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Penny-Punching Princess review

I tend to be pretty excited when the main NIS team actually makes a game. They made the great Disgaea series, La Pucelle Tactics, Rhapsody, Phantom Brave, Makai Kingdom, the Prinny series, ZHP and a bunch of other things. Overall generally very good at designing games. So them making an action RPG with wacky mechanics seemed like a home run right away.

It looked very fun, so what did I end up thinking of it? Read on and see!

Note: I did not actually complete this game, I’m a chapter away, but I’ve played enough for a proper review at least 5 chapters ago TBH, and I’m not playing anymore of it

Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Date of Release: April 4th 2018
Platform: Switch, Vita (Switch version reviewed)
Genre: Action RPG (ish)

Rated T for Teen

Presentation

This game uses pixel-based sprites for everything. The main character and monsters have cool designs and just enough personality to be fun to look at. cartoony but still cool, in general. There’s a handful of enemies that are nearly as big as the screen, and they look pretty awesome. The environments don’t fare nearly as well though. Basically all the areas in all the chapters of the game look the same, just with differently colored tilesets. It does get pretty boring. There are a few issues as far as UI goes, both in usability (more on that later) and visibility. Like if there’s lots of enemies on screen, it can be hard to see and select the correct bribing target.

I can’t say much about the music or sound, I was mostly listening/watching other stuff while playing. It’s probably fine, NIS doesn’t do bad music.

The story is… there. So you play as some kingdom’s princess. Her father, the previous king, was fucked over by the Dragoloan family, lost all his money in a gamble and somehow dies after. So the Princess is given a calculator by Zenigami, the god of money, and alongside the beetle Sebastian trains to be a penny-puncher to get revenge on the Dragoloan family. And… that’s basically it. There’s a twist or 2 in there, but it’s pretty surface-level overall. What’s really annoying about the storytelling is the writing. I’m assuming it’s a localization issue, but it’s ridiculously badly written in english. Instead of saying “I” they all say, “Ah”, there’s random”uh”s at the end of random things and they whole game is basically shit to read through. It’s supposed to be… I dunno, a southern US accent… thing? It fucking sucks. I think the idea was to give it personality, but instead it’s just horrible.

Gameplay

So this is an action RPG, of sorts. No experience points, instead you need to grind money to level up specific things, sort of. There’s 2 control modes, touch screen or not. I recommend the not touch screen mode even if you’re playing in handheld mode.

The game features 8 chapters, each with 5 levels to play through. Each level is basically the same idea. You go through a non-random dungeon, fighting battles (which restrict your movement within an area when you find them), going down different roads to open hidden treasure chests. Once you get to the end of a floor, either you finish the level, or go to the next floor. The final battle of a level tends to involve either lots of enemies or a big enemy with a bunch of infinitely-respawning minions.

So the core of combat in Penny-Punching Princess is melee attacks. The princess can move with the left analog stick, do a stationary combo, a “moving” combo (just mash the attack button while moving), a really slow heavy attack I almost never used (it’s chargeable), a forward push attack, an all-around push attack (which sucks and costs HP), a super attack based on what armor you have equipped and a dodge roll. You’ll generally want to be using the basic “moving” combo attack most of the time, I feel. This part of the combat is fairly simple. Kinda fun for a bit but not much depth.

All enemies have a notch on their life bar, and when they get down to that they enter a “break” state. In that state they’re stunned, but also if you either tap them (in touch mode) or rotate the right analog stick (in not-touch mode) they send out a bunch of coins. Killing enemies also makes them drop a pile of coins.

So coins are the most important thing in this game. You use them for 2 things basically: bribing, and buying stuff. You have a calculator, which pops up over the screen (without slowing down the game or anything). This is where the non-touch controls come in action. Holding ZL summons the calculator, then you can use the D-pad to enter numbers (not really useful, very unwieldy and hard to use during combat) or press ZR (while the calculator is out) to target the nearest enemy or trap, and if you have enough money you can bribe them with A. Bribing an enemy removes them from the battle and adds them to your X button slot (bribing something overwrites what you previously had in this slot). Bribing a trap also adds it to your X button slot, but they remain on the field where you bribed them. Pressing the X button, regardless of what you bribed, uses what you bribed. Enemies can be summoned anywhere and do one attack, while traps do remain where they were when you bribed them so you have to lure enemies to them before you activate them (or push them there). Anything you bribe has a limited number of uses (from 1 to 3). Also some enemies are just straight can’t be bribed. There’s also more “utility” things you can bribe like healing circles and sealed gates, and also the calculator has a cooldown between uses (as does your super).

Oh and controlling the calculator is ass since it covers part of the screen and doesn’t slow down time so you still need to avoid shit and actually targeting what you want to target while using the d-pad while moving with the right analog stick while holding ZL isn’t quite what I’d call user-friendly. So basically you better be happy with whatever is closest to you.

So that’s the combat. Basic combos and bribing.

The money you have remaining at the end of a level remain in your bank. That money (which can take very long to grind) can be used in your kingdom for 2 things: build statues of Zenigami and make armor. Armor increases your defense and attack stats (usually there’s one armor that’s just better than everything else on both fronts), what your super attack is and how much money you can carry at once. Zenigami statues give you skill points (and you can also find 1-point statues in the actual levels). Skills let you increase attack, HP, defense, poison resistance, freeze resistance (completely useless), as well as a few skills based on which character you’re upgrading (there’s 2 playable characters), like a really useless roll attack on the princess or making her calculator charge up faster.

Oh but buying stuff in your kingdom doesn’t just require money. It also requires bribing a certain number of specific enemies and traps before you’ll be able to buy each thing (and obviously more stuff becomes available). So that’s gathering more money and grinding more for the simplest of stat boosts (And each stat boost in the skill screen is more expensive than the last, so that means you could buy 5 statues and not be able to obtain a single stat boost).

Overall not a very great gameplay loop, especially in the early game when you can’t carry all that much money on you. And when you can it doesn’t really matter because stuff just gets more expensive.

Overall

The game looks not too bad, it plays okay, and it’s overall not a very fun experience. The gameplay is very simplistic at first, and there’s nothing in the enemy design or level design that deepens the gameplay at all. Stuff gets stronger so you need to grind a bit to not get your ass kicked, but that’s about it. You can get better at playing the game, but after a couple chapters you have pretty much all the skill you need for the whole game.

There’s really not much to this game. Level layouts are re-used all over the place, combat never gets more interesting, and finding “secrets” is just as easy as “look at the map and go another way than the arrow is pointing”.

I was hoping this would be really good, but it’s extremely hard to recommend. I enjoyed it for a bit but by the last 4 or so chapters I just wanted to stop.

Eh.

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