The voiceless self-insert protagonist is nothing new for JRPGs. Plenty of games over the years have let you put yourself in the shoes of a silent but formidable warrior embroiled in a twisting civil war or a quest to save the world. What happens after that, though? What becomes of the battle-hardened hero once the war is won and they have no reason to fight anymore? The answer proposed by The Princess Guide is that our hero decides to turn to a life of teaching and tutoring.
There’s still plenty of RPG action in this game, it’s just that, rather than taking on evil mage guilds and vile monsters yourself, you’re tasked with imparting your heroic knowledge on 4 different princess warriors so they can conquer their foes themselves. Each princess has a wacky personality and a unique reason for needing your help, but they’re all equally charming and well-written.
Liliarte is an energetic princess who wants to slay a nearby dragon in order to eat it for dinner…and also save her village. Veronica is a scheming witch princess who enlists you to her side in order to help her take over the world. Monomaria, meanwhile, comes from a broken royal family with barely any money to their name, and wants to improve herself in order to restore honour and wealth to her kingdom. Finallu, Alpana is a dragon princess who seeks to unite the world peacefully through the gospel of her dragonkin religion.
When you start the game, you pick one of these princesses to accompany, and play through a short campaign focused on her. After you beat that story, you go on to play campaigns for the other three princesses, leading to a slightly lengthier final campaign where all four characters come together. It mirrors the structure of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it works really well. You get a series of focused, standalone stories that develop these characters and then get a cool crossover-vibe when all of these major players come together in the final act.
It helps that the tone and writing of the game are equally enjoyable. This is a mostly humorous game, relying on sharp wit and sudden wacky antics that fans of games like Disgaea will be sure to enjoy. There are a few serious developments throughout the game that help add some gravitas to the narrative, but overall it’s a goofy tongue-in-cheek adventure that constantly had me grinning.
Unfortunately, those grins were quickly wiped away whenever combat started. The Princess Guide has pretty traditional top-down action RPG combat, with you navigating your character in tiny maps and arenas as you battle baddies and pick up loot. There are a couple of cool ideas for the gameplay that help make the whole thing a little more unique. The freshest element is the six strong squad that accompanies you into battle. You can customize the crew to use different kinds of soldiers or creatures, and they’ll contribute in battle by hitting enemies, activating stage hazards and enabling a slew of special attacks.
It’s a cool mechanic, but there’s one big problem: your squadmates are dumb as bricks. Their AI is a mess, often running straight into enemy attacks, standing around waiting to get killed, and rarely keeping up with your movements or staying close enough to you for you to properly use any of your combo attacks. They will die, and when they do, you cannot use environment tools, most of your useful attacks, or even your dodge button.
Another major mechanic of The Princess Guide that falls short is the Praise & Scold system. During battle, you play as the princess you’re training. At any time, you can press both shoulder buttons and then pick to either praise her or scold her for how she’s doing. These nudges are only effective if you use them properly, though; you need to praise the princess when she does something good, and scold them when they run into trouble. The issue with that is that the action in this game is such a constant mess of shapes and colors and numbers, that it’s honestly hard to tell when the right time to use scold or praise even is.
It’s hard to keep track of the action in general. Every character and enemy is rendered in a small, cutesy style, but when they’re all ramming into each other and running around in a mess of attacks and explosions it’s often a headache just to figure out where your own character is. Thankfully, the visuals in the rest of the game aren’t nearly as messy or muddled. Menus are beautiful and sharply designed, with dynamic and colorful UI elements that are reminiscent of the menus from Persona 5. The character art in status screens and story scenes are crisp and wonderfully drawn, and portraits bob up and down during dialogue with a cute speedy effect as if they were on fast-forward. The gameplay in The Princess Guide might be a mess, but the art is consistently incredible.