I like NIS published games personally, but as a reviewer I can tell you they often have big problems. That's why I'm pleased to tell you I was immediately positively surprised by this 2D experience.
Times are tough in the world monster-wise and every nation puts power in the hands of their battle princess. In Schwert you will follow the story of Plume, an energetic air head who serves as their battle princess. After a heartbreaking loss and the death of her squire Plume returns home to sulk and wait for a replacement. He comes in the form of Raltz, an nice guy without a spine. Along with the castle's keeper Yuni and Sigurth, Schwertz's ruler and currently a goose. This beginning team will take on the responsibility of restoring the kingdom's greatness. You'll meet many other friends along the way and they all fit nicely into their anime personality slots. The story is also standard anime stuff but that doesn't mean it isn't entertaining. It is the kind of story that is safe for young people (nice and cutesy) but also has very adult (juvenile) jokes. I had plenty of out loud laughs and smiles while playing so obviously it helps to know your tastes in this area before jumping in.
The visuals are a suitable mix of rudimentary anime characters and storybook backgrounds. They look great at a bit of distance but occasionally when they get close in action scenes you can see the pixelization. It hardly matters though, the simplicity is the charm. Animations are quick but things hang together well due to the character models being made up of layered parts that move. It makes everything look and feel a bit like dolls. There are impressive special moves, the game never slows down even with dozens of bodies in the area, enemy designs are solid, and everything is colorful and bright. Special effects could have used some work and dynamic lighting would have been welcome but overall everything you see plays out well and fits the game like a glove.
I usually like to compare and contrast the English and Japanese voices in these but BPA only offers Japanese. Honestly that's all it needs, it keeps the right flavor anyway. The performers are top notch and they really sell the characters, which is what keeps them from being generic. The sound effects are adequate but could be more diverse. Music is a big highlight here, when you go into battle you can expect some exciting high quality Jpop tracks to accompany your sword swinging. Regular background music isn't all that special though.
Gameplay is a little more involved than I would have expected from a side scrolling action game. You can bring a team of three characters into the levels and they can be switched in and out with the touch of a button. Attacking and defending are familiar, there's a block button and a weak and strong attack. You can also do aerial moves and special moves that are gathered as you level up. Like an RPG you can get new weapons, gear, items, and upgrades. Some levels just send you in to get from one end to the other and clear out all the bad guys along the way. I think the game is actually at its best in that regard but for those who like a little more strategy there are also big boss fights and skirmishes. In both cases you'll have a retinue of soldiers assigned to you and while you do your own fighting you'll also have to consider the conditions on the ground and order troop movements. There are various stances, attack, defend, swap, basic, and showdown. The game is no slouch, if you are too focused on your own fighting and don't get on top of things happening in the battle you will fail over and over again. It took me awhile to learn how to command well.
When in skirmishes the enemy will have various sets of troops and so will you. Each set has HP that you can't let sink to zero. If all units are lost you die, if the enemy's hit points are depleted then you win. You gain morale by doing your own fighting and use it by making commands. Knowing when to attack and defend and swap forces is the secret to winning. One hook that kept tripping me up is the poor decision made on how orders are given. You have a menu that holds potions in the upper right that you can use with the circle button. To give commands to your troops you have to hold R1 and then press Triangle to reach the commands menu. Then you need to press square or circle to go back and forth through the commands. Switching these around and getting to your potions on time while fighting off dozens of enemies is a challenge that didn't need to be there. Boss fights are similarly done but again you'll have to know how to properly command for a giant beast versus bunches of humans. In total it's quite fun to lead your army into battle, and then when missions end you can use the world map to head home where there are shops and a guild and of course cut scenes that play out the story. These are just right, not too long like some other games but still entertaining. After every fight you can select which items to take, just like an RPG.
Awkward command selection aside, the controls are tight and responsive, allowing you to deliver punishment properly. You can button mash if you want for easier missions but when in serious battles you should know what you're doing.
Replay lies in perfection, like many Japanese games BPA gives you a grade based on your performance in each mission. This is where being able to replay the missions is a help, you can do better and better while still racking up experience points.
Battle Princess of Arcadias is a lot of things at once, an action side scroller, a JRPG, and a strategy game. Mostly it's just a great game made of simple, familiar parts. There is just hardly anything wrong here and scanning the internet tells me that this game has been a victim of western critics. Don't listen to them if it looks good to you, it's better than a lot of the supposedly amazing indie games that pop up on the network amid clouds of hype. This game also has a nice JRPG aftertaste that goes down smooth even with all of the action going on.