La Pucelle: Tactics Preview

We go demon-hunting with this tactical RPG from the creators of Disgaea.

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The very same minds at Nippon Ichi Software that brought forth Disgaea: Hour of Darkness are responsible for another strategy RPG by the name of La Pucelle: Tactics. La Pucelle's release actually predated Disgaea's in Japan, but those of us in North America are just now getting our first glimpse of the game. We got cozy with a nearly complete build of this title, and La Pucelle: Tactics evinces the same look and feel of Disgaea--and its attendant oddball humor--while providing its own tactical layers and minutiae.

Turn-based tactical mayhem has never looked so adorable.
Turn-based tactical mayhem has never looked so adorable.

The story of La Pucelle centers on the legend of the Maiden of Light, a girl who will be imbued with power by the goddess Poitreene to battle the Dark Prince, an entity who seeks to cover the land in darkness. The Church of the Holy Maiden fields certain individuals to hunt demons and cleanse the surrounding lands of their dark energy; and that organization is known as La Pucelle. At the beginning of the game, you're introduced to three fairly recent initiates into La Pucelle: Prier, a hotheaded girl with designs on becoming the next Maiden of Light; her younger brother Culotte, a studious boy who, unfortunately, often bears the brunt of his sister's explosive personality; and Alouette, an adept, pious young woman who cannot remember her own past. After a bit of bickering between the characters and some helpful narration from Culotte, you set off on your mission to cleanse lost souls and purify the land of evil.

Town and dungeon areas can be manually selected from the world map by moving your cursor over them. The dungeons we visited were composed of many different areas that, once cleared, could be either moved through at will or returned to for additional battles. Battles in La Pucelle: Tactics are turn-based, and during your turn you can move your party members as long as you like until you select an action for them. Characters will suffer more damage when struck from the side, from behind, or from an elevated position on the map. When you're attacking or using magic, the battle view changes from an isometric view of the map to a side view of characters and monsters. If a character initiates a physical attack with friendly characters in adjacent spaces, those characters will also attack the target(s), only causing slightly less damage than a regular attack. You can also queue up a number of characters to attack the same foe, and then have them act all at the same time (and with supporting attacks by adjacent allies) to create massive damage. The same tactics work for monsters. An isolated character can become the victim of several attacks by a throng of creatures. On top of standard physical attacks, your characters also have access to a number of special attacks and magic (through equipped items, initially) from which the characters gain experience as these items are used. Magic gained through items can readily be learned by the character through leveling the spell itself, but it's also possible to level up your items, be they weapons, or armor, or accessories. Leveling up items is accomplished through the purification of dark portals.

Dark portals are areas on the map through which dark energies flow. The type of energy varies depending on the portal's nature; red portals vent fire energy, blue portals vent ice energy, and so on. Characters trained in demon-hunting have access to the purify command, which will cleanse a portal for a certain number of points. If the purification points are greater than the portal's own points, the purification is a success and the portal disappears from the map entirely. The most interesting thing about portals is the energy they emit, which generally "flows" in a straight line from the vent. Characters and enemies can "bend" the energy by standing in the flow and changing the direction they are facing. Changing the energy flow and catching enemies in it means that when the portal is purified, any monsters in the path of the flow will incur damage. If you can manage to complete a circuit of dark energy of a certain size and then purify it, you'll invoke a miracle, which is essentially a summons based on the element of the energy that serves up huge damage to creatures within the circle. A successful purification will feed experience into the equipped items of the character involved, adding bonus points for each segment in the length of the flow. Certain items have icons for attack, HP, defense, and so on--if you level those items enough, they will, in turn, level that corresponding attribute of your character, giving you a means of tweaking your character's stats.

Purification's not only good for dark portals and leveling your items; you can target monsters in battle and ply your purification efforts on them as well. As you continue to purify a monster, you gradually raise its affinity for you, and when you defeat that creature it has the possibility of joining you. Monsters gained in this way can be summoned into battle immediately after you've vanquished them, though for each monster of a certain type you befriend, the less likely other monsters of that same type will convert for you. Outside of battle, you can "train" your monster allies by alternately flattering them to raise their happiness and then having them do a task that raises certain attributes, like speed or intelligence.

Save those poor, lost souls by giving them a most righteous ass-kicking.
Save those poor, lost souls by giving them a most righteous ass-kicking.

Visually, the game sports the same anime art style as Disgaea, with superdeformed, almost too-cute characters and lots of cartoony expression in both the models and character portraits. The characters also have a soft, well-rounded appearance that's accentuated by the pastel shades of color used. Environments like dungeons and towns tend to have nice, static background art that's not very busy, but instead it is simply designed with good detail. The music is light and upbeat, and the characters take on some speaking roles for certain story segments that are capably dubbed in English; the original Japanese voice is a selectable option.

What we've seen of La Pucelle: Tactics has been quite interesting, and Disgaea fans should absolutely keep their eye on this charming, kooky strategy RPG. Interested parties will find this PlayStation 2 game on store shelves later this year.

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