La Pucelle: Ragnarok

 

Review by · November 13, 2022

Recently, I took a look at NIS Classics Vol. 3, which includes modern ports of two of Nippon Ichi Software’s earliest games: Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure and La Pucelle: Ragnarok. The former game, Rhapsody, was a charming little treat, though ultimately shallow when it comes to game mechanics. La Pucelle: Tactics, however, seems to be a complete course correction on the mechanics end, almost to the degree that it sometimes feels like overkill. 

La Pucelle: Tactics was originally released for the PS2 in 2002, though it took two years to hit the west in 2004. At the time, it was a niche little tactical RPG that few had heard of. After all, it arrived just a few years before Disgaea‘s explosion in popularity, which skyrocketed Nippon Ichi Software to becoming the most prolific tactical RPG publisher and developer. They even received a Guinness World Record for the feat. However, despite having come out just prior to Disgaea: Hour of Darkness in Japan, the game was released after Disgaea in the west, ensuring it would fall into obscurity as little more than a niche oddity. That said, it’s a great look at where the beloved mechanical madness of Disgaea originated.

La Pucelle: Ragnarok is an updated port of the PS2 game for the PlayStation Portable with bonus content such as new chapters and storylines, new spells and abilities, new characters, and a few quality-of-life updates such as the ability to skip cutscenes and animations. Unfortunately, the west never received this updated port until just recently, perhaps because of the poor sales of the original in the west. Thanks to the NIS Classics rereleases, fans can sink their teeth into one of NIS’s earliest titles with a bevy of new content and features.

La Pucelle: Ragnarok screenshot displaying protagonist Culotte's current stats.
The number of stats and skills that are displayed can be a bit overwhelming at first.

The story of La Pucelle: Ragnarok tells the tale of a pair of siblings — Prier and Culotte — who were orphaned at a young age and taken in by a church. Ever since, they’ve tried to pay back the kindness they received. Eventually, the pair become demon hunters who seek to purify twisted souls, heal the land, and — in Prier’s case — become the Maiden of Light. Throughout the story, the demon hunters clash with an opposing church who seems to have their sights set on the obliteration of the world. In standard JRPG fashion, said destruction is required to create their own utopia. Naturally, that’s unacceptable, and thus begins the church wars. 

Each chapter in La Pucelle: Ragnarok focuses on a central theme that is both thoughtful and full of heart. Whether the episode is about the importance of friends and family, staying true to oneself, or even chasing dreams, there is always a well-written introspection from the characters. As each chapter can have good and bad endings, the player is always encouraged to take a step back, look around, and think about the situation at hand. When achieving a bad end, the characters might stop and reflect on what they did wrong. What if we didn’t kill that monster? What if we stopped and talked to someone in town? What if we checked out that cracked door in the previous map? The narrative uses the gameplay mechanics in a simple yet intriguing way.

While its predecessor Rhapsody featured a tactical battle system that bordered on completely useless, La Pucelle: Ragnarok squeezes every ounce out of its battle system while introducing an almost dizzying array of mechanics. Players can move characters a set number of squares like in Rhapsody, but this time the battlefield is taken into account. Attacking from the back or sides gives damage bonuses, as does utilizing high ground. Enemy stats, elements, and type are incredibly important, and failing to understand a foe can lead to a game over screen quickly.

La Pucelle: Ragnarok screenshot showing the grid-based tactical battle system.
Recruiting monsters is both useful and highly encouraged compared to Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure.

Rhapsody had a needlessly large cast of allies that could be recruited or discovered along the journey. La Pucelle: Ragnarok features a similar system, but this time the developers achieved what they were aiming for. Outside of bosses, any enemy can be converted to an ally via purification. Once converted, they can partake in battles, or simply be introduced to the dark world as part of an item leveling mechanic. Interacting with these former foes outside of battle can also increase their stat growth, and if their happiness is maxed out, they too can convert others.

Though, purification isn’t only for converting enemies into allies. It also can be used to cleanse portals to the dark world, which show up on the battlefield as colored diamonds. These dark portals are a predecessor to Disgaea’s geo panels, though they’re mercifully simple this time around. At most, they’ll lower stats or damper elements if the player or enemy is standing in the path. However, their real usage becomes apparent rather quickly. By changing the flow of dark energy to create a square with at least fifteen panels in total, special attacks can be set off which deal devastating damage to foes who are standing in the way while also catching everything within said square with a special attack. These panels and attacks can also heal allies, and any ally hit by one of these purification chains can act once more. It’s easy to see how exploitable this is, but the developers actively encourage bending the systems to your will.

The mechanics of La Pucelle: Ragnarok are just a hair away from too many. While there is the standard tactical RPG battle system with the dark portal system, there is also a bevy of progression systems. Characters have individual stats such as Attack and Defense, but they also have skills that come from leveling certain stats. Items boost stats as expected, but also have their own elements and levels. Items can also be combined to create even stronger items with higher stat and skill boosts, which then unlock even more active and passive skills. On top of this, every spell and ability in the game can be leveled to increase its power and range. Finally, characters can also team up with others around them. Add ranged characters into the mix and some fights can end up being eight versus one. All of this barely scratches the surface, and if I were to detail every mechanic, there would be a paragraph dedicated to each one.

