Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Release Date: February 17, 2009
It's tough being a prinny, dood. Even in the best of circumstances, you can only take three hits before being out of the game for good. You're stuck with those stubby little wings, and you waddle along at a slow, steady pace. It's easy to get discouraged working for master Etna, too. She's tough, uncaring and the most demanding demon in all the netherworld. Who would want to be a prinny, dood? They're the smallest and most persecuted creature in the spectrum of Nippon Ichi universes.
Well, a whole legion of dedicated Disgaea fans might consider diving back into the goofy, irreverent, dood-filled world created by Nippon Ichi in 2003, but there is definitely some incentive even for Disgaea newcomers. For the uninitiated, prinnies are penguin-like demons who have an unfortunate habit of exploding when they're thrown.
Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? puts you in the shoes of not just one prinny, but the entire Prinny legion. You start the game with 1,000 prinnies at your disposal, and even though you can only control one of them at a time, it keeps the game from being an impossible, ugly mess of a platformer.
As it is, almost nothing about this title is truly ugly, with the possible exception of an excruciating final boss. From the moment it boots up, it's clear that this is one of the best-looking side-scrollers that's been made, just a step down from detailed masterpieces like Odin Sphere. It doesn't really push the limits of the PSP the way games like Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core have, but it's still a nice treat for the eyes. The prinnies and all their enemies are clean, neatly detailed sprites that look better than they ever did on the PS2.
The plot, while simple, is the essence of Disgaea, and while that may leave a few non-fans out of the loop, it's definitely not so exclusive that players become lost and confused. A squad of prinnies is sent out to recover a missing Ultra Dessert for Etna; they must gather ingredients from all points of the netherworld and bring them back to make the most supreme sweet of all time.
The entire point of the Disgaea universe is to be funny in a slapstick and self-referencing way, and Prinny keeps up that tradition with "Star Wars" parodies and references to Internet memes aplenty. It's not as compelling of an incentive for progress as in the much longer and more elaborate strategy RPGs on which it's based, but it still works.
The audio of Prinny also carries on a tradition, with familiar and similar tunes lovingly borrowed from Nippon Ichi's other games, and cheesy but endearing voice work performed by familiar voice actors. I snorted with laughter every time Prinella piped up with her high-pitched and accented dialogue, and Prinny's voice had a familiar tone that helped stop me from throwing my PSP every time I heard, "I'm finished, dood."
Players will still be hearing that phrase a lot, and when I say "a lot," I mean potentially thousands of times. You see, Prinny's most unique and defining feature is its utter cruelty. You will feel as hopeless as the title character when you look at your life count and realize that you've lost a hundred prinnies and the game isn't even half over. However, the many checkpoints scattered through levels and the 1,000 lives definitely make up for that, rewarding you for trial and error instead of punishing you like a Mega Man or Castlevania game might. While Prinny shares many features with these classic and difficult side-scrollers, you won't have to replay the whole level just because the boss battle is giving you a hard time or you fell to your doom one time too many. Although the levels get progressively more difficult, you'll likely never see the game over screen unless you give up and start over.
The end result is a title that's as personally challenging and rewarding as beating Megam Man 9 using only your buster gun, but without inspiring you to go out and kick puppies to relieve your game-induced rage. Whenever you feel that the game's being unfair, you can take solace in the fact that there are still 900 prinnies waiting to take your place.
You have to come into Prinny knowing what to expect. There is very little learning curve on the first playthrough, so things can get overwhelming by the time you're facing tough boss battles like the Chefbot–9000. The curve seems like it should be simple, considering the prinny's only abilities are double-jumping, butt-stomping, and slashing madly in the air or on the ground, but there's a whole subtle spectrum of knowledge that you have to pick up to truly master your Prinny. It's disheartening that the developers felt that you only deserved a level selection screen after the game's halfway point, preventing you from going back to hone your skills until you've practically reached the peak of difficulty. Even finding the orb that enables the level selection is optional and not exactly intuitive, which is an odd choice. Instead of having the vital elements of the hub world available from the outset, you have to unlock them by finding hidden items inside of the already-challenging levels, which will probably confuse and bewilder most gamers.
Those hidden orbs and other secret items really extend the playtime into something worthy of the Disgaea brand, though. The first six levels can be tackled at six different hours of the day, and each hour changes the level's layout and the number and difficulty of enemies. In addition to this, every level (and every variation of every level) has three hidden dolls to stomp out of the ground and kill, all so you can get unlockables and eventually enter the cave of ordeals. It's an intimidating challenge, but something that hardcore fans will certainly be working on for months to come. Fortunately, even when they're done doing that, NI has promised downloadable content to further extend the challenge. If they follow up with what Japan already has, these downloadable packs will include special boss fights that aren't available from the get-go and are sure to make even the most dedicated Prinny players cry.
Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? is perfect for platformer lovers and Disgaea fans alike. It's loaded with fan service, extremely well-polished, looks and plays good, has subtle depth despite a simple move set, and doesn't punish players for trying out new things with their huge squad of prinnies. The difficulty is pretty darn unbearable toward the end, but I'm sure that Prinny will find a comfortable home in the hands of hardcore gamers.
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