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PoPoLoCrois

Review posted September 2005 by Corbie Dillard

Publisher: Agetec
Developer: SCEI
Release Date: October, 2005
ESRB Rating: "E" for Everyone
Genre: RPG
Price: $39.99

Until now, the PoPoLoCrois series of RPGs (Role Playing Games) has been exclusive to the Japanese gamers that have made the game such a hit there. We can only assume that the game has been deemed too quirky for American gamers over the years, given its lack of localization efforts. Thankfully, Agetec has decided it was finally time for US gamers to get a taste of the series that's become so highly regarded in Japan. PoPoLoCrois for the PSP is basically a combination of two previously released Playstation titles with a few new wrinkles added to the mix. Although they're two separate games, they're joined together in a perfectly seamless fashion, so much so that you'll never even know where one game ends and the other begins. The result of this hard work and mammoth translation effort is one of the most unique and charming RPGs released in years, not to mention a much-needed RPG for the PSP system.

Story

The story of PoPoLoCrois follows the adventures of Prince Pietro and his band of friends, as they set out on an adventure to protect and free their beloved city of PoPoLoCrois. Ten years ago, an evil Ice Demon attacked the city of PoPoLoCrois and its surrounding areas and devastated the land with its frozen winds and snow. Out of nowhere, appeared a heroic white dragon that fought and destroyed the evil Ice Demon. Unfortunately, as the Ice Demon was being sent to the World of Darkness, the white dragon was unwillingly caught and pulled there as well. On that day, the queen of PoPoLoCrois, Pietro's mother, fell into a deep sleep where she has remained to this very day. Now, in a quest to awaken his mother, Pietro and his friends set out on an adventure to solve the mystery of the World of Darkness in the hopes of awakening his mother from her eternal slumber. Along the way these mere children come together as both friends and fighters as they set out to rid their world of the evil Ice Demon once and for all.

Gameplay

For the most part, PoPoLoCrois plays like most other turn-based RPGs. You move around through different areas of the game, in a 3/4 view, with up to four people in your party at one given time. You incur random enemy encounters outside of towns and in dungeons that you must either take part in or flee. As you defeat enemies, you'll earn experience points, which will allow your characters to gain levels and special magical skills. It also earns your characters money, which you can use to buy better weapons, armor, and specialty items. Along the way you'll encounter enemy bosses that will test your party's combat skills and occasionally bestow a required item needed to continue on in the game. Needless to say, the majority of your adventure will be spent on not only the exploration of the many areas in the game, but also in doing battle with enemies in order to make your characters stronger fighters.

The battle system in PoPoLoCrois is turn-based, with a slight strategic twist. When you randomly encounter enemies, the game gives you several battle options and also presents you with a grid on which your characters can only move a certain number of steps per turn. This grid can play a very strategic role in the battles, as it allows you to set up for different attacks at varying angles and distances. Attacking allows your character to directly take on an enemy using melee-style combat. This works great if you're close enough to reach an enemy, but if you're too far away, it only allows you to move a certain number of steps towards the enemy. Special Skills allows your character to use their magical special attacks. These are particularly effective against enemies that are too far to reach with your normal attacks and generally does more damage, although it does use up varying amounts of magic points. The Flee option allows your party to flee the current battle, but penalizes you a small amount of money each time you use it. Your last two options are to use an item in your possession, such as healing herbs, and to sit out your turn in order to power up for your next attack. It's worth mentioning that you can also set the game to "auto" and allow the computer's AI to carry out the battle for you, but this all but eliminates the games strategic and utterly fantastic combat system. It might be a nice feature, however, for beginners or those not accustomed to playing turn-based role-playing games.

The intuitive combat system, not to mention the strategic grid function, is obviously where PoPoLoCrois shines the brightest. Everything about the gameplay has a very functional and easy-to-use feel to it. It's a breath of fresh air in a genre that tends to make everything so complicated that most of the fun gets lost along the way. The only minor flaw in the gameplay system comes with the unusually high rate of speed at which the main characters move around in the game. Using the PSP's D-pad seems to only make matter worse, while the analog stick seems like it was made for the game, oddly enough. After an hour or so of playing time, you'll become accustomed to this fast pace and actually find it even helpful when you're trying to get through areas flooded with random enemy encounters. Using items and changing weapons and armor is made quite easy with the well laid out options screen, however, the map screen, while nice to look at, doesn't offer much in the way of guidance. All things combined, PoPoLoCrois offers up a playable and user-friendly gameplay system, that let's you spend more time enjoying the game, and less time trying to figure it out.

