"The Princess Guide is a game that has potential but lacks the budget to support it."
You know what I wish we had more of here in the West? Raising games, where you level up a character's traits, influence their personality, and make decisions that affect the way they behave. This is what drew me to The Princess Guide. Raising a future ruler of a nation sounded like a cool idea. So when the opportunity to check out this game came up, I decided to give it a shot.
The Princess Guide stars you as a veteran soldier who has years of combat experience under your belt. Your combat prowess is known the world over, and you have written books on the art of war. At the request of your superior officers, you retire and teach someone else the ways of life and combat. A recruitment poster in town points you to four kingdoms that are in need of tutors for their respective princesses. After choosing one of them, you set off for their kingdom.
Each princess has their own story, and you can choose which one will be your protégé at the start of the game. Each princess has their own unique situation they want your help with, and after you've familiarized yourself with all of them, you can choose one for the rest of the game. The four princesses are the spunky and cheerful glutton Liliartie, the prodigal and bossy witch Veronica, the humble and serious Monomaria, and the gentle dragon princess Alpana.
I ended up choosing Liliartie, mainly because during my playthrough of the game, I was in a bit of a depressed mood. Liliartie's boundless energy and general positivity was infectious to me. When she picks up items on the field, her line of "Yatta, oishisou
!" (Yay, it looks delicious!) got me in the mood to play more. (As you can probably tell, the game is Japanese dub only.) It's silly and cheesy, but I found that was part of her charm. The other characters are all right but didn't grow on me like Liliartie did.
It may be due to the game's laid-back tone, but it was hard to get invested in the overall story. Liliartie's story has her fighting an ancient beast awoken by an evil group that reveres this beast as a kind of god. Normally, this would be the time to get serious, but I didn't feel much urgency with the way the story was told until the final chapter. I also found that bosses weren't terribly difficult, so that may have contributed to me feeling like the events in this game weren't significant. The ending does change depending on your "Faith" level with your chosen princess, but other than that, the only reason to play this game again is to see the other princesses' endings. The ending I got seemed a little premature, and the story also ended earlier than I thought it would. If you plow through this game, you can easily finish the main story inside of 15 hours. I know the idea is to play through multiple stories to get more out of each character, but you do still have to play the game over again.
The gameplay of The Princess Guide is a mix of action RPG and strategy. You directly control the "commander," be it your avatar, a princess, or a generic commander, and you have six soldiers following behind. Your commander can perform basic attacks, dodge, order a squad attack, and engage in a "Commander" attack, which is like a weaker version of the squad attack that can be used indefinitely as long as your Commander Ring is available (this recharges over a few seconds). There are also "strategies" you can use to increase attack and defense or restore HP when you claim a certain number of relics on the map. Relics are kind of like objectives or traps scattered around the map that you can claim in order to use a certain number of times. Some relics heal you, some activate weapons that you can use to damage nearby enemies, and some are there just to mess with you if you leave them unclaimed.
At first, I found the gameplay pretty boring. Early fights are mostly about button mashing, especially with your avatar unit since your soldiers and skills can be carried over to each princess' story. Enemies don't scale in the first chunk of the game, so you'll take your level 33 soldiers into fights against opponents that are level one as you move from one story to the next. Once you get into the meat of the story, gameplay feels a lot more strategic as enemies get stronger. You have to learn to manage your resources, like your limited squad attacks, relics, and strategies. The second half of the game feels a lot more rewarding than the first, but it wasn't a battle system I found particularly interesting overall.
As soon as you select New Game, you're thrown into a tutorial mission that teaches you the basic controls and tells you how to use attacks. That's all well and good, but the game leaves out a couple of things, like explaining how the "Break" system works, and it doesn't properly explain how to use the "Praise"/"Scold" system in battle. Instead, I had to learn these mechanics by observing the game and how enemies reacted to my attacks. Speaking of the Praise/Scold system, I found it was only really useful in battle. It didn't seem to shape the princesses' personalities, or if it did, I never noticed. Praising and Scolding during battle grants your princess either an HP recovery, an attack boost, or a "stealth" effect that I found was useless. I mostly used it to recover health: Scolding while under half HP usually triggers the HP recovery, and Praising while above half HP grants the attack boost. You can only use Praise/Scold three times per battle, so it's another resource you have to think about when playing.
Besides using Praise/Scold in battle to gain certain effects, it's mainly utilized to get "Knowledge Materia." You can use this Materia to train your chosen princess in five special traits: Strength, Wisdom, Spirit, Moral, and Faith. Every level your charge gains in a trait grants her stat increases and skills that are useful in battle. You can get Knowledge Materia in a variety of other ways too: killing a certain number of enemies, doing side missions, activating relics, etc. As mentioned earlier, "Faith" is the only trait you need to raise to get better endings. It's worth it to Praise/Scold as often as you can to get Knowledge Materia, as said Materia helps out a lot with your princess in battle.
The sound is not good. The game is Japanese dub only, and even though my Japanese isn't that good, I felt the performances were lacking. The princesses themselves sound okay, but almost every minor character sounds like they're reading off a script with only a dash of acting like their intended archetype. (Turns out one guy does all the male voices in the game.) The standout role to me was Liliartie, voiced by one of my favourite Japanese voice actresses, Ayane Sakura. There may be a bit of personal bias here, but I was a fan of Liliartie even before I watched the credits and saw Sakura's name pop up. She often gets typecast into playing these kinds of cheerful characters in various anime and games, but she has the voice for it. Most of the background music doesn't stand out, with a couple of exceptions. It's not a soundtrack I would go out of my way to look up.
While the graphics are the best part of the game, they don't really deserve that much praise. I like the princesses' designs, and there's some nice background art. Unfortunately, it looks like this game didn't have the budget to make many male faces, as every minor male character has their eyes covered by a hood or helmet. Even more important male characters like the princesses' advisors don't really stick out from the crowd. Dungeons are repeated throughout the game, which not only makes exploration dull from a gameplay perspective, but it also gets boring to look at the same map over and over again.
The Princess Guide is a game that has potential but lacks the budget to support it. I feel like the game has a lot of good ideas but doesn't apply them well at all. The short length, poorly implemented Praise/Scold system, recycled dungeons, and the fact that one guy voiced so many characters just screams rushed game to me. It's a shame to see. The Princess Guide could have been so much more if there had been more effort put into it. Instead, we have a mess of a game that needed more time in the oven. My instincts as an Instructor are telling me to ride off into the sunset, leaving this game to its own problems.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.