I would like to start off this review by conveying my utmost joy that Disgaea sold so well in North America. Because of that one fact, we have been blessed with two other amazing Nippon Ichi masterpieces: La Pucelle: Tactics and Phantom Brave. With that out of the way, I can safely say that La Pucelle is the most fun I have had with a video game since I last played Disgaea. The amazing (albeit a bit dumbed-down) strategy engine is just as spectacular in La Pucelle as it was in its sequel. While not exactly a prequel, per se, La Pucelle contains the same wackiness and solid gameplay that made Disgaea such a hit.
On the surface, one would assume that La Pucelle is your average, run-of-the-mill strategy RPG. There are grid-like maps on which to move around, characters to command, turns to take and battles to be won. While all of this may be true, it is the little things that really pump La Pucelle up to greatness.
The first, and probably most forthright, addition to the standard Strategy Role Playing Game (SRPG) formula is the ability to recruit pretty much any creature in the game. The system to do so is deep but not overly complicated. In order to convince a monster to join you, you must “purify” it. In other words, you cleanse it of evil so that it may fight for your own righteous band. Once a critter has been “purified” enough, you can slaughter it outright and it will be immediately available to deploy.
Once you have the mighty beast under your wing, you are now charged with the daunting task of raising it to become the butt-kicking member of your party it so rightly deserves to be. Using a unique system of powering up your companion, you gradually form a bond with the monster, and it begins to appreciate you more and more. Besides merely gaining levels and earning special abilities, you can train each critter in several status categories. Once a creature has outlived its usefulness, you can choose to either keep it as bait for the relatively stupid AI, or you can send the poor thing to the Dark World.
Now, the Dark World may be dark and all that, but it is single-handedly the best way in the game to obtain rare items and power up the members of your party. By leaving “Dark Portals” un-purified (we’ll get to that), you can raise the dark index of a given level. When a stage’s dark index reaches a certain point, a portal is created that leads straight down to the darkest reaches of the netherworld. In there you can opt either to send your forces down to gain levels (and fight secret bosses), or send your trained monsters on missions. The stronger the monster, the better the items they will send back to you. The whole system adds a very interesting dynamic to the everyday strategic battling and provides a use for characters who have simply overstayed their welcome.
Dark Portals are not simply for opening up the gates to the Dark World, though. Each portal has a stream of energy flowing from it that is of a single elemental affinity. By weaving streams around enemies and forming a box around them, you can then purify the portal to create what is known as a “miracle.” Besides doing obscene amounts of damage to whatever enemy has been suckered into getting within range, miracles also dramatically raise your weapon levels, making them stronger with every purified portal.
Not to be outdone, item management is handled in a unique way as well. There is only one shop in the world of La Pucelle, but the inventory can be micro-managed by the player. You can control everything from the strength of weapons sold, to the variety of the wares simply by completing surveys once you have finished shopping. Surveys also double as a way to gain extra experience and create tougher battles for the player, but the simplicity always remains.
With all of the extras out of the way, La Pucelle handles quite like your standard SRPG. Battles take place in a very linear fashion, with the player’s deployed troops up against overwhelming odds from the enemy. Turn by turn you move your forces around, gradually slaughtering your foes as you go. The system of linked attacks found in Disgaea is not in effect here; La Pucelle instead features a system whereby anyone in range of an enemy can join in the fray. Once the battle has been joined, all forces (good and bad) within range take turns beating each other to the ground. Thankfully, the opportunity to share experience in this way make balancing out your party a much less painful experience than it was in Disgaea.
SRPGs usually go hand in hand with an excellent story to progress the linear play style. La Pucelle is no different. Instead of playing from an evil perspective (as in Disgaea), you are instead in control of Demon Hunters who make the Church of the Maiden of Light their home. In-your-face Prier joins forces with her young, wet-behind-the-ears brother, Culotte, and several other unique characters to provide an excellent drama that is admittedly a tad on the light-hearted side. If you feel vaguely queasy whenever you watch sickeningly sweet scenes, or if the idea of witnessing young women (and men) fretting over their crushes makes you nauseous, you may have a little trouble with the character interaction found in La Pucelle. However, if you stick with it, you will find a rewarding plot experience that gets darker as you go and contains some interesting (albeit predictable) plot twists.
I think I must be the only one in the world who appreciates what has been done with the amazingly colorful and lush graphical environments of La Pucelle. I constantly had friends (RPG lovers or not) walking by and commenting on how happy they were that video game graphics had progressed beyond those found in La Pucelle. I suppose those weaned on games such as FFX and Xenosaga will have a hard time dealing with the colorful, hand-drawn sprites of La Pucelle, but those of us who remember the good old SNES days will truly appreciate the nostalgia this game will make you feel.
I have a new love for composer Tenpei Sato. I cannot get enough of the amazing soundtracks found in both Disgaea and La Pucelle. La Pucelle’s themes are a bit lighter and more easygoing than those found in Disgaea, but there are certainly a number of stand-out pieces. The music fits well all around, and a lot of work was even put into the voice acting. There is really only one voice that I feel sounds out of place, and the acting doesn’t feel stiff or forced; rather, it fits the mood. It is almost as though the voice actors played the game as they went and portrayed the words as they were meant to be said in context.
While La Pucelle may not be the longest RPG in existence (you could probably blow through it in 25 hours or so), what is there is pure quality. Add to that the amazing addictiveness of gaining “just one more level” and the optional (and brutally hard) dungeons found near the end, and you have some very nice bang for your buck. When looking to either purchase or rent La Pucelle, ask yourself these questions; do I enjoy strategy RPGs? Did I enjoy Disgaea? Do I enjoy quirky, anime-styled romps through beautifully realized worlds? If you answered yes to any of these questions, La Pucelle: Tactics is the game for you.