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Review #47

Princess Waltz
Developer: Peach Princess
Publisher: Pulltop
Genre: Eroge Novel/Card-Based RPG
Release: 10/31/2008


READER NOTE: This is a review of a hentai - or pornographic - game. Though there are no pornographic images in this review, the game itself includes graphic and sometimes gratuitous scenes of sexual acts being performed. Reader discretion is advised

There is no genre of gaming as niche as the hentai game. Scorned by the vast majority of the gaming market, most of these titles serve as little more than wanking material for lonely Otaku that have a desperate need to actually work for their porn. I have to admit that H-games were a novelty in my youth, with Sentimental Shooting still being a personal favourite, but as I'm a gamer first and a pornography connoisseur second, I've been turned off the genre as most games seem to offer the barest of interactivity, giving gamers only a few choices to make in a story that is often times poorly written, poorly translated, and containing characters that are all too often the worst anime stereotypes come to life. "Oh no! Don't shove that tentacle inside my no-no place... ah... oh it's so good~". Any respect the genre had with even open-minded gamers pretty much vanished between the release of the five Valis X games - retellings of the classic Valis games from the Genesis and PC Engine era, only with tentacle sex - and the release of Water Closet: The Forbidden Chamber, a game that prominently features urination and defecation. Add in the low-rate rape simulators, and you have an industry that is forgotten, bordering on loathed, and rightly so.


In 2004, one game changed all of that. Type-Moon released Fate/Stay Night, and while it didn't do anything drastically different, it combined great character art with an outstanding story to create a game that finally was able to do what no other pornographic game - or really, any sexually oriented game not named Leisure Suit Larry - was able to do before or since: break out of the malaise of the genre and establish itself as a great game that happens to have sex, instead of a sex story that happens to have a few choices in it. An toned down version of the game was eventually released for the PS2, and it's even been converted into manga and conventional anime (though the TV run of the anime was short; 24 episodes).

Being a customer of J-List, I began to hear hushed whispers of another game that was finally going to break the rest of the glass ceiling, a game that was not only a great story with sex, but was also an outstanding game in it's own right that could stand on it's two feet as anything it wanted to be. I receive emails from J-List about three times a week, and each time, it mentioned Princess Waltz, the Next Big Thing(tm) in H-gaming. My excitement was dampened a little after some digging showed that most of the hype was coming from J-List, owned by the same person - Peter Payne - that just happens to own JAST USA, which happens to have Peach Princess as a subsidiary, the same Peach Princess that distributes Princess Waltz. Furthermore, Peach Princess has typically been a terrible studio putting out terrible games, including the aforementioned Water Closet. Due to all of this, I could be forgiven for being a skeptic. Still, enough people bought the hype that the game sold well, and even received a review by Kotaku.

I decided to take a dive in to see if this was yet more of the same of a shitty genre, or if this could be one of the few games that could successfully combine two of the greatest things in the world - tits and RPG elements - and make it work. Not surprisingly, not everything worked, but to my astonishment, not only was the good/bad ratio better than I thought, the parts that didn't work were the last ones I would have thought going in.

Princess Waltz puts you in the role of Fukamori Artata, a common high school student in Japan who bickers constantly with his childhood friend Nodoka and is taken care of by his single mother Nanae and his sister Shizuka. He bumps into a transfer student named Chris Northfield who happens to speak perfect Japanese, happens to be royalty, and also happens to be exceptionally pretty, making the girls go nuts for him. Naturally, Chris isn't everything he appears to be, which sets up the rest of the game, and his interaction with Chris as well as the other princesses, all of whom are entered into the Princess Waltz, a tournament to determine who the wife of the prince will be with a few simple rules that are explained by two diminutive referees. I can't really give too many more details without spoiling key parts of the story, but what you need to know is if it's worth your time or not, and the simple fact of the matter is that while the general gist of the story is nothing that hasn't been done before, the way everything is told - from the setup to the plot execution to the characters - is top notch. I feel that I can place this game on a level with other, more conventional visual novels such as Hotel Dusk 215, less because of the base plot than because of the storytelling; the translation is very good and has been Americanized well without going off of the Japanese script, the game is exceptionally descriptive about you, your surroundings and the people you deal with (Artata also serves as the narrator in the first person). If there's one problem, it's that the game tends to be a bit TOO descriptive, particularly during duel and fight scenes. I had one particular fight scene last a half hour my first time through the game, and though this fight scene was outstanding, more casual fans are going to be turned off. In addition to that, the fights themselves reached Dragonball Z levels of ridiculousness, as each fight/life ending move was escalated by another, bigger fight/life ending move, which was then countered by ANOTHER fight/life ending move, and this went on and on and on to the point where I half expected Cell to show up for the next six episodes. They were scripted like long wrestling matches, with finisher after finisher being theoretically "kicked out" of. If you're not into Japanese style storytelling, this game has a better chance of hardening your opinion than it does of changing anything.

