Genre : RPG
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Release Date: May 5, 2004
Pre-order 'LA PUCELLE: Tactics': PlayStation 2
Prier’s a member of La Pucelle, the official demon-hunter squad of the Church of the Holy Maiden, along with her little brother Culotte. Fifty years ago, her Church was founded to honor the Maiden of Light, the legendary warrior who fought back the Dark Prince, and Prier intends to, one day, follow in that tradition.
She might not get the chance, though. The Church of the Holy Maiden is a small religion, and more than seventy percent of the other people in the kingdom adhere to the faith of the Church of the Divine Mother. When La Pucelle investigates a series of brutal murders, which seem to lead straight back to the Divine Mother’s faith, Prier and her squad may wind up at the forefront of a holy war.
La Pucelle is the predecessor to Disgaea, the nearly-endless strategy game that was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, sleeper hit of 2003. Disgaea is the sequel to La Pucelle the way that Final Fantasy VIII was a sequel to VII; they’re similar games made by the same developer and play in much the same way, but they’re very different.
For one thing, La Pucelle takes place on an entirely different emotional plane from Disgaea. It’s often quite funny, yes. Prier is essentially a headstrong brat, with her fellow squad member Alouette as her ostensibly-more-mature counterpart, and that leads to laughs. At the same time, though, the resolution of a given chapter’s conflict is generally a very serious thing, dealing with very serious issues. The second chapter deals with the finality of death, as La Pucelle pursues a shapeshifting demon that rips out hearts; the third discusses the worth of questioning the Holy Book of the church, with Prier and Alouette holding up opposite sides of the argument, which is spurred by Prier questioning whether it’s right for them to hunt monsters. There’s a dichotomous, weirdly Eastern approach to the storyline here, where it’s played for laughs one moment, and entirely serious the next.
In case you were wondering, Mastiff has handled the translation and localization of La Pucelle very well. There was some question on this point in the fan community; after the dynamite translation Disgaea enjoyed, some people were wondering whether a relative unknown could provide an equally solid port. No worries on that score; La Pucelle is an excellent translation, and the voices are top-notch. There’s a small bit of word salad here and there – I refuse to believe that my Big Bear was actually meant to say “Feel free to taste me,” or that I’m occasionally attacked by a homicidal plant named “T-shirt” – but none of it’s in the dialogue.
Meanwhile, over here in the game, La Pucelle is the ground from which Disgaea sprang, and plays like it. It isn’t as deep or endlessly varied, out of the box, as Disgaea is; there’s no Item World to constantly provide you with random dungeons, or Dark Assembly to browbeat into giving you exactly what you want.
La Pucelle’s biggest change is how you get new members for your army. You’ll get a few new recruits as the story moves on – such as the first one, the screamingly cool Croix Raoul – but most of your troops will have to be recruited.
To do so, you’ll need to “purify” members of opposing forces. Each human member of your squad has a Purify command on their menu, which is sort of like a direct-damage attack. Once you hit an enemy character with Purify enough times, it’ll stop attacking you. Then, when you defeat it, it’ll join you. As of this writing, it would appear that just about any enemy in the game can be successfully recruited via Purification, although some of ‘em wouldn’t be worth the effort; particularly powerful monsters, for example, will probably tear your face off well before they’re successfully Purified.
After the fight, you can Train your new recruit in the main menu, to influence its development and raise its Happiness. Once its Happiness reaches Rank 10, it too can use the Purify command. (That’s the circle of life!)
Purify also comes in handy when closing Dark Portals, the system from which Geo Panels arose. Any battlefield will have a certain number of Dark Portals scattered around it, which give off a sort of beam that illuminates hexes in a straight line leading away from it. Those “beams,” called Dark Squares, can be redirected by sending a character to stand in their path.
Standing on a Dark Square doesn’t do you any harm or good, until someone uses the Purify command to destroy the corresponding Dark Portal. Then all the Dark Squares explode in sequential order, hitting with an explosive elemental attack according to the color of the Portal. The more Squares explode, and the more targets get hit by the explosion, the more powerful the explosions are. Even better, if you can get the Dark Squares to ignite in a circle, all creatures within the circle will get hit by an even larger explosion.
Closing Dark Portals also earns items and extra money at the completion of a map. More importantly, the character that closed a Dark Portal will earn experience points for her equipment, leveling it up and making it more powerful.
Equipment in La Pucelle works differently, too. Unlike Disgaea, a character doesn’t have to equip a standard weapon. Instead, you have four slots to pretty much use however you see fit; no matter what she’s theoretically wielding, Prier will still attack with either her ceremonial baton, or the mightiest groin-kick in the history of strategy games. (Prier, as a heroine, is perhaps most notable for her maniacal desire to go find evil and kick it in the junk. Even her better moves revolve around this central goal: Coup de Grace kicks evil harder, Deliverance kicks evil twice…)
Each item will act to increase your stats, and to channel earned experience points towards a given statistic. Armor will increase Defense, for example, while a Staff generally adds to SP and Intelligence. The more experience you get with that item equipped, the higher your stats will go, and the more stat-related special skills you’ll learn.
That’ll come in handy, because La Pucelle handles combat as less of a series of individual events, and more of a volley of fire. Attacking an opponent on the battlefield will take you to a short-lived special screen, where the attacker, and any allies he has within adjacent squares, gets to smack his target, as do all of his allies. If the target survives, he gets to try for a retaliatory attack; even if he doesn’t, any of his allies in the local area now have a chance to avenge him.
This goes both ways, of course. It also means that you need to be a lot more careful when you’re on the offense in La Pucelle. There are ways around it, naturally, such as most of the Special Attacks in the game, but the point still stands: a weak character attacking a strong, reinforced opponent is likely to get killed in the process. Moving in formation is a lot more important in La Pucelle than in most strategy games, since an ally in a nearby hex has a very real, very immediate positive benefit.
It’s not as deep as Disgaea, but then again, it’s not a step backwards. It’s the previous step, and it’s still a remarkable game. La Pucelle is just as addictive as its sequel, but doesn’t have that swimming-against-the-tide feeling you can occasionally get with the later game, where you’re a hundred hours in and you haven’t even scratched the surface. La Pucelle: Tactics is a proven hit in Japan, and when it comes out in two weeks, you’ll get the chance to see why.
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