Release Date: September 30, 2008
Natsume's Harvest Moon titles are fun for many reasons, and one major amusing aspect is the awesome farming simulations. As any experienced Harvest Moon fan knows, though, creating a successful farm is only a small part of the equation. Much of your time in Harvest Moon will be spent making friends or charming a beau in order to earn the best possible ending, and many of the recent titles have been more focused on that than the actual farming. As far as these things go, Harvest Moon is tragically male-oriented, so if you're interested in playing a female character, you tend to get the short end of the stick. The female versions of Harvest Moon come out later and have inferior choices for husbands. While more recent offerings are getting better about this, Natsume realized that its not-insubstantial girl gamer audience has been left in the dust, so they tried to remedy this with the addition of Princess Debut for the Nintendo DS.
Princess Debut places you in the shoes of a young girl who finds a magical portal. Once she steps through it, she is taken to a faraway land and transformed into a lovely princess. Our newly crowned princess's goal is quickly made clear: In 30 days, there is going to be a ball, and six of the finest princes in the land are going to be attending. As a princess, your character makes it her goal to charm one of these six princes into being her partner at the ball. Being a princess doesn't instantly mean that a prince is instantly going to fall head over heels in love with you, and if you're going to earn a partner for the dance within 30 days, you're going to have to work at it. After all, nobody wants to be a wallflower at their debut dance.
During the day, your princess will spend her time finding the princes and spending time with them. You do this by traveling around the town's world map, seeking out the princes and convincing them to spend time with you. Once you've got a prince under your sway, you'll have amusing little side-adventures together, doing anything from shopping for clothes to picking flowers to cutting each other's hair. Spending time with the prince raises their affinity toward your princess, although you'll have to be cautious not to upset or anger them. Each of the six princes has specific likes and dislikes, and you'll probably have to experiment with each for quite a while in order to figure out what each favors. Along the way, you'll meet a few non-prince individuals who you can chat with, and the benefits to doing so may surprise you. There is even the occasional mini-game to play, such as an old game of "he loves me, he loves me not" with flowers that you've picked.
However well your prince likes you, it's sort of useless to spend time preparing for the ball if you don't know how to dance. Between sessions of schmoozing with the princes, you'll have to practice your ballroom dancing with the aid of a friendly imaginary rabbit clad in a top hat and tails. After choosing 14 different public domain songs in either classic or Latin style, you practice your dancing until you're the best darn ballroom-dancing princess there is. Ballroom dancing is basically a slower and slightly easier version of Elite Beat Agents. The DS' touch-screen has various "trails" that appear on it, and you follow the bouncing ball along the trail with your stylus in tune with the music, with the trails growing more and more complex.
Dancing and being nice to people helps level up your princess, and increased levels allow access to new events, new clothes, and make it easier to charm the prince of your dreams. If you want to end up as the perfect princess instead of a royal dud, it's essential to balance ballroom dancing with your time spent charming people and interacting with the various inhabitants of the Princess Debut world. All in all, there are going to 20 outfits to find, 14 different endings, and 18 different songs to dance to, so the task of becoming the ultimate debutante will include a lot of variation and replay value.
Visually, Princess Debut is a fairly charming game. The character design and artwork by Kotori Momoyuki is really quite adorable, although it's easy to see some gamers turned off by some of the princes being more beautiful than your princess! The ballroom dancing animations are quite nice, with each of the various dances being motion-captured to provide an exceedingly fluid sequence of dances, whether your partner is a handsome prince or a fancily dressed rabbit. The public domain music is a tiny bit disappointing, but the songs fitting the dances so well more than makes up for it, and honestly, if you're going to be hearing songs over and over again, it's better that they're classics.
All in all, Princess Debut is a fairly simple game. Part Elite Beat Agents and part adventure game, it doesn't exactly contain a lot of complex features. You go in, choose a fella to woo, and then practice your ballroom dancing between friendly haircuts and flower-picking. The adventure gaming is light and simple, and while there is a wide variety of replay value involved with having six different princes to charm, you probably aren't going to have a difficult time getting the guy you want. The dancing segments are fun and simple, and while they won't exactly provide a challenge to anyone but the youngest of gamers, they're still quite fun. Princess Debut is a surprisingly fun little game, and even as a guy, I thought it had the makings of an oddly addictive title. I'm sure there are a number of red-blooded males out there who are unsure if they could even touch the box without dissolving into ash, but if you're not afraid of cooties, then Princess Debut actually houses a surprising amount of fun, regardless of your gender.
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