You've got to hand it to the folks at NIS. They don't shy away from being different.
Take a look at Battle Princess of Arcadias, for example. This ApolloSoft-developed game (published by NIS America) takes the side-scrolling fantasy beat-em-up gameplay first made popular in the 1980s and injects heavy doses of anime-infused cuteness, quirkiness and fun. The end result is a game that is satisfying to play and anime lovers should enjoy, but anime detractors will likely dismiss.
On the topic of things that are dismissible, the story of Battle Princess of Arcadias falls right on point. In short, the game is about (surprise surprise) the Battle Princess of Arcadias and how she and her tag-alongs defend the kingdom from ever-marauding bands of monsters and other sorts of villains. To a certain level, it's fine for a game to have a story as shallow as a kiddie pool. The problem, however, is when the presentation of that story is as inconsistent as Arcadias' is. Stuck somewhere between silly and serious, the game sometimes seems out of sync with itself. Add to that a roster of charming, yet forgettable characters and all you end up with is a bucket of meh.
Despite the shortcomings of its story, Arcadias' gameplay doesn't quite follow suit. Going deeper than most in its genre, ApolloSoft decided to employ a multi-button combo system in its combat than the usual one- to two-button attack scheme. While the game can be played in such a manner, pretty much every combat maneuver, aside from a bare-bones basic attack, requires use not only of the two attack buttons, but also precise presses on the D-pad or analog stick. Furthermore, tag-along characters will sometimes pop in for a quick assist a-la Marvel vs Capcom, but they don't stay for long and rarely make much of a difference unless hot-swapped in to be user-controlled.
As far as how the game is played, there are three modes of play throughout it.
The first and most common is of the genre-standard side-scrolling 2D beat-em-up variety. Rarely posing much of a challenge, this is where the bulk of the button-mashing combo-making madness (to the point of almost being cumbersome) is found.
The second and more interesting mode is a formation-like battle in which players utilize a mass of troops to ward off attacking bands of enemies. The transition from a mindless beat-em-up to a tactical-like gameplay style is a bit jarring, but it's at the same time pleasant not to have the same brain-numbing action all of the time. There is a bit of rock-paper-scissors to be toyed with in this mode and, while it doesn't always make the best of sense, it's not too hard to get hold of what does what against what and what doesn't.
The third and most challenging mode are the siege-style boss battles. Something of mesh of the first two play modes, the player's character has a small army following her to assist in defeating the boss. The bosses, however, are formidable foes and can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time. Players need to play defensively just as often and well as they do offensively to get past these foes. Thankfully (and frustratingly so), bosses aren't too bright and might just as often block with their face as they do with any sort of actual defensive mechanic.
Aside from the action-based content, Battle Princess of Arcadias also has a crafting feature with which players can forge new items and enhance those they already possess. While lacking much in the way of depth, it's extremely accessible and players might find themselves spending more time than they probably should tinkering away. Thankfully, the whole process is quick, surprisingly streamlined and doesn't keep players away from the action for more than a few minutes at a time.
While the game has an overall charming fantasy anime art style, it's not of the highest quality when it comes to character animations. Unlike in the similar-looking games that come out of rival developer Vanillaware where character movements and on-screen action is fluid and almost artistic, Arcadias' characters move fairly stiff and awkward almost as if they were marionettes. This applies just as much to cut scenes as it does to actual gameplay sequences though in contrast to the character models, character close-up art is of decent quality. A pleasant presentation surprise to be had with this title can be found with its soundtrack. The mostly J-pop tracks that play during levels and cut scenes is quite pleasant and helps to keep the game's energy up.
The NIS America published Battle Princess of Arcadias really isn't a half-bad game. Could it be better? Sure. And there are better games of its ilk that have come out over the last few years including Dragon's Crown and the surprise indie hit Dust: An Elysian Tail, but don't let that convince you that Arcadias isn't a game worth playing. Due to its heavy anime styling and silliness, it isn't for everyone, but those who play it should have few regrets about doing so.
Publisher: NIS America
Platform(s): PlayStation 3
Rating: T for Teen
Score: 2.75 out of 4