La Pucelle Review
Riddle me this, Batman: With Sony finally making available a few PS2 games for download to the PS3, why is it they seem dead set on only picking titles that seemingly no one is asking for? Where are the Final Fantasies? The Maximos? The Kingdom Hearts? The Champions of Norraths? The God Hands? All these and more are M.I.A. The maddeningly slow drip of new titles coupled with the fact that only early PS3 models feature any kind of backwards compatibility make Sony's approach to the PS2 Classics line somewhat maddening for the nostalgic gamer in all of us. That said, every so often a game pops up that maybe you had intentions of playing, or maybe you've never even heard of before. It is these instances, few and far between as they may be, that keep us patiently watching the PlayStation blog, waiting for the next gem. NIS's La Pucelle: Tactics is precisely the kind of gem I'm talking about.
La Pucelle Tactics is somewhat of a departure from NIS' other SRPG series, Disgaea. That wildly popular series usually has players following the humorous exploits of various demons and underworld entities, none of which are even close to scary or evil, despite what the characters themselves may think. La Pucelle flips the coin and give players control of the good guys, specifically a team of warriors sanctioned by the church to dispel evil. It may be backwards thinking, but the games starring the demons tend to be pretty funny at times; La Pucelle drops almost all this in favor of a darker, more mature tale that has no trouble captivating. As much as I usually end up enjoying the stories in NIS games, they often take a crazy amount of time and commitment before they begin to get good. La Pucelle is no exception; I was a good 10-15 hours in before I could remember a single name or care about anything going on around me. With the typical slow-paced gameplay found in most SRPGs, this is just way too long; if I wasn't reviewing the title, I feel like I may have quit long before the story grabbed me. I'm glad I didn't, but I can absolutely see why a lot of players would drop this one after 5-7 hours of tutorials and the tedium of learning the ropes.
Most people already know what to expect from SRPGs at this point, especially NIS ones, so we won't waste time discussing the basic nuts and bolts. Instead, I feel I should point out the two main differences between this title and the Disgaea series: Grinding and difficulty.
We'll start with grinding. A lot of people love nothing more than hour after hour of battle in the single-minded pursuit of making their team into unstoppable forces of nature, and the Disgaea games have that in spades. La Pucelle is a bit different; without systems like the item world, this title drops some of that grind time by making it much less necessary to succeed. As a Disgaea player, it felt a little weird playing more than one or two story maps in a row with no grinding in between, but the change nicely compliments the better, more engaging storyline. Some vets may feel that without the grind, the game is too short (it's not, believe me), but fans of more traditional story-driven RPGs will view the change as a welcome one. Personally, I loved the story-for-grind trade-off; I don't have the kind of time to play games that I did a few years ago and being able to see this one through to the end - without feeling like I missed a lot - was pretty nice.
The other deviation comes in the form of La Pucelle's difficulty. This game is quite a bit less arduous than its brethren. It is far easier to set up team attacks and combos, and the game does a great job of guiding the player to these powerful tactics. At first it is easy to feel like the game is holding your hand a bit too much, but all but the hardest core SRPG fans will enjoy and benefit from the guidance. And without the grinding, well, you get the picture.
Disgaea is the top cop when it comes to the SRPG genre, but La Pucelle, with its somewhat lower difficulty and better story, feels more like a natural fit with traditional RPG fans. Well, those who are willing to push through the opening few hours of abject boredom, that is. Elvis or The Beatles. Coke or Pepsi. Dragonball or Naruto. Disgaea or La Pucelle. All have the same basic idea with slightly differing characteristics, and you won't find a person out there who doesn't favor one over another. La Pucelle may be a PS2 Classic that no one, myself included, asked for, but it has an unexpected and welcome home on my PS3's hard drive. Now if we could only get these PS2 Classics playable on the Vita...
Final Rating: 78%. It might not be your first choice for the PS2 Classic library, but it's not a bad one.