Gamestyle Archive Intro: a glut of tactical games arrived on the PS2 around 10 years ago and offered a new challenge for gamers. La Pucelle: Tactics isn’t the cream of the crop by far, yet acted as an introduction and tuning mechanism for future delights. This was an NTSC review from 2004 by JJ.
The tactical element in games has come ahead in leaps and bounds. Kick-started by Final Fantasy Tactics, and helped along by Advance Wars, the true masters of the genre are a hitherto little-known Japanese developer called Nippon Ichi Software.
Following in the tradition of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (and Phantom Brave), La Pucelle: Tactics pitches the player within a world of grid-based battles – those expecting a challenge will not be disappointed, as the precursor to Disgaea is a worthy combatant indeed. Assuming the role of Prier, a young trainee, La Pucelle’s story captivates immediately (despite the somewhat dour presentation). Prier’s aim is to become a Maiden of the Light (the controlling church), and this will be achieved by overcoming demons and gaining new skills – notwithstanding the battle against her own personal demons.
There are some links with Disgaea (Prier was a secret character, in fact) but both releases can be thoroughly enjoyed as separate ventures; the danger currently facing the kingdom is a series of dark portals through which evil creatures have been unleashed. So, your ‘apprenticeship’ will be fairly hectic as new skills and tactics are introduced via steady ritual. The strength of the story is key to your motivation in La Pucelle: Tactics – as battles do become lengthy and formidable. Character interludes and revelations sit well within the scope of action, however the presentation isn’t all that it could’ve been (and perhaps would’ve looked more at home on the GBA or a 16-bit format). Nevertheless, it is an enchanting tale, and confirms that lengthy cut sequences are not always required when the story is so convincing. And perhaps the primitive, hand-drawn graphics – together with some accomplished voice acting – prove slightly refreshing in this all-too-predictable era of videogaming.
If the idea of constant levelling up and gaining experience points is not what you want from a game then La Pucelle is certainly not for you: this is heavy-duty statistical analysis and item-juggling, and probably explains its popularity with disenfranchised RPG players who are suffering hunger pains of late. The game is split into chapters, and only when you have completed one ‘epic’ stage, can you move onto the next morsel of exposition. There is the option to return to previous battles (if you fancy levelling up some more), but with newfound skills to exploit, it can become a little tiresome. The battles themselves are based on a grid structure, where everyone takes their turn – killing all your adversaries or throwing a necessary switch will typically expedite progress. However, demons will sometimes reappear and force a sudden re-evaluation of tactics; nothing ground-breaking to be sure, but the real paradigm is being able to purify enemies and harness their dark energies via a map – once this is achieved, a ‘miracle’ can occur.
Ultimately, the combat system provides greater strategic riches but it isn’t foolproof: you are able to move indefinitely (provided no action is taken) or otherwise control the flow of a dark portal (aka: movement of an opponent) if you’re conversant with the system. For all of its niceties, La Pucelle: Tactics is far from perfect. The interface is decidedly cumbersome and a nightmare to utilise, and there’s a great deal of additional information lurking beneath (details on enemies for instance). But it’s not freely available – you’ll have to go looking for these pearls.
Again, in keeping with other RTS titles like Front Mission 4, if you haven’t levelled up enough then eventually you’ll hit a wall: a battle from which you’ll have no hope of emerging victorious. And you’re certainly not helped by controls which are muddled and fiddly – in fact, it’s far from a conventional layout, and on several occasions you’ll find yourself cancelling moves rather than instigating them. This can make the pacing of battles seem extremely slow (and it does seem like an eternity has passed before your characters have levelled up). And, while the graphical style works, there is no denying that backdrops become repetitive and lack variety.
Gamestyle appreciates the grid-based limitations, but Future Tactics: The Uprising and Front Mission 4 managed so much more whilst shackled to the same formulae. Finally, even the story itself can be criticised for introducing too many side-quests (which might artificially elongate the playing time). La Pucelle: Tactics feels like an add-on pack which has been stretched too thin between the cracks of a cracking good yarn (see: Disgaea). While it’s a pleasant enough journey to take – before reaching the neighbourhood of Phantom Brave – unless you really love the work of Nippon Ichi (or indeed the genre), don’t expect to be revisiting this locale after you’re done.
Gamestyle Score: 6/10