Code of Princess EX
Developed By: Nicalis, Inc.
Published By: Nicalis, Inc.
Category: Action, Role-Playing, Fighting
Release Date: 7.31.18
In the great tradition of Nintendo Switch remakes, Nicalis brings us Code of Princess EX. Originally released for the 3DS in 2013, Code of Princess EX combines RPG elements with old-school arcade beat-em-up action. It’s a solid idea, but the execution often leaves something to be desired.
Like Playing an Anime…
The kingdom of DeLuxia is under siege by growing numbers of monsters. The royal family is unable to get a handle on the situation, so the neighboring country of Distron invades under the guise of defeating the monster horde. They’re really after the legendary sword DeLuxcalibur, and when the Distron army finally arrives in DeLuxia’s capitol they find that Princess Solange Blanchefleur De Lux has already fled with the weapon. She sets off on a journey to reclaim her kingdom and defeat Queen Distiny of Distron. Along the way she meets a noble thief, a quirky necromancer, an elven bard sage, a samurai, a kung fu guy, and a warrior nun. There are a few twists, turns, and some good laugh lines that make for a fairly entertaining story.
In case you missed the heading for this section, Code of Princess EX plays out a lot like a typical fantasy anime might. The characters all have their defining traits and don’t really grow much over the course of the story. There are recurring jokes throughout the whole game which stay funny; the game in general has a good sense of humor about itself. Some would call the humor (and character designs) a bit misogynist, and there are certainly some jokes made in poor taste. I don’t really think it ever crosses the line into irredeemably hurtful, but your mileage may vary.
…Except It’s a Beat-Em-Up RPG
The combat plays out a lot like an old arcade brawler (think Streets of Rage or Double Dragon), but with a few caveats. First, you don’t really have free movement. Each level consists of a few lanes, and you can only move forward and backward within your lane. You can switch lanes by guarding and hitting up or down, which I thought was a curious choice. I found it to be a pretty needless complication to the combat formula; it’s not really a natural way to move around the screen. Still, I got used to it eventually.
The fighting is pretty straightforward, too. You can guard, use a quick, light attack, a slow, heavy attack, and a medium target attack that displays the health bar of the first person you hit with it. This was another odd choice for the game; why not have health bars on all of the enemies? I can’t tell you how frustrating it was to be trying to wear down an enemy and not know how close I was to KOing them because they were in the middle of a mob or something. You can also execute some special combos, kind of like in a fighting game. So the basics of combat are fast and fun, but I ran into some issues with the particulars of the game system which diminished the good ideas present.
Health bars have a green bar overlaid on a red bar; the red bar is actual HP, while the green bar is a guard bar. As long as there’s some green bar left, the damage the red bar takes is significantly reduced. Some enemies have a ridiculously high defense stat, so it takes forever to whittle their green bar down and actually do some damage. This was especially frustrating in boss fights, but some mob enemies have this problem too.
Speaking of frustrating boss fights, there are a bunch! And it’s not just the guard bars that cause problems. Whenever a character gets hit, whether it’s you or your enemies, they have a small stun time during which they are unable to act. The player’s character seems to have the longest stun animation by far, which would be bad enough on its own. But some bosses seem to come out of their stun at will, and they have the speed to counter you while you’re in mid attack, so even if you hit the guard button, you don’t guard, sending you to your stun animation and opening you up to a devastating boss combo. It’s cheap as hell, and made boss fights total cheese. You can level up and try to change your equipment to get stronger to get past these bosses, but grinding takes forever and doesn’t seem to have a big effect. Playing defensively and only landing a few hits at a time and then retreating would seem to be the most prudent strategy, but levels have a time limit of ten minutes. Hit, hit, retreat is a good tactic, but time-consuming; on the hardest boss fights, you’ll simply run out of time trying that strategy. Fights like that simply made the game no fun to play.
Between missions, you can equip weapons, armor, and accessories and eventually unlock a store function. You can choose an equipment loadout that focuses on whatever strategy you wish, which is cool, but against the toughest enemies it often feels like all equipment is basically the same. Beating a level unlocks it for free play as well as a side mission, and you can use any characters you’ve unlocked to play those levels. Any character you recruit and every enemy you defeat can be used in the free or side missions, which is kind of cool. The roster of characters is over 50, even though some of those are just color palette swaps of the same model.
How Do Solange’s Clothes Even Work?
Seriously. Look at the cover to this game. How in the heck can clothes like that exist? Glue, I guess? Anyway, like I said, the game can be accused of a little misogyny here and there, most notably because of Solange’s… armor and the recurring jokes it causes. Aside from that, though, the game has a great visual style. The major characters have an inventive anime-inspired design sense bursting with personality. This translates to some well-designed character models… for the major characters, anyway. Generic enemies have pretty generic designs, but that makes sense. The backgrounds have a cool, anime-styled design to them as well. All around, it’s a pretty great-looking game. I don’t know what they did to the graphics to port the game from the 3DS, but I have a hard time believing that game looked this good on that system.
The game’s music would fit right in with most fantasy JRPGs; equal parts orchestral and quirky electronic sounds, with a few wailing guitars thrown in for good measure. The game is fully voice acted, but only in Japanese. Atlus, who did the 3DS version, did some English voices for that release, but they didn’t make the conversion for the Switch port. I couldn’t say why, but I’m not above speculation. It’s probably something to do with rights or royalty structures.
Code of Princess EX has no touch or motion controls, so you can pay it docked or undocked as you prefer. Personally, I thought it looked a lot better on my TV than it did on the Switch’s handheld screen, so I recommend it for docked play.
TL;DR: Great visual design and some interesting gameplay ideas that are severely weakened by balance issues.