As the predecessor to Disgaea: The Hour of Darkness, La Pucelle: Tactics has an impressive reputation to maintain and uphold within the realm of Strategy RPGs. Nippon Ichi’s latest domestic release ultimately fails to improve on the standards established by Disgaea, but offers solid gameplay and an intriguing storyline that should not be overlooked.
You can only be so darling when you’re hunting demons.
“She’s loud. She’s self-centered. And she just passed her exorcism exams.” Enter the world of Prier, a sixteen year old demon hunter and one of the newest recruits in La Pucelle, the Church’s most elite combat team responsible for banishing the forces of evil which plague the land. Despite the cynical attitude she displays and her overzealous ambition to become the next Maiden of Light, she is a sensitive and warm-hearted girl who is kept in check by her younger brother, Culotte, mature and insightful beyond his years. The two of them were orphaned at a young age when their parents passed away, the reality of which is something Prier is hesitant to confront and unable to reconcile. Their instructor, Alouette, is introduced as a woman who came to the Church with no recollection of her past, yet has managed to advance through the ranks quickly due to her exceptional talents.
Those familiar with the biting sarcasm and sense of humor omnipresent throughout Disgaea: Hour of Darkness will feel right at home with La Pucelle: Tactics. In what begins as an innocent retelling of the epic battle between good versus evil, things will quickly grow out of hand, resulting in the brand of entertainment that is rapidly becoming a Nippon Ichi trademark. For those willing to look beneath the slapstick comedy and occasionally vulgar overtones on the surface, each chapter of La Pucelle develops a poignant anecdote centered in the themes of loss, deprivation, revenge, and the courage to move on from tragedy.
As in Disgaea: The Hour of Darkness, La Pucelle: Tactics features the same deep tactical gameplay that fans have come to enjoy. After being deployed, units are capable of moving within a particular radius on the battlefield, then performing an attack, using a special skill or casting a magic spell. It is possible to perform a ‘team attack’ by having companions stand adjacent to the attacking character, or by surrounding the enemy entirely. Once all combat orders have been assigned to the team, selecting ‘Begin Battle’ takes the player to a separate screen where the battle is conducted. While watching two large teams exchange blows with one another is visually impressive and entertaining to watch for the first few hours, I found myself growing rather impatient with the loading times required in watching the same repetitive fights play themselves out before my eyes. It would have been preferable to include an option where these scenes could be disabled.
Also similar to Disgaea is the system of equipment utilized in La Pucelle: Tactics. Specific weapons and pieces of armor not only bolster your character’s attack and defense ratings, but contain attribute bonuses which provide permanent stat increases upon leveling up. These same pieces of equipment may also render their wearers capable of using Elemental Magic, spells which become permanent parts of a given character’s repertoire of skills. The spells also upgrade themselves automatically after fulfilling a specific number of castings. These same pieces of equipment are also able to grow by gaining experience in the Purification process.
Purification is a skill that quickly becomes central to the gameplay in La Pucelle: Tactics. The player is able to recruit enemy forces onto his team by ‘Purifying’ the enemy several times before they are defeated. Each consequent Purification attempt increases the chance that the enemy will be willing to accompany the player in his journey. These enemy units are able to use equipment and operate similarly to the protagonists, but they can also be ‘trained’ upon the conclusion of battle. Training a monster allows him to develop his stats, but the player must be careful not to overwork him. The system works very well; an unhappy monster is more likely to run away and abandon the party, while monsters at the highest possible levels of happiness will gain the ability to assist in the Purification process, an invaluable tool when setting up complicated Miracles.
Like the Geo Panels from Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, La Pucelle: Tactics contains Dark Portals, elemental streams of energy which can be manipulated by both player characters as well as enemies. They can be redirected and Purified to cause damage to any foes standing within the stream, but they also spawn new enemies after a specific number of turns if they are not eliminated. If a specific stream of energy is re-routed to form a square of fifteen blocks or more, beginning and ending at the Dark Portal of origin, it may be purified to create a ‘Miracle.’ Miracles purify everything in the center of the square, dealing massive damage to all enemy units contained within and rewarding the player with a handsome sum of money for his efforts. It is also possible to establish “Miracles within a Miracle” by constructing several squares within each other and purifying the outermost Dark Portal. These high-level pursuits add an additional element of strategy to the foundation of an already solid system of gameplay.
Despite the addictive fun contained within La Pucelle: Tactics, the game begins to show her age in terms of graphics and sound quality. Having been conceived several years ago before the release of Disgaea, the 2D graphics are aesthetically pleasing, but pale in comparison to comparable titles such as Gust’s Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana. Character designs contain a heavy anime influence, but are not particularly unique in any way. I have similar sentiments regarding the soundtrack; while each of the tracks themselves are pleasant to listen to, I felt that many (battle themes in particular) were not quite ‘appropriate’ to the mood that I would expect when exorcising demons. Many of the battle themes have a very lighthearted and energetic theme to them, which contrasts heavily with the serious and somber messages that are developed throughout the course of the game’s storyline. Songs generally alternate between these two extremes, bringing the player on an emotional rollercoaster as he accompanies Prier throughout her journey.
Gamers who enter La Pucelle: Tactics with high expectations may find themselves unable to shake the feeling that their anticipated release amounts to little more than “Disgaea Lite.” The sequel improves on this original in almost every fashion imaginable, but those who enjoy Nippon Ichi’s emerging style shouldn’t be discouraged from giving La Pucelle a whirl. As a small company with big ideas, it would be a mistake to allow their latest innovation to slip by unnoticed.