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PSP Review - 'PoPoLoCrois'

by Joe Keiser on Dec. 20, 2005 @ 12:31 a.m. PST

PoPoLoCrois is a classic fantasy story featuring brand-new sequences from the animated TV series, new playable adventures, plus exciting battles with rich, vibrant colors and cel-shaded 2D graphics. You’ll be hooked on the delightful characters and animated storyline that is fun for all ages.

Genre: RPG
Publisher: Agetec
Developer: G-Artists
Release Date: December 6, 2005


In a way, I've been in anticipation of PoPoLoCrois more than any other game that has ever come out here. See, it was first announced for the original PlayStation back in 1995 or so, when my young child brain was still trying to come down from the combined highs of the new 32-bit systems and the SNES classic Chrono Trigger. I read about this game, thought it might be a marriage of my two then-favorite things, and then waited patiently as it never came out and was eclipsed by even more exciting titles. I guess I never really forgot about it entirely because I still felt an atrophied, dusty excitement when it was finally announced for release here.

And it's here now, sort of. It's not really the first PoPoLoCrois PSOne game at all – it's actually a part of that game, and a part of its sequel, and some new material, all stitched together and pressed so the seams don't show. It's definitely not Chrono Trigger, but it is very much a mid-'90s RPG, a nostalgia piece. Surprisingly, on the PSP, that's enough for now.

In 2005, PoPoLoCrois is about as barebones an RPG as you can get. It follows the story of Pietro, the prince of the nation PoPoLoCrois, from the age of 10 (where he faces an ice demon) to the age of 15 (where he saves the world from a mad god). All of the basics are here – battles are random encounters; items and equipment work in the way they've always worked since Dragon Warrior; the party is typically four characters large; and at the end of the game, there's a method of getting anywhere in the world with the flick of a menu option. It's nothing new, which makes sense, since the game is one that came out when the SNES was still a viable platform.

That's not really a bad thing at all, and the game does quite a few things very well. Firstly, the piecemeal construction of this version of the game from its two earlier incarnations actually gives this game a more epic feel, as both your early and late victories feel important and conclusive. The battle system is fun as well; while they are random, all combat takes place on the same overworld map Chrono Trigger style. The battles themselves are a sort of "tactical RPG light" – the area on screen is overlaid with a grid, and characters take turns moving and attacking; naturally, attacks from the side and back do more damage.

It's enjoyable enough that you'll take off the automatic AI settings fairly quickly in order to create your own little character formations. Though the graphics have a graininess to them that implies a limited color palette, the areas themselves are varied and interesting, and the stubby characters and simple artwork give the game a childlike nature which adds to its nostalgic appeal. The anime cut scenes are actually quite beautiful and ported over to the PSP's screen extremely well. What's more, there's plenty of game here – 20 to 30 hours of it, in fact, and while it occasionally drags, it does a decent job of keeping the player interested, especially towards the end.

So, for an aging game ported to bleeding-edge hardware, it's actually a surprisingly tenable product. That doesn't mean everything comes up roses when this is attempted, and PoPoLoCrois does have significant rough edges as a result. Some of the problems come from the game's unusual structure – while the combination of the two previous games does hold some advantages, the excising of major plot points from the first game make the early going feel a little bit empty, and make some of the later plot points a little more confusing, as they lack some of their context. Some come from the age of the title, like the music which is often hit-and-miss, with some songs endearing themselves and others irritating massively. Some are new problems specific to this version of the game, like the sometimes-grating voice acting. And then there are problems that are not quite so easy to pinpoint.

The controls, for example, don't feel quite accurate enough, regardless of whether the d-pad or analog nub is being used. The combat, which works most of the time, stutters when the random encounter system decides to throw a battle at you while you're in a tiny enclosed space; as a result, everyone gets in everyone else's way, so no one can move, limiting combat options to whatever hits from wherever you were standing when combat was initiated. And, so help me, I have no idea why there's a zoom-in button, but there is, and it makes everything look pixelated and terrible. I never used it, and that's probably the best way.

However, there are two major issues with PoPoLoCrois that are exclusive to this PSP incarnation, and these are the issues that should really temper your decision when buying this game. The first is that fast movement causes the graphics to bleed, as the PSP's screen can't keep up – the result is a blurring of the visuals, and depending on how susceptible you are to that sort of thing, it can be nauseating. I was okay for most of it, but it's something to think about. The other major issue is load time. There's rarely any one moment of significant loading, but there are so many instances of single-second loading that it's liable to drive a man to madness. Entering combat initiates short loading. Use a spell, and it has to load in. If an enemy uses a spell, it has to load in. As someone still coming to terms with load time on handhelds, this drove me crazy, to the point where I just picked one spell per character and stuck with it in order to mitigate load time.

PoPoLoCrois has a few major things going for it. It's a traditional console RPG for the PSP, at a time when you can count its competition in the genre and for the system on one hand. It also has incredible nostalgic appeal for the older gamer, and it's of the expected length. For the younger gamer, it's cute and easy, and has a very young, probably quite relatable protagonist. It's not a bad game by any means, and given that it has so few contemporaries, could well warrant a purchase. Just keep in mind what it is that you're actually buying: a game that's two generations old and wasn't a classic when it originally came out, but was – and still is – a solid experience for fans of the genre. PoPoLoCrois could probably have used more time in development to smooth over the loading issues and other minor bugs, but if you're in the market for a PSP RPG, it's pretty hard to do better right now.

Score: 7.0/10

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