| paleface [sys=PS2; cat=Strategy; loc=NA] |
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"Amusing dialogue? Check."
Reference added: 313
"Nippon Ichi did Disgaea and La Pucelle."
Forerunner (though released later in the States) of the 2D-ish tactical strategy game Disgaea (see entry 313). Has much the same look and sharp dialogue (and sucky English voice acting, but you can switch to Japanese voices with subtitles). I still feel like I should go back and finish Nippon Ichi's "Rhapsody" (PS1) first.
|Reference added: 735|
"Both Nippon Ichi's Rhapsody and La Pucelle have plucky female leads."
Got to the end of this one and had myself a pretty good time. It's quite different from Nippon Ichi's PS1 game, Rhapsody (see entry 735): Rhapsody was more of a traditional RPG, where you run around on maps and have random encounters and so forth, but La Pucelle is tactical strategy all the way, with mere skipping from place to place on a big world map, and story-pushing cinematics, in between battles, usually with twenty or so sprite characters going at it, on big gridded maps.
I didn't find the story or writing quite as charming here as in Rhapsody, maybe because your team of core characters is bigger now and so the story has to ramble a bit and cover more territory. I also lost the story feeling at a couple points where I just had to spend hours and hours either earning money (stupid "give us 50,000 credits for this crucial story item" quest) or levelling up, which is something that you never had to do in the very easy Rhapsody.
La Pucelle, in fact, will smack you right down if you don't put in the proper time getting your characters buffed up. While inventory management is still minor and abstract, as in Rhapsody, in that each character simply carries any four items you want (give them four suits of armor, for instance--why not?), character customization is huge here and probably in many ways groundbreaking to the genre, although I don't my knowledge of tactical strategy games isn't wide enough to say that authoritatively. But in addition to just raising the level of your character, you also raise the levels of their individual stats and the levels of each of their items.
Yep, that's right: you raise the levels of items. This is ingenious, and in multiple ways--because not only do the items go up in level and power as you win battles with them, but they also control which of the character's attributes go up, and by how much. For instance, if you want your character to do a lot of damage, you could give them a swordy-type item that adds a lot to their damage attribute. But if you wanted to look at the thing long-term, you would give them an item that might not give them a huge immediate damage boost, but which would cause their damage stat to raise at two, three or four times the normal rate. Have them tote that through battle for a while and they will soon be a death-dealing powerhouse.
While I said that La Pucelle can be difficult, and indeed there are side quests that you can spend much more time trying to conquer than the main boss, who is actually not that tough as long as you've spent a dozen or so hours just levelling outside the story battles (and probably less if you're a FAQ-reading power-leveller), some of the difficulty is artificial thanks to story twists: suffice it to say that there's more than one occassion where the game takes away one or more of your best characters without any real warning. Considering that you usually take just eight characters into battle, this is a significant hit.
Now, you can capture nearly any non-boss enemy you like and convert them to fight for you (sort of following the religious theme here--your characters work for a church, after all), so in theory losing a character or two to the plot shouldn't be a huge blow, but I'm one of those slackers who doesn't have 120 hours to spend on just this game so I like to do things the quickest way possible, and I didn't have any characters levelled up to fill in the gaps. So I had to spend a lot of time extra-levelling my remaining characters to make up for the loss. This was something of a pain in the ass.
But let's get back to the good stuff. Shops are neat, because you can tell them what kinds of things you want to buy and they will gradually shape their inventory to fit your desires. For instance you can keep telling them that you want more powerful, expensive items, and they will start digging up herkin big weapons and armor and rings and stuff to suit you. I'm kind of tempted to go back in and just do this a lot to see how high the weapon levels get (I suspect they go pretty nuts, since I was only about level 60 when I finished but you can level to 9999, apparently).
Battles are mostly pretty fun, although I wouldn't spend time just doing battles for the sheer joy of it, as I would in, say, Advance Wars (see entry 716). Nifty group dynamics make keeping your characters in close formations very rewarding, as they will back each other up in battle. Bit sparkly effects and super moves abound, and although you can't save mid-battle, which is a bummer, they usually go quickly enough that it isn't a big bother--unless the game pulls one of its oh-this-is-a-vital-sequence
you-have-to-do-four-boss-battles-in-a-row-without-saving things, which I hate. Enemy AI isn't great, for instance they don't really back each other up intelligently, but they're good at picking on your weak characters, and in general they get the job done okay.
I've seen people complain that battles take extra long because, when an attack is made, the game goes to a side-view sequence where you see each character in the current melee shoot off their attack one at a time, but this didn't seem so bad to me. I think people who didn't like it were coming from having played Disgaea, and I haven't really started that one yet.
Although you can usually go to anywhere in the world you've been before to level up, you never lose track of where you need to go next to advance the story, which is great.
There were a couple entire game systems that I didn't even bother with aside from a few initial experiments: the "Dark World," or something, and item-combining. The "Dark World" thing is tied into the whole holy portal gimmick in battles: each battlefield is dotted with portals that send streamers of energy flowing across the map. Characters can direct these, and if you can shape a streamer into a loop, then have your religious characters "purify" the portal, the streamer explodes and does tons of damage to any baddies inside the loop. This can make a big difference in battles in the early and mid parts of the game, and is great for levelling your equipment, but eventually I found myself not really bothering with it so much because my character attacks and spells were more effective. Anyway, if things go badly in battle then negative energy can build up on the battlefield, and a gate to the netherworld may appear. Enter the gate and you then fight your way through ten circles of hellish territory to purge the portal. Supposedly you can fight tough beasties and get great loot in these areas, but setting them up is such a bother that, well, I never really bothered, and I certainly didn't need them to get strong enough to complete the story.
Similarly, item combining doesn't seem to pay off unless you put a lot of extra time into it, because you have to sacrifice a strong character and two strong, levelled items, just to raise the power of one item slightly. Didn't need it.
The sound effects are pretty good, the music gets better as the game progresses (some of the early music was really bouncy and annoying), and the voice acting is really good--I was all prepared to switch over to the Japanese voices but the English-language actors really do a great job.
In some ways, the 3D battle map graphics could be considered blocky and hideous, but they're really just plates to hold the brilliant character sprites. The sprites are huge, well animated, and very expressive. They pretty much make the game, really, and I mean that in a good way. If you have any appreciation for super-deformed Japanese character art then I think you will have no choice but to fall in love with the character sprites found in La Pucelle. Sure many of the monsters are silly and cartoonish, but their hearts are in the right place (hm, whatever that means--bah!).
It seems to me that the game also benefits greatly from nice balance in the character customization: not only can you mold any character to your liking (although each has certain natural advantages and unique abilities), but warrior types and cleric types and wizard types seem to complement each other very nicely in battle. Also, although levelling an old weapon usually doesn't keep up with the advances in weapon power that open up in the shop as you play through the story, levelling a monster will pretty much keep it in pace with the power of your characters and with other monsters you could capture later on. For instance, I finished the game with two captured monsters among my main eight characters, and although I got them pretty early in the game, they were just as powerful as the rest of my party in the end. In fact one, dear old Bear Happiness, had pretty much the most efficient offensive short-range special attack in the game: good old "Bear Bash." Man, I love that move.
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"Instead of "Fin" it should say "Reboot.""
Oh yeah I almost forgot: like Final Fantasy X (see entry 752), La Pucelle dead-ends at the final "The End" screen (actually I think they both go for style with "fin" or "fini"). Pressing buttons does nothing, the game is effectively frozen. This is stupid.