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La Pucelle: Tactics

Until recently, it wasn’t often that we saw women play the role of protagonist in our video games. And the few times they were cast as heroines, they were voluptuous beauties only appreciated because of their looks. Though they still kicked ass, they were still sold for their ass. However, a recent rash of games from across the Pacific has put females into the lead role with fantastic results. The latest game to ride this trend is Nippon Ichi’s La Pucelle: Tactics, a turn-based strategy RPG fusing anime style and a sarcastic lead character. While I’m not an expert on this genre, I can tell you with sincerity that this is a fantastic game.

La Pucelle stars Prier, a sixteen-year-old demon huntress for The Church of the Holy Maiden, working alongside her brother Culotte. They were both orphaned at young ages, and through the help of The Church they managed to overcome their loss and become apprentice demon hunters. Prier is your typical sixteen-year-old girl: too ambitious for her own good and sarcastic to a fault. She’s got her sights set on becoming the next Maiden of Light for The Church, and she’s willing to risk it all in order to get there. Fortunately for her safety, she’s got a guardian in the form of the Sister Alouette, a slightly more experienced demon hunter who guides Prier and Culotte through their studies. She’s also not slow to make fun of Prier short-comings and praise Culotte’s intelligence, which makes for some very humorous scenes.

The game takes place in an alternate-reality medieval Europe, in which many creative liberties are taken. Don’t expect to see familiar sights, or even many familiar geographical features for that matter. La Pucelle is a game built around a great plot, and I can tell you that it’s very nicely conceived. I’d love to go on about it, but honestly, it’s not something I should even risk spoiling for you. The plot twists and turns, and is given to you in large doses between battles.

As you progress through La Pucelle, the storyline grows darker, in stark contrast to the game’s almost “cutesy” graphics. When dealing with religion, many RPGs tend to become clichÈ. However, it still manages to be interesting and exciting. This may have something to do with the high quality presentation of the title, which comes as a surprise from a small company. The games opening introduction, a hand-drawn anime-style cinema, is accompanied by breath-taking music and an impressive attention to detail.

At first glance, La Pucelle seems like your traditional turn-based RPG, but with a little inspection, you can see that it’s anything but traditional. You do a majority of your fighting in the traditional closed battlefields, while you move your characters into position to do battle against your enemies like you would in a game like Chess. Movement is limited to a few spaces from your character, and your enemies can also move about, often times ganging up and flanking your character to try to overrun him/her.

Now, here’s where the brilliant aspects of La Pucelle come into play. On every battlefield that you fight in, there are portals to be purified. While this may not sound all that fancy, the portals can be used for several things. They automatically produce more enemies for you to battle, but at the same time create a tool that the player can utilize to inflict heavy damage on your enemies. Each portal creates a path of light out of it in a direction. Any enemy dumb enough to be standing in the path of light when the portal is purified receives one of several elemental damages, depending on the color of the portal. Provided they aren’t resistant to the element, this can take a large chunk of their health off, as well as benefiting your items.

Yes, it also benefits your items that you have equipped on your character when you purify the portals. By properly disposing of said portals, you gain experience for you items, which in turn makes the items more powerful, which then makes you more powerful. This is really handy, especially considering some of the tough battles you’ll come across. For those though that wish to level up over and over again to become insanely powerful, you can repeat past areas over and over again fairly easily.

The purify ability isn’t limited to portals though! You can also purify your enemies, and then battle them. Should you win, oftentimes they’ll join up with you, and fight on your side. So even though there are only four main characters (another joins up with Prier and company a little later), you can have up to eight fighters in any battle. The former-enemies that join your side can also be equipped with weapons and armor, and can even level up and learn abilities. They become valuable assets to your team, and are almost as important as the main characters. The enemies themselves are pretty well-designed, and though you’ll run into a lot of the same ones, with the only difference between the one next to it being their names. But when some of their names are “Sexy Bit,” how could you be mad about that?

The portal system still isn’t done though. You can also utilize the portals to create “miracle attacks.” Miracle attacks are devastating attacks that are created by making a full square with a single portal around an entire map, or at least fifteen spaces around. Miracle attacks are incredibly powerful, but can be difficult to set up, and because of this it creates a fantastic balance. Since they are a challenge to get going, you usually won’t use them on basic battles, and instead use them as for various boss battles throughout the game. This keeps things from getting too easy, and allows for some cool special effects.

La Pucelle also manages to be a lot faster than most other turn-based games that I’ve played. Instead of waiting for the computer to move each individual character they control, instead all are moved at the beginning of their turn – at the same time. So, in each battle, you shave a minute off your time at least in every turn, which makes things much less boring. Also making the game move faster is instant leveling up: experience you gain isn’t waited to be tallied at the end of the battle; as soon as you kill a foe on the field you experience the results. This can sometimes lead to new ability mid-battle, which can be extremely helpful.

La Pucelle even manages to be pleasing to your senses. The hand-drawn graphics give the game a very unique look. Even areas that you’ll walk through countless times still manage to be breathtaking. I can still vividly remember my first time seeing several of the games areas. The artistic design is quite honestly breathtaking. As for the characters, they weren’t quite as impressive as the backgrounds, but they do get the job done. Their animations are fairly limited, but the games design doesn’t really require anything more than what they were given. As for sound, the voice-overs are fantastic in La Pucelle. An all-star cast of voice actors including Amber Hood (from Baldur’s Gate I and II) and Paula Tiso (from Final Fantasy’s X and XII); along with many other actors with television backgrounds, provide the English voices for the game and get this – they even included Japanese voice-overs too. I’ve mentioned it previously, but more must be said on the orchestrated music in the game. It is proficiently composed, and really adds something to the overall experience.

In the end, La Pucelle is one the best turn-based strategy RPGs I’ve ever played. It combines so many great elements together to create a very friendly game that anyone can enjoy. With dozens of items and a plethora of different endings, this is one game you can expect to spend a great deal of time with. If you own a PS2 and like RPGs of any variety, La Pucelle: Tactics is worth your time.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

Gentle persuasion

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