and memorizing this organization feels fairly obnoxious given that the game also demands my attention be on the woman in a nightgown with ten foot long sword slicing me in the foreground (she is dreamy, and it is very disappointing that I was too focused on the knights stumbling in the background to notice). Just like the sieges, the game expects you to switch brigades and change their formation with the same paralyzing menu, even as the tide of battle can switch in a moment and you will almost certainly lose if you don’t respond instantly. You have to beat up people in the foreground for the meter that will let you do anything at all in the background, and it is fairly frustrating to do really well while your troops are falling and dying on their cute little faces all around you.
Even in theory, the skirmishes and sieges just aren’t quite interesting or fun enough to make up for the core beating being not very much fun or interesting. Sometimes that happens, but not this time. The gimmicks just feel a little too arbitrary and difficult to control to justify my attention outside the demand that I will lose if I don’t. There are enough items and upgrades and such you could spend a million hours in this game, but Dragon’s Crown, a game that I love no matter what 4chan has told you, is just a billion times better at all of this. If the beating were worse but the gimmicks more interesting, that would be something to think about at least, but Battle Princess of Arcadias doesn’t try enough new things—it’s actually rather conservative. The game is completely fine, with some annoying bits, and to me that is least interesting a game can be. I promise you can enjoy it quite inoffensively. Does that sound like a thing you love doing?
Aevee Bee is freelance writer who maintains a surreal videogame terror blog at mammonmachine.com and a twitter account, @mammonmachine, which is both a popular resource for anime puns and flirtation advice.