PoPoLoCrois (PSP) review
"The story clearly isn't intended to be deep or complex. True to the oldschool RPG spirit, PoPoLoCrois's plot provides just enough backbone to support an adventure based around cute atmosphere and fun gameplay... and it's got both in spades."
Thanks to Sony of America's nefarious anti-2D policies, the RPG-loving West never got to play Sugar & Rockets' five beloved PoPoLoCrois games on the PS1 or PS2. Five role-playing games published by Sony themselves during the RPG boom... and not a single one made its way out of Japan. How very, very tragic.
Cease your wailing! The time for lamentations is OVER.
Finally translated into English, the PSP version of PoPoLoCrois begins like many oldschool 2D RPGs: with an exciting anime cinematic! During a grueling midnight battle, the valiant King Paulo finds himself nearly overcome by the wicked Ice Demon. To save her husband and his kingdom from wintry destruction, Paulo's wife -- the Queen (duh) -- abandons her human form and takes flight on white dragon wings... sealing both her own and the Ice Demon's souls in the PoPoLoCrois version of Hades.
If you've played even a single RPG, you can probably guess what comes next. First, with the aid of some forest witches, King Paulo immediately sets about trying to free his wife's soul from the World of Darkness. Second, an evil group of sorcerors tries to release the Ice Demon's soul. I don't know why RPG heroes keep trying to imprison, seal, or otherwise detain these Ultimate Evil Beings... it never works!
The story clearly isn't intended to be deep or complex. True to the oldschool RPG spirit, PoPoLoCrois's plot provides just enough backbone to support an adventure based around cute atmosphere and fun gameplay... and it's got both in spades.
The hero can use spades during battle to dig monster-trapping holes.
PoPoLoCrois's world is drawn in a lush but rough style, giving the game a nostalgic atmosphere without sacrificing detail. I often found myself smiling at the super-deformed munchkins' exaggerated actions. Pixelated characters sweat, shiver, and shake their fists; others pound on solid oak doors or fume with rage. After a burly blacksmith loses a valuable artifact, he shamefully hides from the hero. When a robot sent by the villainous Great Gami Gami Devil shows up with a sealed letter for gentle heroine Narcia, you can see a tiny red heart on the envelope. Could it be... a love letter?!
Those details and the relationships they entail (such as the awesome romantic rivalry between Gami Gami Devil and the hero) give PoPoLoCrois a distinct light-hearted touch. This feeling is bolstered by one of RPGdom's cuter assortments of monsters, which can be studied at any time by hitting the L trigger and pulling up the Bestiary (which I kept opening by mistake).
Cute or not, monsters must be KILLED and their corpses LOOTED for items and gold. PoPoLoCrois's random encounters are frequent (too frequent) and plagued with load times whenever anyone uses a special attack, which happens A LOT. Despite these niggling niggles, combat is pretty fun; battles are basically hex-based like you'd find in a strat-RPG, with a focus on tactical character placement and skill selection. Since every character has a bunch of area effect spells, there are lots of effective approaches to combat. Another really cool thing is that you can summon creatures. REAL creatures. Creatures that actually hang around and fight from round to round, not just cleverly renamed spells like in Final Fantasy 4.
Although it's got charm and a cool combat system, PoPoLoCrois has a few irritating technical issues. In addition to the load times during battle (which I already mentioned), some areas of the game suffer from inexplicable slowdown, which reduces even minor battles to a crawl. Cast the "Guardian" spell to avoid combat in slowdown-filled parts of the world. Also, since you can't rotate the camera (because it's 2D!), some of the treasure chests are hard to spot. The developers actually exploit this by intentionally putting chests in obscure sections of the map.
In short, PoPoLoCrois is not the perfect RPG. However, Pietro's adventure is definitely one of the most light-hearted, feel-good adventures of recent memory.
Oops, I forgot to mention that part. The hero of PoPoLoCrois isn't King Paulo. The hero is Paulo's ten-year-old son Pietro, prince of the PoPoLoCrois kingdom. With this new information, just think of the implications:
* The hulking studly blacksmith shamefully hides from a ten-year-old.
* The middle-aged Gami Gami Devil's romantic rival is a ten-year-old.
* King Paulo impregnated a dragon.
PoPoLoCrois clearly isn't intended to be high drama, but it is cute, humorous, and heart-warming enough that it spawned an entire series. If you already own a PSP, this abridged port of the original adventure is worth playing... and thanks to Agetec, the RPG-loving West is finally able to do so.
One last note: After you've silenced the Ice Demon once and for all, the game keeps going. In fact, you're only about 25% finished... because this nifty UMD also happens to include the majority of PoPoLoCrois II as well as a new chapter created specifically for the PSP release. The further you progress, the better it gets: more sidequests, a richer plot, and even more outrageous escapades.
If you don't already own a PSP, now's a good time to change that. The point to playing PoPoLoCrois is to feel good, and only the grumpiest curmudgeons will fail to crack a smile.
Staff review by Zigfried (January 02, 2006)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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