Full Review: My girlfriend caught me making demon babies with La Pucelle...
Over the last few months it's been the standard operating procedure of almost every video game writer to heap lavish amounts of praise on Mastiff and Nippon Ichi's tactical RPG La Pucelle: Tactics. I won't waste any of your time by telling you that's exactly what I plan on doing as well. La Pucelle is amazing and is without question my game of the year as of August 6, 2004.
La Pucelle is the name of a demon hunting force for the Church of the Holy Maiden led by Prier, a sixteen year old . She is joined by her twelve year old brother Culotte and their teacher at the Church, Sister Alouette. Of course, I spent the whole first chapter thinking Culotte was a girl, but we'll get to that in a minute. Like all good RPGs before it, La Pucelle tells the story of evil slowly rising from a long slumber. There is a powerful sorcerer who wants to plunge the world into darkness. But there is also a focus on religious themes as we learn early on that the evil force is actually a rival church called the Church of the Divine Mother. It's actually a rather mature take when you consider the cartoonish look, and hearing these characters discuss things like calling down the wrath of the Goddess on a wayward man to cleanse his soul is trippy stuff. However, in the case of La Pucelle, the story is very secondary to the gameplay.
I have never played a "tactical" RPG before. Final Fantasy Tactics came and out. I overlooked last year's Disgaea, also from Nippon Ichi, because I had just discovered the GameCube shooter Ikaruga. And in the grand scheme of things, La Pucelle is the "real world" on top of the Dark World featured in Disgaea. But none of that really matters as La Pucelle is the perfect starter tactical RPG. The game features enough standard RPG conventions that it could be played like a straight RPG and the game would still be very good. Though it becomes great as soon as you realize just how deep it goes.
It starts out slowly with learning things like battle formations and the best way to maximize your attacks during each turn. It goes on by learning which weapons and armor should be equipped at the same time to create the ultimate fighting force. Each character has four item slots that can be filled with any combination of weapons, armor or charms that can increase any and all of their attributes. Character customization, or specialization, of these attributes could be a game unto itself. Each equipped item affects different attributes and through their use in battle, the characters level up those attributes.
It goes further as equipped items can be charged with elemental energy for that extra kick. Some are even imbued with magic that can be permanently learned by using it in battle as magic levels up the same way that other attributes do. The item can then be passed to another character if they take the weapon so it is possible to teach every character every magic spell.
While these features are not exactly unique to La Pucelle, the game has one more trick up it's sleeve that is. The land of Paprica has been poisoned by the dark energy that the Church of the Divine Mother is creating. If left alone, more demons will pour out of these portals and overrun the world. Thankfully, the members of La Pucelle are able to Purify this land and turn the dark energy against the demons. By standing in the right positions to direct the flow of the dark energy, any demon in the path will take damage after it has been purified. And if you create a circle of fifteen or more squares, a miracle will occur, damaging every demon in the circle.
La Pucelle can even go further by purifying demons and making them change sides and fight against the forces of evil. With the ability to field a party of eight at a time, and the ability to purify an unlimited number of demons, the choice of who to bring into battle becomes an important one.
Like most tactical RPGs, the graphics are not pushing the limits of the PS2. But they get the job done and the game features a very Japanese and anime influenced look that will appeal to a lot of RPG fans. La Pucelle actually features a cleaned up 16-bit Super NES look. It actually looks a lot like Culdcept, the card battling-Monopoly hybrid from last year and they both look a little like Secret of Mana, so there's a good pedigree involved. Prier and Culotte actually bear more than a little resemblance to Raggedy Ann and Andy. Each character has plenty of attack and magic animations to keep the battles lively, while the environments are only slightly above average. It won't be eye candy, but with a game like this, it doesn't have to be.
On the other hand, the voice acting is terrible. Prier, Culotte and many of the supporting characters have voices that absolutely grate on my nerves. And the script is filled with inane little asides and lengthy dialogue that just goes on forever. I want to play, I don't want to watch. Especially not with this dialogue, it's just so bad. You are not allowed to skip whole scenes, but oh do I wish you could. Although I have to admit, Alouette smacking Prier with a Bible and saying '"In the name of the Maiden of Light," you won't do whatever bad thing I just caught you doing again' is pretty funny.
The background music isn't as bad, but it's not very memorable either. Each town/location has it's own music and it's not bad, your basic RPG-type music. It's also that way with the sound effects. A punch, a kick, a scream, a victory cheer. All pretty basic, all pretty average.
The only truly bad moment of La Pucelle is that like most RPGs, you have to play through the leveling grind. At various points in the game your characters will hit a wall where they're just not strong enough to compete with the demons in the next chapter. So you have to go back and replay sections you've already played to earn enough experience points to make your character strong and enough gold (called Purica here) to buy stronger weapons and armor. It's nothing new to RPGs, but that doesn't make it any less annoying. Although sometimes it's good to go back in La Pucelle as it enables you to purify and convert demons to your side that you weren't strong enough to before. Sometimes the level grind makes a weird kind of sense in La Pucelle.