Title: La Pucelle Tactics
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Publisher: Mastiff
Date Published: 2004
Platforms: PlayStation 2

The Church of the Holy Maiden has its hands full. There's two reasons why: one, there's zombies, big bats, bears, and other sorts of undead and monsters streaming in from the Dark World; and two: Prier just managed to finish her exams, qualifying herself as a Demon Hunter in La Pucelle. Keeping the Church's hands full with all sorts of shenanigans and vulgarities is no easy task!

But the story's not what makes the game shine; the real meat and potatoes of La Pucelle Tactics is the gameplay. What we have here is something far more indepth than even Final Fantasy Tactics! Taking place in the checkerboard world, the player is faced with a map of varying size and shape, populated with monsters. Nothing new there. And the characters can move around just like they would in Final Fantasy Tactics. The similarities stop there.

Because much of La Pucelle's story revolves around the Dark World and the Dark Energy it brings forth, it is a key element in gameplay. Across each map in randomized positions (though sometimes they're fixed), there are Dark Portals, where monsters can enter. They don't enter in every turn, though; only about every third turn or so. Being Dark Portals, they're bound to leak Dark Energy, which flows in a single randomized direction away from the portal. This energy has a color (element), which is the same color as the portal. Now, there are 4 colors, but they can be combined to create new colors. When somebody, either friend or foe stands on the Dark Energy stream, the stream's direction changes to the direction the character is facing (unless they're facing the stream, then it just stops). If there's enough participants out on the field, this energy can go in many different ways, resembling a maze like trail. However, there is a penalty to standing on Dark Energy; character's stats will temporarily decrease (I've seen anything from -1 point on all, to 1/2 on all. It's random.).

There is a way to remove Dark Portals and the energy they emit, though. Purification is the key word here. Anyone in the Church can do it, and so can high-level monsters (monsters?? More on that in a bit.) Also, purification works on practically anything other than an empty space. When done to a Dark Portal, it damages the portal by the purification power. When a Dark Portal is destroyed, all of the Dark Energy coming from it goes away too. Any monster standing on disappearing Dark Energy takes damage. If they're further down the stream, they'll take more damage than if they were closer to the portal. There is an exception to this: when blue and green Dark Energy are combined into one stream, any allies standing on it will be healed. Also, closing Dark Portals enables one to get bonus money. If they're all closed at the end, more money to you! Dark Energy from closed Dark Portals also rubs off on your equipment, making it stronger with each portal closed. An extra incentive, as if all the other stuff wasn't enough.

The main way of getting more characters in your party is by purifying the enemy. Apparently, the monsters like being purified, because each time they are, their odds of converting after they've been defeated go up. It's always good to convert a boss. However, there's a drawback to this: once your monster's been defeated when it's under your control, it's been aced, and won't come back ever. Any equipment your monster was using is also aced.

But you can always get more monsters by re-doing the maps that are already completed, unlike in other games of this nature. In fact, the same set of monsters are always there, every time! Lost your high level Big Zombie? Nothing I can do about the high level part, but you can always go back and get him (her?) at the same map.

Defeating the monsters is another matter altogether. Rather than just the "one attack command, one attack" of other tactical RPGs, characters instructed to attack will attack everything in their range. But they won't do it immediately. When all the attack commands are given, there is a command labeled "Begin attack". All the attacks are simultaneous, and could include more than one person beating on more than one enemy in a battle! And there can be several battles in an attack, and many attacks in a stage! There's also support positions given to those in battle who are just behind the lead attacker. It's like being in the back row of the Final Fantasy battles; less damage dealt, no damage received, no attack command given! Therefore, they are free to do other things, like heal.

The graphics in La Pucelle are odd. They are two dimensional on a prerendered background (think Starocean 2), or, in a battle, two dimensional on a 3D board. But the detail that went into the animations is top notch. Every one of Prier's little pouts is visible, even on a low resolution television! However, the music, while good, gets annoying for the simple reason that it doesn't change between battles; only changes between dungeons (think Dark Cloud 2). But that's a minor point.

Most everything in this game is very well done, however, I suggest that you rent it before you buy it. But it's something that has kept me engaged for hours on end!

Sources: GhettoAardvark, for letting me borrow it
manual and gameplay

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