Graphics

While Sony's always made it a point to discourage developers from using 2-D graphics on its systems, it's games like PoPoLoCrois that keep proving that 2-D gaming still has a place on the current generation systems. Absolutely gorgeous cel-shaded graphics come together to make up the storybook visuals found throughout the game, making the world of PoPoLoCrois seem to jump right off of the PSP's screen. At times you'll swear your looking at pictures in a fairy tale book. The anime cut scenes in the game are fantastic, and look like they were taken straight from the Japanese anime TV show, not to mention the amazing special effects you'll be treated to each time your characters cast a magical spell. There is some slight ghosting in certain areas of the game when you have very dark colors mixed with very light backgrounds, but it's really nothing that takes away from the normally crisp and colorful visuals. PoPoLoCrois is living proof that the PSP can shine, even when it's not churning out millions of polygons per second.

Sound

To say that the musical styling in PoPoLoCrois is all over the map would be an understatement. Ranging from country and western themes to reggae-influenced tracks, there's about as much variety in the different musical selections as you could possibly imagine. While you'd think that this degree of variety would cause problems with the consistency of the soundtrack, it actually works in its favor. Each area has its own musical track that somehow seems to fit in like a glove, and it's nice to hear a new song each time you enter a new area. The tunes are extremely catchy, and you'll likely find yourself humming them long after you've put the game down. All of the impressive anime sequences feature actual voice acting that's almost as superb as the soundtrack itself. You'll also be able to catch a few more instances of the voice work when casting the special skill spells during combat. It's not much, but it does give the combat sequences a little added personality. The music in PoPoLoCrois may be wildly varied, but it still manages to deliver a captivating and inspiring RPG soundtrack.

 

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Conclusion

There's no denying that PoPoLoCrois is a quirky and offbeat RPG, and certainly not the usual type of RPG we see released here in the US, but don't let that scare you off. Behind the fairy tale styling and the obscure musical tracks is an absolutely brilliant RPG experience. A solid combat system, endearing characters and a riveting and often heartfelt storyline come together in one RPG package that should absolutely not be missed. The game also features a huge 30-40 hour quest that should keep even the most veteran RPG gamers busy for some time. So while PoPoLoCrois may not be one of the big name and recognizable RPGs everyone is waiting for on the PSP, you certainly wouldn't know it from playing it.

Playing Hints and Tips

- Controlling your main character using the PSP's D-pad can be more trouble than it's worth. The analog nub tends to feel more responsive and works perfectly as an 8-way joystick.

- If you find yourself stuck on a particular boss, you might try going out and doing some fighting in order to level up your characters. It works wonders.

- Don't be afraid to spend your well-earned money to outfit your characters with the best weapons, armor, and special items. It will really pay off with some of the stronger enemies you'll face later on in the game.

- Don't waste your character's special skills on every enemy you encounter, as it's better to save your valuable magic points for the stronger enemies and bosses.

- If you find yourself stuck and don't know what to do next, remember to make sure you've talked to everyone in the area your in as they generally can offer you some valuable advice on what your next task is.

 

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

The cel-shaded visuals of PoPoLoCrois have a very colorful and unique style that really shines on the PSP's screen. The attention to detail in the game is impressive, and the sheer variety in all of the different areas of the game is staggering. 2-D graphics have never looked better on the PSP and make this game one of the best looking portable RPG ever.

Sound

While the music in the game may seem a little "out there" at first, it has a funny way of growing on you over time, and the fact that the music in the game tends to get better as the game goes along means you'll always have something to look forward to in the next area. The outstanding voice acting also adds even more personality to the endearing storyline.

Fun Meter

The fairy tale storyline and strategic combat system make playing PoPoLoCrois a real treat. The voice acting and anime cinemas make the story unfold in a way that's just never been done before on a portable game system. The game is a little on the easy side at first, but the difficulty does pick up quite well after a few hours of playing time. The game also sports a "save anywhere" feature that makes it work great for short spurts of portable RPG gaming.

Addictivity

The sheer size of this adventure is remarkable. It will most likely take the average gamer at least 30-40 hours to complete the entire game, and even longer for those not as accustomed to playing traditional RPGs. The storyline and loveable characters in the game will keep players coming back to this game for years to come, and hopefully more developers will take a good long look at the combat system found in the game and see exactly what makes up a really great RPG battle system.

Total Score= 4.62 Dragons, 92.5%



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