The best part of the storytelling itself is the characterization of everyone involved. Every main and side character has their own personality, and thankfully, for the most part, they avoid falling into the H-game stereotype trap. Near the end of the game, I felt personally attached to just about every allied character due to their personalities, and I have a particular affinity for Lun-Lun, who might be the funniest character I've seen in any game in some time. Yes, I said ANY game. If there's one problem at all, it's that you have no real choice of how to interact with each character; the story is static until near the end, when you decide who you're going to fight the final battles with, and even then, all that really changes is a few lines of static dialogue, your character's stats during fights, and one of the sex scenes you get to see. More choice would have gone a long way. In addition, it's unfortunate that of all the characters that you're supposed to feel an affinity towards, the one that I feel has the least attractiveness as a personality is Chris, which is not a good thing considering the game revolves around him. He's a necessary character, and removing or changing him wouldn't have made the story work at all, but as the game went on, I was starting to question why I was fucking around with Chris so much.

If I had to pick one major problem I had with the story out - and this is the only one - it's that the actions at the end of the first half of the game, and all throughout the second half, make the duels of the first half of the game meaningless. That bothered me; those duels were incredible, and should have settled those particular story arcs. The story itself recovers nicely to the point where everything made sense at the end, but it's still sad to know that my favourite fight scene meant nothing at the end of the day.

Thankfully, the game looks and sounds gorgeous. Most of the game is told in still shots, but the art is fantastic. There's also CG art used during big scenes that are all particularly well done, and put in at the perfect time to build the tension of the key scenes in which they're used. There's no amateur work here; this is an exceptionally produced game, though a few typoes in the script could have been avoided. The music and sound effects are also top-shelf, with the OST being exceptional almost from top to bottom. PW's production takes what would normally be a good story and enhances the atmosphere surrounding it to make it great.

There's more to the game than just a good story; one of the selling points for this game is the card-based combat system. The card-based combat system of Princess Waltz works, but unfortunately, there's not enough of it. Card battles are simple to the naked eye, but underneath lies a complex system involving a weapon triangle, use of effective strategies, and elemental advantages. You and your opponent are given five cards each at the beginning of a round, with the round containing two phases, the initiative and attack/defense phase. Your cards have numbers and one of three colours - red, green and blue - with the numbers depending on how strong that colour is for your character. Your goal in the initiative phase is to pick a high enough sum of cards to get a higher number than your opponent, with stat modifiers being in place depending on each character's agility rating and the dominant colour in play on each side (green beats red, which beats blue, which beats green), and gives a bonus or detriment based on the statistical power of that character's card colour. Whoever wins the initiative phase goes into attack phase, while the loser goes into defence phase, where the process is repeated; the unused cards from the first phase can be used for the second, and if the attacker has a higher number than the defender once the sum of the cards, the respective weapon/armour ratings, any weapon triangle advantage and any skill bonus is taken into effect, the positive difference is used to calculate damage. If your character wins, they get experience depending on the difficulty of the opponent and, if fighting in normal mode, the amount of turns used and the "overdamage" (meaning, if your opponent has two HP left and you do ten points in damage, you have an overdamage of eight) which can be used to buy better stats and skills.

If you think that sounds confusing, imagine how I felt; I didn't get the full hang of battle until about half-way through the game because the help files are fairly subpar. However, once I figured everything out, battles flowed, and worked well. Battles in Princess Waltz remind me less of other card games than they do of Japanese Mahjong, in how pre-planning is more of a determining factor than dumb luck; considering the audience this game is intended for, I have a feeling the similarities between this and a system found in Japanese hentai arcade games are intentional. Battling is a fun experience, but players are given the choice between fighting in normal or easy mode; in easy mode, every stat you have has five points added to it, and battles are less an experience then they are just a matter of time. The only penalty players receive for fighting in easy mode is less experience, which is irrelevant because you're so much stronger than your opponents that a hundred or so EXP is irrelevant in the long run, so easy mode is there for people that just want to get on with the story. It's a nice choice to add in.

With that said, the only problem with the card battles is that they're not important in the long run. There aren't a lot of battles - I'd guess there's fifteen of them off the top of my head - and there's no further battles once the game is done; you'll fight the same people at the same time no matter what. It would have been advisable to add in a way to fight more battles, either away from the game for fun or with more opportunities for training, the way the Persona games do it. In addition to that, the battles don't really mean anything to the story. In one instance, Iris (the character that you and Chris/one of the princesses becomes) beats a character in a card battle, but then loses the actual fight as the story progresses, in another one of those Gohan sequences where your big victory was met with another, bigger act. Granted, if you lose any fight, your game ends (you're encouraged to save before every fight), but the card battles feel tacked on just to add the illusion of interactivity, instead of adding it in reality.