La Pucelle: Ragnarok screenshot portraying the protagonists speaking with the queen.
While the character sprites look clean and sharp, the character portraits look straight out of an AI upscaler.

On the less overwhelming side of things, La Pucelle: Ragnarok has a very pleasant art style. While it’s not as full of charm as Rhapsody‘s, it still has a wholesome vibe to it. The illustrated backgrounds lend the world life while the characters have amusing and highly detailed animations, especially for the time. Whether maidens are praying to summon bolts of lightning or Prier is going for a swift kick to the groin, the animation is a highlight of the game. While the sprites hold up well and the 3D battle maps are decent, the upscaled character portraits have some pretty clear artifacting that comes with AI upscaling tools. It’s noticeable, but not particularly awful.

The music feels largely untouched, but it’s still quite a treat. The variety in the tracks is impressive and each one has a catchy melody, as expected of composer Tenpei Sato. The gentle chimes of bells are relaxing when out on the cobblestone streets, the strings and horns that blare in battle give every fight a great atmosphere, and the upbeat soundtrack to the Rosenqueen shop feels like being smacked in the face with sales flyers while being pressured to buy, buy, buy. The songs in La Pucelle: Ragnarok are both memorable and fun, though there is a notable lack of humorous musical numbers compared to Rhapsody.

Though the music is a high point of the game, the voice acting is a low point overall. The original voice acting in La Pucelle: Tactics (2002) is fine sans one character: Croix. Everyone sounds professional and gives each character a lot of heart and personality, but Croix is mixed far too low to even be heard half the time. I noticed this when playing the original game decades prior, as Croix’s victory lines sound like they’re only at half the volume, if not a quarter of the volume, of everyone else. I would have liked to see this fixed in the port, but years later, there are still mixing issues.

La Pucelle: Ragnarok screenshot showing the dark world and how to interact with its inhabitants.
Capturing monsters is also encouraged so that they may act as fodder for item upgrades via the Dark World.

La Pucelle: Ragnarok (2009), however, added additional voice acting for the PSP port. Yet said additions are completely off-base for every single character. The voice actors, be they new or returning, sound like they’re phoning it in at every point. Prier’s newer lines sound like the voice actress had no idea what she was doing, and instead opted to sway Prier in and out of some southern drawl that is both poorly delivered and awkward to listen to. Culotte suffers the same fate, but his direction sounds extremely confused, as if an AI wrote his new lines. Not to mention the fact that the new dialogue sounds completely out of character most of the time, and it’s jarring when paired with the original dialogue often played minutes prior. 

Thankfully, La Pucelle: Ragnarok has a lot going for it. It’s a nearly fully realized version of what the developers were aiming for in their previous games. It’s charming, full of life, and has more mechanics than you can shake a stick (or baton, in Prier’s case) at. There is a ton of replay value in the game thanks to the dark world, multiple endings for each chapter, and new game plus. There are plenty of challenging fights in the Ragnarok-exclusive Secret Island, as well as fan-favorite characters such as the Prinny, Rozalin from Disgaea 2, Elie from the Rosenqueen Item Shop, and best of all: Cornet from Rhapsody with her trusty horn.

For fans of the Disgaea series who hadn’t heard of La Pucelle: Tactics or the La Pucelle: Ragnarok port, I’d recommend giving it a look to see just where all the chaos and numerical insanity came from. It’s a nice little flashback and a solid game on its own. The features from the port add a bit more meat to the already lengthy feature set, and as a western fan of NIS, it’s nice to get this version finally. There are a few dings and scrapes thanks to the upscaling of portraits and the awful added voice lines, but there’s enough good there to overlook the rather noticeable flaws. For newcomers to the genre or NIS in general, La Pucelle: Ragnarok is definitely worth playing, but if you have a choice, I’d highly recommend playing the wonderfully charming and breezy Rhapsody first before tackling this behemoth.


Pros

Charming characters, a solid story with multiple paths and endings, in-depth battle mechanics, challenging battles, almost overwhelming amount of content, and a catchy OST.

Cons

Portraits appear AI upscaled with artifacts and errors, new voice lines from Ragnarok are awful, mechanics are poorly explained in game, pacing can be awkward due to numerous battles back to back.

Bottom Line

La Pucelle: Ragnarok offers plenty of tactical depth and whimsical charm while serving as a great look back at Nippon Ichi Software's history before Disgaea.

Graphics
70
Sound
75
Gameplay
75
Control
75
Story
70
Overall Score 73
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Des Miller

Des Miller

Des is a reviews editor, writer, and resident horror fan. He has a fondness for overlooked, emotionally impactful, and mechanically complex games - hence his love for tri-Ace and Gust. When he's not spending hours crafting in Atelier or preaching about Valkyrie Profile, he can usually be found playing scary games in the dark. With headphones. As they should be played.