Note: this review/essay is going to get very spoiler heavy, particularly toward the end
I did not buy Prinny Presents 3 for La Pucelle Ragnarok, though I know for many/most, that was one of the bigger selling points. For me, Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure held a lot more nostalgia and was a far more appealing game on the whole, from music to story to just about everything that went into the game (minus those dungeons, which I had blocked out).
La Pucelle: Ragnarok was a bonus as far as I was concerned. I had originally played the game on the PS2. I did remember it, but it didn’t hold the place of fondness in my mind that Rhapsody or other early NIS games have (I still recall finding Disgaea: Hour of Darkness on a random shelf in my local Gamestop). I recalled it being a basically average strategy RPG with a basically average story that I played through once, perhaps twice before reselling (likely to that aforementioned Gamestop, though a lot of my games also went to my local game shop: Slackers [where I would trade in Super Nintendo games for a PS2 and Final Fantasy X]).
When I beat the game last week, I still had that exact impression. La Pucelle is a decent enough game; in a lot of ways, it feels like a rough draft for the upcoming Disgaea series. It very much feels like a bridge between the light, RPG fare of Rhapsody and the more tactical series that would become one of NIS’s mainstays.
That meant that there were interesting characters that had some dynamic growth to them, though they also drifted close to stereotypes (and the male lead needed more development time). Several of them were just extensions of what would often show in games: a brash melee attacker as the heroine, a dedicated healer and magic user, a rogue sky pirate, etc. They had some personality to them, as the image above starts to show, but nobody here is on the level of Laharl, Flonne, or Etna, the main trio from Disgaea, or even the more secondary characters that everyone seems to forget exist (Gordon, Jennifer, and Thursday, who are almost as good as the other trio).
The game plays out like a pretty standard game of its type. You control Prier as she runs around exploring some village maps. Then you’ll shift to an extend set of stages where the battles play out on an isometric grid.
The real difference and hint of personality here is how just attacking another enemy works. Abilities play out about like you’d expect, though instead of the effects happening on the grid, they switch to another screen. There characters will unleash abilities on one another, again, pretty standard fare. However, the regular attacks will drag in those characters standing adjacent to the attacker or defender, sometimes filling the screen with all out brawls.
It’s a bit of spice, and mix that with the characters and the sometimes challenging difficulty (at one time nearly impossible difficulty) and you have a pretty engaging game on the whole. It’s not the best strategy RPG out there, but it’s probably a bit above average. I’d rank it with most of the Mercenaries games: there’s something there and if you like the genre, you’d get something out of it.
So I beat that game, and was all ready to move on to more spooky games for October (though this one has some dark elements). However, as I did, it told me that I could now important my characters into the Overlord Priere route.
See, what I didn’t realize is that this game is less a remake of the PS2 I remembered and instead is a remake of the Japanese only PSP game, hence the “Ragnarok” part. That meant that there was an entirely alternate story “route” that had now become available for me to play. I quickly looked online and found that the route had some meat to it, though wasn’t as long as a regular game (4 chapters; took me about 10 hours).
This is something that NIS would put into later released games. Disgaea has a route where you play as Vassal Etna instead of Laharal, Disgaea 4 would have an alternate history route, etc. I’ve often skipped these, because they’re either crazy wacky side routes or insanely difficult ones that expect you to have massively built up your characters to insane levels.
Still, I was curious, so I gave Overlord Prier’s route a try. And it turns out that this is where they’d been hiding some absolutely brilliant writing, incredible characterization, and some unique challenges to the gameplay.
Instead of the more traditional story of spunky tomboy Prier teaming up with hidden Maiden of Light Alouette and learning to love or whatever, this route has Prier being offered the power of a Demon Overlord, because she’d killed so many demons. At first Prier and company laugh this off, treating it as a joke. Ha ha, the holy maiden of the church is so rowdy and violent that the demons want her to join them. Her little brother even jokingly suggests she’d make a better Overlord than a Maiden of Light.
The group then ventures to a village to help deal with some demonic attacks. While there, they discover a little girl who is remarkably like a younger Prier, and who wants to watch them kill demons. Naturally our heroes forbid this, but the girl eventually plays Prier, tricking the heroine into letting the kid tag along. It turns out that this girl is actually the loose dark energy of Prier herself, who takes the power of the Demons and starts gathering an army.
This leads to a fascinating narrative where Prier struggles with why she wants the power to fight. This “side story” plays between chapters of the main tale that you have to beat to unlock it, and I constantly found myself wishing that they’d just included it in the main storyline, as it’s so much better. See, we learn that Prier severely doubts her ability to keep up with everyone else, and that she wants the power to save Croix at all costs:
The idea of the heroine willing to embrace darkness to save those she loves is an interesting one. We’ve seen it before, often used as framing for a tragic hero story. If you don’t fulfill certain criteria during the Overlord playthrough, that’s likely what you see here. Prier succumbs to her dark power, falls into despair, and kills her friends and companions.
The criteria really aren’t all that hard to fulfill: you just need to find glowing pink spots on the map and examine them. Sure, you’ve got to do it in a specific order, and at one point it becomes crucial to do it before hitting the enemy, but it’s not as ridiculous as some criteria.
When you do, Prier still succumbs to the dark power to become an Overlord… but elects to fight for the good of others. What happens is this fascinating tale where an overexcited girl uses powers she’s earned to do what’s right, eventually talking her love interest into following her path. The happy ending for this tale leaves everyone alive, but leaves Prier a Demon Overlord and love interest Croix as the Dark Prince.
It’s fantastic, and very much in line with NIS stories.
The actual gameplay doesn’t change much here, though now you’ve got characters at a high enough level to start having some fun. There is one point where Prier flies off by herself and you lose most other named characters, creating not a difficulty spike but a difficulty wall that made me grind for an hour or so. But it’s mostly engaging, and it’s far better than the main tale.
What’s interesting is that this was technically in the PSP rerelease of the game. NIS could have just taken the PS2 copy and ported it, much like they did with Soul Nomad. The game still would’ve been alright. Instead, we get this updated copy that those of us in the West have likely never seen before. It adds something new to the experience, throwing on a few extras.
I’d still argue it could use some more bells and whistles: better saving options, fast-forward, etc. But it’s still doing something really cool with the whole remake/rerelease. We aren’t just getting the same game rehashed, but additional content that wasn’t available before. This has happened before with other releases, I think even with some other NIS games (though only Final Fantasy X-2 immediately comes to mind). It’s giving us something more, and really showing how these games should be repackaged.
I’ve mentioned game preservation before. It’s a big thing in gaming, because consoles too frequently aren’t backward compatible and games disappear from digital storefronts. Think of it like if all our libraries burned down every few years, or you could only read a certain book with a certain light. Something gets lost there. So I’ll take any preservation I can.
But this, this is how to actually do it well. I bought the full package because I was excited for Rhapsody, so I wanted the CDs, the box to display, everything. But that was extra stuff. Even the most basic purchase of La Pucelle: Ragnarok is going to have that extra story. It’s unfortunate that it’s buried under a full playthrough, though I admit it’s possible it wouldn’t have as much impact if you didn’t go through the slightly above average game first.
It still makes this a worthwhile purchase, and it begins to show what a company can do with these rereleases. Expand on things, give us those quality of life improvements, and above all, let us play these great games of old.
8 overall, though the Overlord Prier route comes dangerously close to being perfect; there’s still a slightly clunky, slightly outdated strategy RPG around it, and a mostly average story to get through first.