In order to talk about The Princess Guide, I have to bring up Idea Factory. It’s not an Idea Factory game or anything, but early localized titles from that company definitely spring to mind when you’re playing this one. In particular, I was most reminded of Generation of Chaos, an absolutely inscrutable PSP game that served as my introduction to Idea Factory.
That’s because both that game and The Princess Guide aren’t really interested in having you play them. They just sort of exist. They don’t open their arms to welcome you or anything – you can come and have a seat if you want, but they’re not going to pull out the chair for you. Tutorials are sparse, explanation is thin at best, you’re kind of expected to explore and learn on your own time. Don’t get me wrong, some people are going to love this, but it’s also not going to be for everyone.
You play as a famous hero tasked with tutoring several princesses. You’ll guide their development into mighty warriors and rulers based on both your preferences and theirs. Effective training will result in effective princesses, but if you slack chances are they will as well. You can choose from one of four princesses, switching between them over time and eventually working with all of them at once.
How do you train them? Well, you use Knowledge Materia, which are…representations of lessons, I think? You get them through completing quests and by doing…er…things in combat? Also they have to be steadily learned by the princesses before you can officially teach them…maybe? The entire concept isn’t especially well-explained, with what sparse in-game descriptions are available never offer much of anything to help you figure things out. Sometimes you’ll get new Knowledge Materia. Sometimes you’ll be able to use them to boost your princess’ stats. Other times…not so much. Who knows? You can use them for crafting and stat boosts, too, but that’s going to require some trial-and-error until you figure out what the best options are.
All of this takes place in two main modes: a strategic map and action-RPG battles. The map has you deploying various characters to go to settlements and accept missions, which typically consist of moving to different spots, taking out enemies or standard point defense. Encountering an enemy in this map switches you over to the battle screen. The various playable characters have different styles, ranging from a mage to a dual-wielding assassin archetype, but they all involve combining quick weak attacks, slower but more powerful specials and ordering a group of soldiers you have to contribute their own strikes.
Naturally, very few of the mechanics involved are explained adequately, so expect to have some problems as the game gets tougher. I’m particularly fond of the game’s signature mechanic, allowing you to praise or scold your princess based on her actions in combat. Which actions? Uh…well, if you scold her when she’s stunned, it’ll cure it, and if you praise her when her health is low it’ll probably heal her. Also it affects the whole Knowledge Materia thing in some fashion…somehow.
So the game itself is…I don’t want to say it’s bad, but it’s certainly an acquired taste. How’s it look and feel? Well, the good news is that the music here is absolutely fantastic; it’s got a sort of jazzy, bouncy aesthetic that really works well with the frantic combat. The bad news is that all the characters freak out and jitter all over the place when they’re talking. Yes, seriously. It’s insane. Look up a video. In all seriousness, the art style here is great and everything looks pretty good, though combat does tend to get a little too crowded to make out what’s going on.
Look, I know it’s popular to criticize the modern trend toward extended ingame tutorials. I get that. It can interfere with the flow and kill your immersion. Some games, though…they can use the help. The Princess Guide, like Generation of Chaos so long ago, is one of those games. There’s a lot of depth here. You’ll just have to figure out how to swim on your own.