Review – Prinny Presents NIS Classics Vol. 3
Throughout my youth, I always had a special place for NIS America in my heart. I find their peculiar brand of silly shenanigans to be somehow comforting. It’s hard to articulate correctly, but a powerful sense of happiness washes over me. Maybe it’s due to the pungent stench of familiarity. I know precisely what to expect and that panders to the part of myself that hates drastic change. Perhaps, however, it’s the notion that their funny side resonates with me. With Prinny Presents NIS Classics Vol. 3, we’re returning to the 90s and early 00s. The first inclusion of the bundle is an unreleased upgrade of a PS2 cult hit that missed the boat for the West. The second came on the original Playstation, sporting an intriguing concept. Will this double pack be in trouble, though, or are we getting a fearsome duo?
A common denominator in NIS America releases is the crazy antics that exude from their scripts. The plotlines are smothered with quips that rarely take themselves seriously. Perversion is yet another facet that slithers into dialogue to bring some lewdness between tongue-in-cheek humour. La Pucelle Ragnarok is subtle in handling degeneracy, never being in-your-face. Sure, there’s chatter about female undergarments, but it isn’t made to be a focal point. It’s mentioned briefly, and that’s it. I can’t say it’s exclusively used as fan service, either. This game adopts a slapstick approach to comedy in that characters get bonked. Sometimes it’s due to a snide remark, while other instances are because of a raunchy comment. Whatever the cause, I grew up watching the Three Stooges, so I was smiling – the buffoonery is reminiscent.
Of course, the pleasure stemming from literary prowess is subjective, but what’s not is recognizing the effort put forth. To be frank, I’m impressed by the relationships La Pucelle Ragnarok attempts and nails. For example, the behaviour of the protagonist and her sibling is very authentically shown. The older sister is overprotective of her brother to the point of becoming rather heavy-handed and oppressive – given their age discrepancy, there’s a sense of responsibility to ensure the youngest is safe. As the narrative progresses, we see an organic development that has her coming to terms with his becoming a little man. The same can be applied to the third main character. Her interactions with the two others are a combination of amusing but motherly. Honestly, everyone’s dynamic here is so endearing.
Now, nothing about the writing is groundbreaking. La Pucelle Ragnarok focuses on delivering entertainment over substance. That isn’t to say the storytelling is awful because it’s coherently told. It also delves into dark topics. They’re enough to keep you interested, but there won’t be any shocking moments. Granted, it tries to achieve some by shrouding someone that joins later in mystery but flubs it. Within an hour or two, their direction becomes predictable. It won’t decimate the overall experience, but any potential excitement is battered. Although, I’m not optimistic it would make a difference if the mystique were presented in a better light. The pacing of some revelations is breakneck. It’s odd, too, since the length is a respectable 25 or so hours. It doesn’t let the pivotal beats breathe. It’s a shame since there’s genuine heart being poured in a few scenarios.
As for Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, well, the literary work tends to lean towards the comedic spectrum. Almost every line is wrapped snugly in a blanket of absurdity. I’ve got to admit; a couple had me giggling due to the sheer lunacy. It retains that textbook NIS America humour of using perversion and lightheartedness. The risqué portions aren’t as pronounced as they usually are, though. Sure, there’s evident naughtiness, but that said, a lot is also hidden behind implication. I’m noticing a fascination with panties, too. Regardless, there’s one aspect that is, in today’s climate, questionable. Back in the ’90s, both sexual harassment and creepiness were used as tongue-in-cheek. It never comes off as insidious. If anything, it was drenched with immaturity. It didn’t trigger me; I was rolling my eyes. It’s a product of its time and is inoffensive even now.
