Princess Crown has yet to appear outside of Japan in any shape or form, which is a shame, because it is one of the best action RPGs you've never played. Originally released on the Sega Saturn during its heyday, Atlus recently decided to port it to the Playstation Portable. Since we may never see it in English, I took this opportunity to snatch up the import copy for the criminally cheap price of about $20, using
by Doug Erickson along the way. Unless you're fluent in Japanese, the amount of text can make traversing the world of Princess Crown quite troublesome, especially considering that you need to talk to certain people in order to open up new paths on the map.
Nonetheless, when I first started up the game, I was taken aback by its sheer quality in every aspect. It is everything you would want in an action RPG and more. The story centers around the young Princess Gradriel, bearer of the golden crown and destined to become the queen who will defeat the world's demons. Noble and caring, she sneaks out of the castle, with the help of the fairy Aria, in order to go on a journey to help the various people of her realm. Along the way, Gradriel meets three allies: the dragon-slaying swordsman Edward, the pirate Portgus, and the mischievous witch Prosperina. Not long into her quest, the game switches back to the castle where her sister becomes entranced by a magical book filled with demons. Needless to say, things hit the fan and it is up to Gradriel and company to save the day.
Besides the tough, female heroine, the game is remarkable for its combat and aesthetics. Like the cult hit Valkyrie Profile for the Playstation, the entire game takes place on a 2D plane, with your character moving from left to right and vice-versa against a scrolling back drop. There are no overhead views here, but that is what helps make the game's combat fun and unique. In-between towns, Gradriel will occasionally encounter monsters which she will then proceed to duel in fighting game fashion. Quickly tapping the attack button will create a combo and you can hold back to guard. But you'll have to watch your power gauge, as every action will whittle it down. When you're out, you'll have to let it refill, giving the enemy a chance to attack. There are other techniques at Gradriel's disposal, as well, such as a jumping attack, super attack (she will deal a devastating upwards blow to the enemy, but it will automatically expend the power meter), and a dodge technique which allows her to side-step enemy attacks providing she has the energy to do so. On top of all of that, items may also be accessed from a circular menu brought up by the triangle button. What this all adds up to is a well-rounded and challenging combat system. You won't encounter as many enemies as in a traditional RPG, but each encounter is more strategic and involved. It's a refreshing game design for something that came out two generations ago. Obviously, other conventions remain. Gain enough experience and Gradriel will level up, increasing her HP and stats. Enemies will, every once in awhile, drop items for you to pick up, and a treasure chest containing other wares and gold (with which you can buy things at a shop) will appear after they are defeated. The princess can equip one item at a time, but if you aren't careful, the equipment can be knocked off or destroyed during battle. Certain other items (like a scroll that turns your equipment into rubber) can prevent this. The L button accesses your inventory. As you can only have so many items in your quick-select menu, this comes in handy for switching them in-and-out with others in your extra bags. The R button provides a convenient map which shows you how each area connects to the others.
There's also plenty of special attention paid to the visuals and soundtrack. Even though it's good, the music is likely the weakest part of the package. No tune really stands out, but you get the standard "town theme" and such. The graphics are where Princess Crown really shines. Every character and enemy is rendered as a detailed sprite with complex animations. It's the same level of 2D goodness you might expect from Metal Slug or a good fighting game. Not to mention that it makes the fighting that much more fun. The backgrounds are well-done, too, but sometimes repeat depending on the area (many of the early forest areas share the same, general backdrop, for instance).
Princess Crown's quest is quite lengthy for a game of this type and it is full of all of the twist and turns you might expect from an RPG. Since it is currently not slated for a translation job, if you're determined to play the game, it is recommended that you take advantage of the PSP's lack of region encoding and import this puppy. If you can't understand Japanese, the guide cited at the beginning of the review can be a great help. Just don't miss this opportunity to play one of the best action RPGs in gaming history.