What is the concept? Hoping to duplicate the unanticipated success of 2003’s Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, publisher Mastiff swiftly secured the rights to Nippon Ichi’s previous game. Released stateside the subsequent year, La Pucelle: Tactics is best remembered by RPG historians as the bridge between the basic grid-based battles first introduced in the developer’s whimsical role-playing musical adventure, Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure and the tenets which propelled the Disgaea series to strategy role-playing popularity.
Recalling N1’s customary narrative structure, La Pucelle’s plotline is broken into twelve chapters, each episode bookended by conversations which shifts between the comedic and the poignant. During the game’s introductory segment, players are introduced to the three main characters. Prier (pronounced “pree-yay”) is the requisite hot-headed protagonist, whose impulsive words are often at odds with the patience and objectivity exhibited by Sister Alouette, a young tutor. Rounding out the game’s core cast is Prier’s younger brother Cullotte, whose age and fondness for Alouette place him in the role of the party’s resident pack mule. Titles such as Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger VS Darkdeath Evilman have demonstrated that Nippon Ichi are adept at crafting storylines brimming with comi-tragic tension. Pleasingly, La Pucelle is no different, flaunting both smile inducing dialog and moments apt to pull at players heartstrings.
What are the game’s strengths? While the title’s storyline is undeniably compelling, battles are where La Pucelle truly shines. Each turn-based phase tasks players with strategic movement, since adjacent allies provide supplementary attacks, while assaults from the side or rear also elevate the severity of your strikes. Complementing these basic mechanics is the ability to purify. Cast against an adversary this ability reduces the opponent’s resistance, increasing the likelihood of the creature joining your party when it is surmounted. When applied to one of the trails of dark energy which adorn each map, the entire stream ignites, damaging any foes unlikely to be on its path. Cleverly, the title even allows players to alter the flow of those energy streams, and if they can build a circuit- any opponents caught within its outline will be overwhelmed.
Unlike many role-playing games force players to follow linear trajectory, allowing only a modicum of customization, La Pucelle grants players a refreshing amount of freedom. While the physically adept and magically oriented have an advance might have a slight advantage when taking up weaponry or spell casting, a characters trajectory is refreshingly open ended, shirking typical archetypes. Solutions to stymieing throngs are enemies are easily cultivated, whether players need a healer or just some extra muscle.
What are the game’s weaknesses? When La Pucelle: Tactics was released in 2004, burgeoning publishers were often excessively prudent, habitually removing any content that could create a stir in the West. Since this PS2 Classic version of the title is a bit-for-bit reproduction of Mastiff’s localization, a number of elements remain excised from the original Japanese iteration. From the removal of crosses, the expurgation of a cigarette from a character’s hands (Strangely, Croix still remains his puff animation), and giving Prier leggings, these revisions seem obsolete given contemporary sensibilities. At least purists can take solace in knowing La Pucelle’s original Japanese voiceover is available from the game’s menu.
Like the Disgaea series, savvy strategy isn’t always enough. Sporadically, gamers will encounter bosses or even groups of adversaries with a serious statistical advantage. As such, returning to previous conquered stages to improve the power of your purifying party is mandatory. While the game’s skirmishes are certainly stimulating, some players may bemoan the requirement to level grind. Certainly, modern players may balk at the game’s unfashionably middle-res delivery. Although character portraits are well rendered and the game’s animation has an undeniably charm, La Pucelle’s standard-def, pixelated output stands in sharp contrast to the splendor of today’s RPGs.
Is it worth the money? Regretfully, Sony’s PS2 Classic library forgoes any supplements, so purchasers of this 1.2 Gb, $9.99 downloadable version can’t access La Pucelle: Tactics 29 page, full color instruction booklet. So while obsessive collectors with a backwards compatible PS3 or PS2 connected to their television may want to hunt down the original (which thankfully, had a decently sized print run), less fastidious role-playing fans should enjoy the convenience of this digital version. As both a chronicle of N1 evolution as an enjoyable hundred-hour time sink capable of standing on its own, La Pucelle is not to be missed.