Compared to La Pucelle Ragnarok, Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure struggles with one facet. Point blank; nobody has a discernible personality. They are spectacularly one-note, lacking any nuance. Yes, while foundations are laid out for intriguing backstories to be built on, they’re brittle. For example, there are a couple of scenes that contain familial abuse, but it never capitalizes on the drama. The tension fizzles out with a whimper. Basically, the flesh on the bones is absent, gracing us with subpar storytelling that’s enough to push you forward but not astound. I will say that this game’s bang-on with sass. I wouldn’t say the remarks made are downright vicious, but they’re ruthless enough to spark a few laughs. What helps mask how generic things get is the duration clocking in at around seven hours. Do note that the overall narrative continues to be juvenile
For people coming into La Pucelle Ragnarok after playing Disgaea, the combat system is very similar. Naturally, there are disparities, but the general ideas are essentially the same. Scattered throughout the designated field are coloured strips. They mimic Geo Panels found in the NIS flagship franchise. It’s like a conveyor belt in that, when activated, it moves down a pre-decided route. To even do that, a dark portal is on either end. When purified, it triggers a chain reaction that, upon finishing, fills a meter tied to every piece of equipment. Extending them to maximize the points earned proves arduous, however. It requires you to place characters meticulously. They act as guides, capable of manipulating a line’s path. The goal is to form a square, thus rewarding an excessive amount of experience. The issue is trying to get to that point – it’s mundane.
Sadly, the above mechanic contributes to something even worse. See, La Pucelle Ragnarok wants to mix armaments to manifest better variations. It’s also the most convoluted fusion method I’ve come to face. For fans of Disgaea, you’ll recognize that every item comes with a selection of stats. If, say, you were to combine four, here’s how it works. The first on the list determines what gets absorbed into the resultant. If the following three have only attack and defence, the trinket at the top must be level six. Anything lower ignores attributes that, might I add, get chosen by RNG. It’s terribly implemented, especially for those that, like me, have cognitive problems. Hell, reading back what I’ve written, I’m confused by what I even say. That’s a testament to how utterly baffling it is.
Allow me to further pile on how Goddamn egregious it gets. See, in La Pucelle Ragnarok, I can recruit the monsters. It just so happens they’re crucial to amalgamating a more robust arsenal. By purifying and not slaughtering them, they are enticed to join up. It isn’t instant, though, needing a round or two of sweet talking before success. If you combine this with the monotony of raising the level of an item, it adds up. To begin making anything, I must give a newly acquired ally as a sacrificial lamb to the Dark World, meaning I’ve done the work for nothing. It isn’t well thought out. The biggest sin committed is how this title wants to be Disgaea. Due to that desire, however, it gives birth to an inferior version. Between an identity crisis and challenging to comprehend features, it disenchants me.
Surprisingly, some superb quality-of-life adjustments make a session easier to swallow. For example, a New Game Plus mode eases my earlier complaint about grinding. It lets me carry over my power and lethal weapons. The thing is, after having already devoted 25 hours, having to replay La Pucelle Ragnarok for the chance to enjoy it as intended feels redundant. I like that combat has seen streamlining, though, with battle animations able to be shut off. It speeds up the tactical sections considerably. However, it doesn’t mask the repetitiveness that awaits ahead. I concede that being portable alleviates the majority of flaws I noted. Well, except for the asinine fusion – that murders a person. Without exaggeration, throughout my play-through, I wanted to stop and jump into the series it desperately emulates. The fact it’s driving me away is telling.
Now, the combat system in Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure is, in itself, an oddity. The battle layout suggests it’s turned-based, much like the Final Fantasy games before it. That wouldn’t be factual, though, as there’s an element of strategy. The caveat of it is that it’s pointless. See, characters are tied to grids, and those decide their movement. Instead of choosing a command and executing it, I must inch closer to my enemies before anything. A typical assumption at this juncture is that striking from behind equates to higher damage output, but you’d be wrong. Bluntly said, it makes zero sense from a tactical perspective. There’s no advantage, meaning this is largely a useless step shoe-horned in for no apparent reason. At least the distance between party and enemies is minuscule. As an extra spice, monsters are recruitable here, too, but RNG dictates triumph.
Older fans rejoice as Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure relies on traditional equipment. The stronger variants are purchased from storefronts or stumbled on when exploring dungeons. It’s certainly far easier to understand than its bundle partner. Another immense difference is that grinding isn’t imperative. The points awarded after a tussle are more than generous. I was hitting new levels consistently. Naturally, it only works in this manner due to the short duration of the title. After finishing it, it’s obvious how ideal it is for a beginner to JRPGs. It’s insanely straightforward and doesn’t complicate matters with useless bells and whistles. The 6-hour completion time doesn’t hurt, easing a player in without frustration. In simpler terms, it’s a chill romp.
