La Pucelle: Tactics|
By: Matt C. on June 2, 2004
If you've played Nippon Ichi Software's other tactical RPG, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, you'll know exactly how La Pucelle: Tactics will play without even picking up the controller. Both titles share similar looking menus, characters, enemies, and battle system. Despite impressive reviews from the gaming community, I have never played Disgaea: Hour of Darkness when it was released in North American last summer. As a result, I can't really compare the two games, but I've been told that La Pucelle: Tactics isn't quite as refined as Disgaea, because it was actually released in Japan January 2002 (Disgaea come out January 2003). However, don't allow that to make you think that La Pucelle is inferior to Disgaea -- as long as you enjoy tactical RPGs (also known as strategy role-playing games) and like anime (or as long as it doesn't bother you), then there is no doubt in my mind that you'll love La Pucelle: Tactics.
La Pucelle: Tactics stars Prier, a rude 16-year old girl with an additude problem. Not only is she outspoken, but she also has a habit of using brute force to solve problems rather than thinking it through. All in all, she isn't a pleasant person to be around, but she wasn't always like this...
The other stars of the game include Prier's younger brother Culotte and their mentor, Alouette, who rarely speaks but tries her best to keep Prier in line. Overall, La Pucelle's storyline is very serious, but the game is still filled with silly and humorous moments that reminds me of Pokemon, Trigun, or Cowboy Bebop. For example, characters hit each other over the head and they often overreact to certain situations with wacky facial expressions. Typical anime stuff. All in all, I found La Pucelle's plot to be enjoyable and charming. Just don't expect the same huge production values found in other RPGs (read: no CG scenes or anime clips are used to move the story along).
If you've played any tactical RPG, such as Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and of course Disgaea -- it should take no longer than one hour to learn the basics of La Pucelle: Tactics' gameplay. The game does a nice job of showing you the fundamentals, and more advanced techniques can be learned by simply talking to a certain man in Pot au Feu City (the town you start in) or by simply experimenting on your own. Hell, even if you've only played board games, La Pucelle shouldn't be too difficult to master.
Strategic planning and combat takes place on traditional isometric 3D maps, with the player and AI controlled enemies taking turns. When you first enter the battlefield, enemies will already be placed in pre-determined panels on the map, but you have to place your own characters out onto the field from the base panel. You can place up to 8 characters out on the map. Later on in the game, you'll have more than 8 people and animals in your party, so you'll need to select your characters wisely in the more difficult maps -- especially since working in groups is one of the keys to winning in La Pucelle: Tactics.
When it comes time to actually attack your enemy (using physical attacks or damaging magic spells) or heal your teammates, the screen changes to a side-screen view with a nice hand-painted background. Everyone who you instructed to attack or is in range of the enemy will appear in the battle sequence. Be careful though, as enemies will be given a chance to counter-attack in the same battle sequences if they aren't killed. Of course, you'll be able to see the outcome of the battle and then the stats screen will appear to show you how much experience points you've earned.
One aspect I love about La Pucelle: Tactics is how easy it is to build up your characters the way you want them. For example, if you want a character who can dish out and take a lot of damage, simply level up his or her ATK (attack), HP (hit points), and DEF (defense) attributes by equipping items (such as weapons and armor) that level up those areas. For instance, when equipped to a character, the "power jacket" levels up the HP and ATK aspects at normal speed. If the power jacket had a number "2" next to the ATK icon, the attack power would level up twice as fast. With this setup, you can develop any character into a powerful attacker or strong spell caster. Alouette is geared to be a healer, but if you want her to be in the front attacking with the male characters, you can do that if you put some effort into it. You'll spend hours just building up your characters. And the best part is that leveling up his or her stats is actually quite fun.
To build upon the strategic elements of the gameplay, La Pucelle: Tactics boasts a purification system. Each map is peppered with "dark portals" that must be purified to keep more enemies from coming out of them. All or at least the majority of them also need to be purified to keep the dark energy in the area from becoming too powerful. In addition, it is possible to convert monsters (excluding bosses) by having your character purify them instead of attacking. The more powerful the monster, the more turns it will take to completely convert them to your side. Once converted, they can be used just like any other character in your party. Monsters can even have their attributes boosted through training.
La Pucelle: Tactics may have a simplistic look to it, with characters that are made of sprites (which actually don't look all that bad despite the canned animations), battlefields that I could easily create using my PC, no dynamic camera angles during battle sequences, and hand-painted backgrounds instead of CGI -- but to be honest, it didn't bother me at all. The graphics are adequate for this type of game, and as long as you can easily tell the difference each character (or foe), that's all that matters. Besides, some of the hand-drawn backdrops are pretty sweet.
In my opinion, music is very important with it comes to an RPG. A very important moment in the game just won't have any affect on me if the music isn't up to par. La Pucelle's soundtrack isn't as memorable as some of the other RPGs I have played recently, but each song fits each situation. The music is far from bad, but I'm not going to be picking up the soundtrack CD at my favorite import shop either.
As for the English voice-overs, it was done very well. Most of the voice-overs are done by fairly well-known celebrities, such as Jennifer Hale (ER, Emma from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and a billion other games/cartoons) or experienced cast members from other games. It's even possible to switch to the original Japanese voices.
La Pucelle: Tactics may not have the best graphics, deepest plot, or perfect enemy AI, but it is still definitely one of the best games I've played this year. It took me a little over 40 hours to complete La Pucelle, but I didn't even tackle the side-quests. Each chapter of the game also has different endings, which gives most players yet another reason to go back and replay certain areas. Put it all together and dedicated gamers can easily spend well over 50+ hours finding and completing everything.
If you're a fan of tactical RPGs or just want to try something a little different from traditional RPGs, please do yourself a favor and give La Pucelle: Tactics a try. The first few hours of the game are yawn-inducing, but if you keep playing, you'll find a fulfilling game.