Code of Princess EX is a different breed of beat ’em up from what I have been covering lately. Many of them have involved fairly linear stages with boss battles at the end, like we are familiar with. This one comes from a Japanese development team known as Studio Saizensen, with many of the creators coming from Sega with background and experience on another game of the same genre called Guardian Heroes. Code of Princess is also infamous for the lack of clothing that the main protagonist is wearing, so our content guide will cover everything that she does not.
Though we have already gotten this game previously on 3DS and Steam, the publishers of this title have not been consistent. Now in the hands of Nicalis, new life has been breathed into this property with characters appearing on the upcoming Blade Strangers and Crystal Crisis. Nicalis has recently been excelling in marketing on the Nintendo Switch by providing full retail releases of the games they publish along with extra physical goodies in the package. Those who have picked up the retail versions of Binding of Isaac and Cave Story+ are already familiar with how this publisher operates.
Spiritual Themes: Code of Princess features the use of magic and sorcery. One of the characters is a necromancer who has to create a body for herself out of various human parts to stay alive. Players will take on various fantastical creatures such as zombies, ghouls, giant spiders, and more.
There is a nun character that is influenced by Catholic beliefs, though she does carry a large mace and a shield with a cross on it. However, her faith belongs to “gods” rather than just one. She also has paladin-like magical abilities that utilize the power of light for offense and healing.
Violence: This game features animated violence without blood and gore. Characters fight monsters with various types of weapons. When characters or enemies are attacked it usually involves explosive special effects and cries of pain. Characters can also be inflicted with burn, poison, and darkness debuffs. Every once in a while, the camera zooms in to highlight some of the action.
Drugs/alcohol: There are no drugs or alcohol present in this game, but one of the stages does take place in a tavern.
Sexual Content: A few of the protagonists of the story are wearing very revealing clothing with visual cleavage and buttocks. A few of the characters make an attempt to cover up with some kind of top and underwear, but main protagonist Solange wears the most revealing clothing. Her breasts are only about twenty-five percent covered by some kind of armor plating—at least it covers her nipples. She also wears a small piece of what is supposed to be underwear along with a thin belt and cloth hanging from it. Seeing this character is unavoidable but players do have the option of choosing a different character to play as. Comments about her attire are also made a few times throughout the story. Lastly, there is also a boss character that is literally wearing nothing to cover her chest, but her hair covers her breasts, preventing full exposure.
I love beat ’em ups, I’m a casual anime fan, and I’m currently in a weird relationship with JRPGs. Code of Princess EX is a combination of those three. It plays like a beat ’em up, but not in the traditional sense like I have covered in the past—Way of the Passive Fist was still closer to traditional. The path of movement is divided into three lanes instead of allowing the player move through the stage freely. It takes some time adapt, since you must hold block and push up to switch lanes. This difference made for some fun movement and enabled me to juggle enemies in the air with pushing up on the stick or D-Pad.
To my disappointment, the stages are not very large. I was able to complete the first handful in only a few minutes, and they did not go far beyond five minutes long when I got further into it. This might be due to the fact that it was originally released on the 3DS, because bite-sized stages are ideal for portable and mobile platforms. This also means that the stages are not very big. You will never run off screen into a different area or see a flashing “GO —>” prompt to let you know it’s time to move forward. The conditions to complete a leve are simply to defeat all of the enemies and a boss, if there is one. It may sound simple, but a difficulty spike shows up right when you have gotten comfortable with how things work.
This is where the RPG elements come in: when I hit that difficulty spike, I was forced to grind. Each character gains experience and a level as you complete stages. Their stats increase with each level and you have the option to equip gear that you can unlock or purchase to boost those stats. Luckily, I was able to backtrack and play old stages to increase my level. Eventually, I got strong enough to stand against the boss that destroyed me countless times. Each character gains experience when you finish a stage, even if you’re not currently using them. It helps for someone like me who likes changing characters based on the given scenario, but you’re likely better off if you find a character that fits your play style.
What I enjoyed the most about Code of Princess is the fact that it feels like a Japanese D&D story. Most of the characters seem to be inspired by typical classes. You have a warrior, thief, a bard, and a necromancer. Sister Helga, the paladin, is my personal favorite since her character is inspired by Catholicism and aims to “cleanse sin”. Each of these characters has their own reason for joining Solange on her quest to face evil and reclaim her kingdom. The bard also breaks the fourth wall on occasion and mentions experience points and leveling up. It was the characters that kept my interest; I wanted to see where the story would take them.
The combat itself reminds me of a 2D fighter to an extent, because each character has combos displayed on the pause menu, while Guilty Gear-like burst mechanics are also a part of the strategy in boosting damage and other effects that increase your efficiency in combat. There is a “lock on” attack that targets enemies, making it possible for you to see their health bar. Most of the enemies are fodder, but it helped for some of the stronger enemies that were not bosses. Getting myself familiar with this style of combat had me wondering what 2D fighting games would be like if they had more than just one plane to maneuver on—it could be a fun way to incorporate simultaneous 2v2 or 3v3 battles.
Replaying old story missions might be the best way to level up multiple characters, but there are other modes that increase the replay value. There is a free-play mode that lets you go through stages you have already finished, but can be played by any character in the game. Playing through the story unlocks every stage and every character to play as in the alternate mode—including the creatures. The challenge mode is another option, which includes special conditions and objectives that must be achieved to complete a stage. Playing online co-op or versus matches is an option, but I never found any matches to even test this feature.
Code of Princess‘s presentation feels like it is straight out of an anime, but there actually is not a Code of Princess anime. It has the look and feel of one and includes a handful of animated cutscenes. It is not hard to see that the most attention was given to this aesthetic, but it does not translate well when playing on a television. The cell shading mixed with the 3D graphics looks bland on some characters and stages. It does not look so bad when playing in handheld mode, but it makes sense due to the game’s initial release on the 3DS and works better on a smaller screen instead of a giant television. I am disappointed that the English dub did not make it outside of the original platform for reasons that possibly involve the changing of publishers and localization rights. The story itself feels right out of an anime too. It may be nothing more than a “save the world” kind of story, but the game has well-written characters which is what usually draws people into anime in the first place.
Code of Princess EX could be a great game, but it is a little too grindy for what it is worth. I wanted an action game that I could romp through and waste a bunch of monsters and bosses. I got that, but having to replay old stages to get stronger disrupted the momentum of the story and characters I largely enjoyed. The production value is also strong, but gets lost in translation when you try to make use of the hybrid functions of the platform and play on your television. However, Code of Princess EX has been a solid experience even with the things that work against it. With the forty dollar price tag, I cannot recommend it to the average gamer, but there is some value here for the fans of JRPGs and anime. For those who own a PC and feel the need to check it out, it will only cost you fifteen dollars on Steam.
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The Bottom Line