The backgrounds in La Pucelle Ragnarok have gotten quite the bloody touch-up. Those hand-drawn visuals are crispy, and the vibrancy pops out from the screen. Unfortunately, the sprites don’t fare well, retaining that old-school aesthetic. Even with an OLED screen, noticeable blurriness is hard to ignore. That said, and perhaps this is down to my age, I very much enjoy the air of nostalgia it brought. Every pixelated character packs immense expression. When they’re in shock, their mouth is noticeably agape, and their eyes are wide open. It has this charm, but it’s a missed chance not to mold the graphics closer to what we see in the modern era. As for the movement, it’s fluent. My unprofessional eye recognizes it as a rock-solid 30 FPS. There’s also zero stuttering with equal amounts of crashes.
As for Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, it maintains the original fidelity from the PS1. Regardless of the pixelation of buildings and NPCs, they’re pretty detailed. Nothing about it is bland, with luminous colours and well-crafted homes and trees at every corner. Filter choices allow you to not only smooth out these textures but also plop down a CRT effect. The latter cosmetic is great, transporting me back to my youth. The former one is horrible. It puts this weird overlay that makes it look like a thick coat of Vaseline was smeared across it. Everything has a smushed, clay-like appearance. It makes the visuals a disappointment. The good news is it’s optional. I also love the portraits of everyone, especially Cornet. She’s cute, and her wide range of expressions perfectly denotes her various emotions.
Another significant difference between this iteration of La Pucelle Ragnarok and the Playstation 2 entry is added voiced dialogue. Every so often, the music dies down as chatter breaks out. It’s odd, and without the noise of audible speaking, it would create an awkward silence – a fact that was true when initially released. The acting, however, is subpar. Line delivery is rarely done with gusto. It lacks inflection and cadence. It can’t nail down the proper emotion of a scene, thus not allowing me to immerse myself. That said, the humour is evident, with a joking tone used most prevalently over anything else. The soundtrack is, again, uncertain of the identity it wants to uphold. A few tracks have a unique tinge, but many remain reminiscent of Disgaea.
With a name like Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, I’d expect it to have a score that bangs on all cylinders. I can confirm that nothing is nasty to the ear holes, but it isn’t particularly memorable. I can say that, unlike the other title in the bundle, it doesn’t struggle with identity. The musings are unique, fitting well with the world it boasts. One aspect I didn’t think I’d enjoy was the voice work. It’s relegated to these sporadic musical bits, sure, but I’ll be upfront, they’re decently done. None of them are incredible performance-wise, but they’re a reminder of the good old ‘90s. It was a new technology back then, even to have digitized models audibly saying full sentences. The singing wasn’t tone-deaf either, being serviceable and adding something that’s genuinely distinct. What surprised me was the usage of instruments; I never expected that.
NIS Classics Collection Vol. 3 continues revisiting the vault, but this time, it fails to grab hold of a pair of winners. It’s not because both games are necessarily bad, though. Sure, La Pucelle Ragnarok has an entire mechanic steeped in convolution. It spits in the face of accessibility. It also tries copying Disgaea to a failing degree. That said, for anyone who dove into it when it was on PlayStation 2, a treat awaits. Hell, there’s even a prequel of sorts here. As for Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, well, it’s nothing special, but not a mess. The genericism does make it unappealing for those that want an actual challenge and engagement. Simply put, this is as basic as basic gets, and it’d probably buy a pumpkin spice latte if it were a human. Sadly, I can’t recommend this bundle to newcomers.
I’m a sucker for the pixel art seen in both games. The CRT effect in Rhapsody is superb. I love how detailed both are and the expressive faces of La Pucelle Ragnarok.
For La Pucelle, I love the idea behind it. What brings it down is how damn convoluted fusion is. I’m not able to make use of it which isn’t grand. That’s a good chunk of gameplay thrown at the window. Rhapsody, however, is straightforward and fun in its own way.
What hinders La Pucelle the most isn’t lack of quality. It’s because it relies too much of Disgaea. Hell, there are tracks that are completely ripped from that game. The lack of being unique is hurtful. Rhapsody, on the other hand, is adequate enough.
Fun Factor: 6.5
Again, La Pucelle hurts itself due to having a ridiculously convoluted mechanic. Even after looking up how to work with it, I was in the dark. I just don’t get it. Because of that, I question the accessibility of it.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Prinny Presents NIS Classics Vol. 3 is available now on Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Prinny Presents NIS Classics Vol. 3 was provided by the publisher.