Reviewed: January 14, 2006
Released: December 6, 2005
The past decade has been a mixed blessing for the American fan of console RPGs. Once upon a time, RPGs were released here in a slow trickle, with only a fraction of the Final Fantasy games and a handful of Dragon Warrior titles appearing on U.S. shelves. Translations projects for good RPGs, such as Final Fantasy V, were announced, only to be canceled, or have the publisher pull out of the U.S. market. When we did receive games, they were often dumbed down for the American gamer (The U.S. version of Final Fantasy II was re-released in Japan as an easy mode of Final Fantasy IV).
Now, of course, the market is quite different, and the American market rarely misses important Japanese titles. However, the newfound strength of the American RPG market has also brought in a wave of games that, honestly, should never have seen translation. As it turns out, for every quality RPG that missed the American market, there were probably a dozen that deserved to be left in Japan.
PoPoLoCrois is one of these titles. That’s not to say that PoPoLoCrois is a terrible game; it’s merely a throwaway title that RPG fans and PSP owners can afford to skip. The market is too full of decent RPGs to warrant playing the unchallenging, bland PoPoLoCrois.
The game opens with an anime sequence showing a farewell between King Paulo and his wife, Sania, as their castle is under attack by a demon. Paulo begs his queen not to go, but Sania plunges off the parapet and a few minutes later a giant white dragon appears.
After this scene, King Paulo wakes up to prepare for the birthday feast of his son, young prince Pietro. You play as Pietro, the 10-year-old prince. After your birthday celebration, you notice your father sneaking off in the middle of the night to one of the castle’s towers. Out of curiosity, you sneak into the tower after the King and discover that your mother, Sania, was not dead, but in a coma in the tower. The King explains the truth: Sania’s soul is lost in the World of Darkness and is unable to return to her body. A book in the library in the mysterious floating kingdom of Bryonia will reveal the way to the World of Darkness.
Young Pietro wants to go looking for that book, but King Paulo forbids him to go. This, of course, does not stop Pietro, and his journey begins. Along the way, Pietro meets many characters, from a young, good witch who can cast healing spells, to a mad scientist who has built his own city populated with his robots (over whom he rules as an “evil genius”).
PoPoLoCrois is about as basic as an RPG can get. You wander the countryside and engage in random encounters, most of which are astonishingly easy. At times, you will come across new towns, where you can stay at an inn to heal and save your game, and items shops and blacksmiths where you can stock up on new items to give yourself a slight edge in status attributes. The setting is standard Japanese RPG fare, with grand European style castles, swords and magic, mysterious floating worlds, cartoonish humor sprinkled here and there, and the occasional sci-fi anachronism.
The way random encounters are handled in PoPoLoCrois is clunky. Prince Pietro can run exceptionally quickly around the map, and as a result, battles occur every 10 seconds. Rather than have a splash screen that transitions to battle mode, the monsters will just pop onto the map. Attacks have different effect zones, so you must get close to the enemy before attacking, which costs a turn or two. Otherwise, combat is turn-based and features the usual choices of attacking or casting spells and executing special moves.
By default, the battles are set on automatic mode, which means that unless you decide to control the action, battles will be fought by the computer. Since the characters seem to overpower wandering enemies, you could probably play through the entire game without worrying about fighting. While it’s probably a good thing that automatic fighting is available with the frequent random encounters, it’s sad that the battles don’t seem to have any element of challenge or fun. They’re just obstacles to slow down the story and stretch out the game.
In addition, the story is not all that exciting. Most of the elements of the story feel like they’ve already been done to death by other RPGs or anime. The translation feels amateurish by today’s standards, and with enemies named “Acornholio” and “Pecker”, it seems like they are aiming for an immature teenage market. The end result is just awkward and distracting.
PoPoLoCrois was originally sold for the PlayStation in Japan in 1996. The graphics are 2-D sprites on a tiled background. Although the graphics have been formatted to fit on the PSP’s extra-wide aspect ratio screen, they look as if they are still firmly rooted in the mid-90’s. For the most part the colors are vivid and the graphics are sharp, though boring and repetitive. Some elements, like the status screen, look unforgivably pixilated and distorted.
There are anime cutscenes at various times in the game. The anime scenes come out beautifully on the PSP, and lend a wonderful, whimsical fairy-tale feel to the game. If the rest of the graphics in the game had looked half as good as the cutscenes, it might have distracted me from the mundane and yawn-inducing gameplay.
The music and sound in PoPoLoCrois is unremarkable. It’s neither offensive nor exceptionally well done. If anything, it blends in well with the young fantasy feel of the game and doesn’t distract. Likewise, the voice acting is non-offensive but nothing special.
PoPoLoCrois for the PSP weighs in at a modest $39.99. Unfortunately, this is a high price to pay for a 30-hour interactive storybook, with or without anime cutscenes. If you’re absolutely dead-set on getting an RPG for your PSP, there are a few other choices out there, most of them better.
If you have heard about PoPoLoCrois (it’s been out in Japan for almost a decade) and are dying to try it English, it will probably come down in price soon if you’re patient (and if you’ve waited for 10 years, what’s a couple of months?)
Although it’s got all the trappings of an RPG, PoPoLoCrois is not very entertaining as a video game. It may be appropriate if you’ve got a PSP and want to keep a young child entertained on a trip, but for veteran RPG players, this game will not be very satisfying.