7 years later, and re-reading this review (after seeing an article on SiliconEra that mentioned the PSP version) has me dusting off my PS2 edition and popping it in the PS3, Gamespot. May your vintage reviews always be available!
It's not the best way for newcomers to get acquainted with this style of gaming, but fans of anime and other strategy RPGs are naturally going to like La Pucelle: Tactics.
La Pucelle: Tactics is yet another strategy role-playing game about teenage, French-named, anime-style, exorcist demon-hunters. If only we had a penny for every one, right? But yes, it's true, this strangely named game from the makers of last year's cult favorite, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, has an unusual concept. It plays pretty weirdly, too; it's a slow-paced game with its own, unusual logic, though it bears obvious resemblance to Disgaea as well as other strategy RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics. Given that, and given that it's chock-full of geeky anime humor and corny melodrama, La Pucelle has its sights set on a specific audience. It's a good game for that crowd, although they may be disappointed to learn that La Pucelle actually predates Disgaea (it originally released a couple of years ago in Japan), and that it lacks some of that game's refinements and better features. Nevertheless, if you enjoyed the colorful look and core gameplay of Disgaea, then La Pucelle: Tactics is easily recommended.
The young star of La Pucelle: Tactics is a hot-tempered girl named Prier (say "pree-yay"), who's supposedly a demon hunter, but really, she's more of an exorcist. She and her younger brother and their straightlaced tutor embark on a quest that spans more than 10 chapters' worth of turn-based tactical battles (which are generously interspersed with lengthy cutscenes using the same colorful, smoothly animated little characters you'll see on the battle screen). The story and characters are all very anime, and they're especially suited for the specific subset of anime fan who would appreciate all the super-duper cute character designs, including enemy foes that often look more like stuffed animals than like dangerous opponents. Last year's Disgaea, with its netherworld setting and cast of strange, demonic cohorts, probably has a more appealing premise than this game does--but that's just a relative comparison. The truth is that the two games share an unmistakably similar style. This one tries harder to tell a cohesive story, which means you'll spend more time watching the story unfold.
La Pucelle: Tactics is not a fast-paced game, nor is it easy. Each time you attack an enemy in the game, the action cuts from the standard isometric perspective to a side-screen view in which you see your characters exchange attacks with the bad guys. These little sequences don't take very long on a one-off basis, but over time they serve to significantly slow the pace of the battles. There can come a point at which La Pucelle: Tactics becomes frustratingly sluggish, especially if you find yourself having to replay certain scenarios. On the other hand, if you put up with and get used to the flow of the action, you'll be fine. Nevertheless, certain aspects of the pacing just should have been better, both in and out of the gameplay.
Should you fail a mission, you may need to sit through a lengthy introductory cutscene again. Though much of the dialogue is recorded in speech, there are significant pauses between lines that makes you want to skip over these cutscenes. At least La Pucelle incorporates the same system as last year's Disgaea, in which enemies' turns are resolved simultaneously--your foes will move as a unit during their phase, rather than one by one--which speeds things up a bit.
Like Disgaea, La Pucelle bears a lot of superficial similarity to other strategy RPGs, but also like Disgaea it has some pretty odd, unique twists. The turn-based gameplay is basically straightforward: You can have up to eight friendly characters on the battlefield, and you may move them in any order you like when it's your turn. When you issue an attack command against an enemy, you may opt either to resolve the command immediately or hold off till the end of the turn. This is so you can set up combination attacks by positioning your characters adjacent to each other before they strike. You can do more damage to your enemies by attacking them from behind, from the sides, or from higher ground, and enemies also typically have some sort of elemental affinity that makes them vulnerable to certain types of spells. This is all pretty standard stuff for strategy RPGs.
One of the game's main twists is the dark portal/dark energy system, which is reminiscent of (and a precursor to) a similar but better system in Disgaea. Here, you'll find little colored portals scattered around each map. These can be "purified" and thereby destroyed, granting your character experience points (doing so can prevent enemy reinforcements from pouring in every few turns). Additionally, dark portals often generate trails of dark energy across the map. This energy has debilitating effects, but your characters may stand on the trails and redirect the flow of the energy in 90-degree increments, ideally channeling it onto enemy units. Then, by purifying the attached portal, it's possible to damage those foes.