By Kurt Kalata

Up until around the early 2000s,, most strategy RPGs in the West were confined to the realm of the personal computer. Other than impossibly in-depth wargames, computer gamers were treated to brilliant titles like X-COM and Jagged Alliance. But on the console side, things were a bit more sparse - Sega gave rare, sweet tastes of the genre with its Shining Force series in the Genesis era, and Square indoctrinated gamers every with Final Fantasy Tactics for the PSOne. Naturally, Japan had it much better - Nintendo's Fire Emblem series started back in the Famicom days, Square found success with the mech-based Front Mission, Masaya had its fan-favorite Langrisser, and Quest/Atlus created the incredibly indepth (and impossibly difficult) Tactics Ogre.

Within the past few years, America has finally caught up, and more SRPGs are being translated now into English than ever before. Part of this was due to the support for the Gameboy Advance (with titles like Advance Wars and the eventual English premier of Fire Emblem), whose portable nature made quick leveling sessions ideal. But the other part of this revolution was started by a small Japanese company named Nippon Ichi. Its name is perhaps a bit boastful - it literally means "Japan's Best" - but it's hardly debatable that they've created some of the best SRPGs known to mankind, giving the somewhat stagnant genre a good kick in the ass and stabilizing their popularity in America. Their name is often abbreviated as "N1" - "ichi" literally means "one" in Japanese.

Nippon Ichi's start in 1994 was hardly glorious. They became known for creating tile puzzle games and other irrelevant publications for the PSOne (one of which was published in America by XS Games until the title Jigsaw Madness.) Other than the quirky Cooking Fighter Hao, Nippon Ichi first gained a modicum of popularity with Marl Kingdom: Adventures of the Puppet Princess, an amusing (if somewhat easy) RPG featuring Disney-like musical numbers and impossibly sugary character designs. Atlus took a chance and localized the title for America under the name "Rhapsody", but it flopped horribly. Two more games appeared in the Marl Kingdom series in Japan, before Nippon Ichi published its first true SRPG, La Pucelle. An offshoot of the Marl Kingdom series, La Pucelle took the basic concept of strategy RPG stalwarts like Tactics Ogre and turned it on its head. Nearly all games featured epic plots set in medieval times involving the horrible atrocities of war - La Pucelle instead featured colorful anime graphics, in a world filled with smiling mushrooms and talking pirate cats. Its heroine was a big-busted young girl named Prier who would rather slack off than to continue her studies. For the first time, the SRPG genre finally stopped taking itself so seriously. It wasn't about teaching you how tragic life is - although there is a fair share of drama - but was instead about making you laugh.

But it was more than just La Pucelle's story and setting that set it apart - while many SRPGs were known for their extreme depth and next-to-impossible difficulty, La Pucelle featured in-depth character and gameplay systems that were completely different from the norm. Naturally, the Japanese public ate it up, and not more than a year later, Nippon Ichi published Disgaea. Taking the same goofy approach as La Pucelle but setting it amongst demons, Disgaea found even more popularity than its predecessor. That success eventually led Atlus to take another chance on Nippon Ichi, translating Disgaea for the American audience.

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness came out in America in the late summer of 2003, facing fierce competition against sure-hit titles like Soul Calibur 2 and F-Zero GX. And somehow, it beat the odds and became one of the biggest sleeper hits of the year. After its success, newbie publisher Mastiff snapped up the rights to publish La Pucelle in America, and Nippon Ichi set up operations in America, ensuring that its games (and other quirky Japanese titles) would make it out of Japan and into the hands of fans around the world.

Nippon Ichi titles must be puzzling to many gamers - the graphics are barely any better than Final Fantasy Tactics, which, for the record, came out for the PSOne in 1998. While the playing fields are polygonal, the characters are all low-resolution sprites. The only interesting graphical effects occur with amusingly overblown special attacks, that often send opponents flying into the air, hurtling around the field and smacking back down into earth. Nippon Ichi games do have are incredibly appealing artwork, distinct enough from your usual cliched anime designs that it creates a sense of uniqueness not found elsewhere. And it's not only their artwork - Nippon Ichi characters tend to stand out far more than your typical Japanese role playing stereotypes. This is mostly due to the extremely goofy humor, but is perfectly executed due to the extraordinary effort put into their localization. Every one of them has superb writing that doesn't lose anything in the translation, and they all have incredibly well done voice acting. Despite the quality of the English voices, Atlus/Mastiff/Nippon Ichi America knows that its fanbase tends to be purists (especially the anime fans), so all of their games include the original Japanese voice track. The glory is in the details too - item descriptions are usually filled with bizarre (and occasionally hilarious) comments, and monsters usually have strange names that allude to other video games.