I can imagine what some of you are thinking at this moment: "Chris, that's nice, the story, card-fighting whatever, yadda-yadda... look at those Princesses! I want to see them fuck! How's the sex!? Titties titties titties!!!!!" For those of you saying that, first, seek counselling. Second, stop reading right here, because this is easily the most disappointing part of the game.

A full playthrough of the game, from start to finish, will net you a grand total of three sex scenes, two of which are always the same in the first half of the game. The scenes themselves, in my opinion, actually go a bit over the top for my liking; every female character you do it with is a virgin, and with one exception, every single one shows bleeding at initial penetration. I might be a bit strange, but I use porn - real or fake - as a form of escapism, and the sound of pained wincing combined with the visual of blood on my cock doesn't really do it for me. Also, the scenes, though short when compared with the fight scenes, tend to drag as they seem to have been written from rejected pieces from Penthouse Letters. Furthermore, each scene only has three CG stills, with slight variations based on facial expression, penetration, and ejaculation. Finally, despite the disclaimer on both the JAST and J-List sites that all characters are eighteen or above, I call bullshit because of Shikikagura Suzushiro. Not only does that flat-chested kid - who isn't "older than she looks" because she's always cutting on the age of the other girls, and is, as a character, exceptionally naive about the outside world - have a sex scene, she also is the only character in the game to receive anal sex, in the only scene in the game that made me wish the skip button was available for all scenes (it's not available if you haven't seen the scene before). If you're playing this game for the sex scenes without caring much about the story, you will either be extremely disappointed, or a loli fan.

This combines to make a strange combination: a hentai game I can't really recommend to hentai fans. Instead, I can recommend this to those that like interactive novel-type games such as Phoenix Wright or the forementioned Hotel Dusk 215. For me, personally, this creates a rarity, as most of the people I know that like those types of games - and the humour contained within this game - are female. Imagine that: a hentai game that features vaginal bleeding and little girls taking it up the asshole that plays best for female fanfiction writers. I'm waiting for someone to try this game on my recommendation, only to write me back a week later going "WHAT IS THIS SHI-- BLEEDING!?"

There are five storyline arcs in all in the game, but there's almost no deviation between them; you only pick the storyline arc very late in the second half of the game, and all it really does is determine which princess fights with you in the final few battles, and who you have your final sex scene with. There's also only one ending, with a very slight deviation for one of the storyline arcs, with an underwhelming prologue scene after you've beaten the game with all five characters. Due to the fact that you can save the game right before you choose who you want to fight with, there's no real reason to go through the first half of the game other than to replay some of the particular scenes that you might have enjoyed; all you have to do is reload that save, pick a new character, and skip the scenes you don't want to see any more, as long as you've seen that particular scene before. It took me a little over six hours to get through the game the first time, but within an hour, I had the epilogue unlocked, and unless you really enjoy the story, there's no real reason to go through the whole thing again. It's also very disappointing to me that while I can watch all of the unlocked sex scenes in the extras section (which is nicely done; all of the CGs, songs and scenes are re-viewable/listenable), I can't go back to any of the other scenes in the game, especially some of the fight scenes. That seems less like they wanted to keep the focus on sex - if that was the case, there'd be more of it, and it would be better - and more like a short-sighted omission in the design process.

The final question eroge fans are probably asking themselves is between this and the other big-name release: is Princess Waltz as good as Fate/Stay Night? It really depends on what you're looking for. Fate is definitely a deeper franchise, and a deeper overall game, and fans that look can absolutely see that Peach Princess "borrowed" a lot of different elements of the Fate/Stay Night, from the length of the game (about two weeks each) to the main characters (Artata and Emiya are near carbon copies on the surface) to the main female fighters (Iris is a Saber clone), and some that I could be forgetting. I personally prefer Princess Waltz because I like the light-hearted take on the story and prefer the art, though I'd have to say overall that Fate/Stay Night is still the eroge novel champion.




THE SCORES
Story: Very Good
Graphics: Enjoyable
Sound: Classic
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Bad
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Dreadful
Miscellaneous: Great
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME





Short Attention Span Summary

Princess Waltz isn't everything Peter Payne told us it would be, but it's definitely not a bad game, and the fact that a H-game scored as well as this one did should say something about the quality of the product itself.

Though I still maintain that Peach Princess is a terrible developer who's future releases - including a funatari (dickgirl) game - do more to hurt their industry than help, they nailed it with this one, ironically because the focus was less on sex and more on a great story and fantastic characters.

If you're looking for a good interactive novel and are of legal age in your area, don't be afraid to give Princess Waltz a look, and don't be surprised if the card game becomes more addictive than you planned. But if you're just looking for the sex, check 4chan or look elsewhere.

Comments

sam767
Jan. 16th, 2009 07:56 pm (UTC)
That must be a not-so-happy experience for those who don't realize what's going on. :(

superbus
Jan. 16th, 2009 08:00 pm (UTC)
It's not so fun for those that DO know what's going on. A woman's first time usually sucks.