They may not be lookers, but SRPG fans know it's really more about the gameplay (and to a lesser extent, the characters and story) than the graphics. Compared to Fire Emblem and other similar games, which emphasize pure strategy, Nippon Ichi games are largely about how you build your army, rather than what you do with it. Additionally, the options, at first, seem a little overwhelming, considering you're not always given guidance on how to build your party. And despite the cartooniness, there are still screens upon screens of cold, unfeeling statistics. But Nippon Ichi somehow makes playing with numbers seem fun, in the way that most algebra classes don't.

While all of the Nippon Ichi games are fantastic, they don't seem balanced quite right. It's not uncommon to be playing just fine, and then all of a sudden, come to a stumbling block where you need to spend a good amount of time leveling up. Most Nippon Ichi games have a roster of story characters, which you'll obtain throughout the game, but there are also generic characters you can create. Although there are plenty of options to do this, these new units often start at a low level. In other words, every time you bring someone new into the party, you need to spend a good amount of time leveling just so they can remotely catch up with their comrades. Making sure all of your characters are properly leveled is important, because characters that lag behind too far will become completely useless. The annoying AI doesn't help either, as they're often trained to go after the character with the lowest HP. This means that characters that are inherently weak (magic users, mostly) usually end up being prime targets, and disposed of immediately.

That being said, the amount of grinding needed to enjoying a Nippon Ichi game tends to be vastly overstated. You'll usually need to do it a few times throughout the course of a given game - the later games are better balanced than the earlier ones, at least - but completing the main story mode is rarely too arduous. It's usually the post game objectives - bonus stages, additional endings, super bosses - that require the real grinding. This leads to hardcore gamers on forums bragging about how they spend hundreds of hours to get their character to reach levels reaching into the thousands. It does lead to a lot of play time, if that's your thing, so you get a lot of game for your cash, and there's a certain staifaction in making your characters so powerful that they're just stupidly beyond belief.

So yes, they can be a bit amateurish at points. Still, their charm is undeniable - they definitely feel like they were made in the basement of some math/anime nerds. The ringleader (and lead programmer on some of them) is a fellow named Yoshitsuna Kobayashi. The character designer for La Pucelle is Yoshiharu Nomura (who also worked on the Marl Kingdom games), although he is succeeded by Takahito Narada in most of the following games, except for Soul Cradle. Most of the titles have distinct, wistful music by Tenpei Sato, except for Makai Kingdom.

Despite the level grinding that you'll occasionally be subjected to, there's a lot to say about each of the seven games currently available: La Pucelle, Disgaea, Phantom Brave, Makai Kingdom, Disgaea 2, Soul Nomad and Disgaea 3. Even though they may all look the same, the gameplay in each differs quite drastically from title to title.

Table of Contents:

Page 1 - Intro / La Pucelle
Page 2 - Disgaea
Page 3 - Phantom Brave
Page 4 - Makai Kingdom
Page 5 - Disgaea 2
Page 6 - Soul Nomad
Page 7 - Disgaea 3
Page 8 - Anime/Manga

La Pucelle

La Pucelle

La Pucelle



Phantom Brave

Disgaea 2

Soul Nomad

La Pucelle Tactics / La Pucelle - Playstation 2 (2004)

American Cover

Japanese Rerelease Cover

European Cover Artwork

The first true strategy RPG created by Nippon Ichi, La Pucelle is a pseudo-sequel to Marl's Kingdom. While the setting is still the same French-inspired world, it also takes place a century or two after its predecessors. So while there are some references (the Rosenqueen shop, for example), you won't be running into the same characters.

However, La Pucelle does have quite a colorful cast :


Prier wants to be the Maiden of Light, but she's far too lazy and obnoxious to be even remotely qualified. Even though she's quick to anger, her heart is in the right place. Although she's deeply saddened by her parents' death, she doesn't let her emotions show, and attempts to portray herself as a very strong individual. Her primary attacks include a whack with her baton, an uppercut to the jaw, or a kick to the naughty-bits.

Culotte is Prier's little brother (and doesn't exactly have the manliest name in the world - a "culotte" is a real girly-girl skirt.) He's sick of being treated as a child, even though he's far more mature than Prier. Culotte attacks by throwing apples, lollipops and other such items.

Alouette is far closer to becoming the Maiden of Light than Prier ever will be. Calm, cool, and collected, Alouette trusts every word of the Holy Book, almost to a fault. She is constantly annoyed by Prier's childishness, and often puts her in her place. Alouette usually attacks with a quick slap to the face or whack of a bible.

Croix is a mysterious bounty hunter with amnesia. He enjoys playing the part of the mysterious badass, an effect amplified by his cool shades. Croix fights demons the way they should be fought - with a shotgun. A holy shotgun, at that.

Princess Eclair is just thirteen years old, but she's already more or less in charge of the kingdom. Having been friends with Culotte and Prier since childhood, she doesn't seem to mind their antics. Eclair eventually grows a "dark" side that, naturally, involves her wearing skimpier clothing (this is pictured on the cover of the American game, so shut your mouth about spoiler warnings.) Eclair also bears a huge resemblance to Queen Gradriel from the Atlus cult classic Saturn/PSP game Princess Crown.

Homard commands an airship known as the Escargot. His crewmembers are cute little pirate cats named the Chocolat gang. He tries to be all impressive, breaking out his twin swords to impress the ladies, but it's a bit hard to take him too seriously when he has an adorable, purring army of felines backing him up. Homard is actually a descendent of Cornett from the Marl Kingdom games.

Prier, Culotte and Alouette are members of La Pucelle, a church organization designated to hunt down demons and save the children of the Goddess Poitreene. While it's loaded with Christian imagery and ideals, it's more inspired by the religion rather than directly nabbed from it. And unlike other Japanese RPGs that seem to portray Christianity as being somewhat misguided, La Pucelle actually sheds some positive light. It's a nice change from the nihilistic "GOD IS EVIL" message from the likes of Xenogears or Final Fantasy Tactics. While the first few chapters just serve to introduce the characters and gameplay, the story starts rolling several hours in, which involves a rival church whose intentions may not be so pure as La Pucelle's. The game is broken down into chapters, each with a self-contained story that explores the character's backgrounds, or slowly sheds light onto the plot. Most chapters contain multiple endings, depending on your actions during the stage, although there's only only one conclusion at the end of the game.

While there's a small town to run around in, and a world map to choose destinations, a majority of the game is spent in battle. Viewed from the typical 3/4 overhead view, the fights unfold a bit differently than most other strategy game. When it's your turn, you're free to give orders to any your characters and move them around as you see fit. At any point, you can tell them to begin battle all at once, which zooms to a small side-view cutscene of your characters duking it out. All adjacent characters also join in these scuffles, which makes careful positioning of your allied characters extremely important. Unfortunately, these little cutaway segments tend to drag the battles on longer than they should, and there's no way to turn them off. Some of the math that goes into these battles seems a bit odd too. In one turn, you could do 30 points of damage to an enemy. In the next turn, using the same attack against the same enemy, you could do 5. It just varies too wildly. The equipment system is a bit looser than most SRPGs - you're given four slots, and you can equip any number of offensive or defensive items, giving you more freedom to balance your units the way you want them to.

The Dark Portals are a nifty little innovation not seen in any other SRPG. These little square spawn enemies if they're not purified quickly enough, but they also let off a flow of energy. By standing on these flow, you can redirect the energy in any direction you want. If you aim at it an enemy and purify the portal, it will cause a chain reaction of explosions, damaging any foe its path. And if you manage to create a large rectangle with this energy, then purifying it will unleash a miracle attack that decimates anything within its borders. It's a cool system, but it's hard to take advantage of properly - setting up these attacks is a lot of work, although sometimes the payoff is worth it. Unfortunately, the constantly respawning enemies can, once again, drag the battles on and on. You either need to dedicate a set of your characters specifically to purfying the portals (and thus ignoring the enemies) or just try to clear the playing field as fast as possible before more bad guys enter the fray.

While you can't create additional units the beyond the additional story characters, you can recruit practically every enemy of the game to fight on your team. Just purify them many times, then kill them, and they'll happily join La Pucelle. They level up just like any other character, but you can also train them to modify their statistics a little - try spanking them to give them a bit of discipline, or give them a porn mag to make them happier. It's all menu based so you don't get to see any of this stuff happening, but it's an amusing addition. You can also sacrifice characters to the Dark World, which can yield exclusive items.

All in all, La Pucelle is a fine game. It's only real fault is that it's a bit unrefined compared to its sequels. This was especially evident to American and European gamers - while the game was released first in Japan, it was the second to published in other territories, after Disgaea. It felt like a step backward because, for all intents and purposes, it was.

However, La Pucelle didn't make it to America without a few alternations. Newcomer Mastiff Games didn't want a controversy on its hands with all of the religious imagery, so they took out all of the crosses (including the ones on the character's costumes), and ditched the cigarettes while they were at it. While these cuts were completely unnecessary it doesn't really detract from the game. In 2004, La Pucelle was re-released in Japan, adding a sound test, a New Game+ features, and a few extra boss battles. This "director's cut" was the version released in Europe by Koei.

MP3s Download here

First Trip
Scent of Regent

La Pucelle

La Pucelle

La Pucelle

La Pucelle

La Pucelle

La Pucelle

La Pucelle

La Pucelle

La Pucelle

La Pucelle

La Pucelle

La Pucelle Artwork

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