The Princess Guide Review
I consider The Princess Guide a bit of a wake-up call. Not, in the sense, that I expected it to be a good game - but rather in how it reminds me just how little a 10-15 minute preview session can show. That's nothing. You don't know if a game evolves beyond that demo, you don't know if the game is another 20 hours long or just another 5 minutes. You can walk away from a game's short demo optimistic like I did, just to find out that the promise that you might've seen in the game was never fulfilled. While perhaps not the worst case scenario, The Princess Guide might as well be a textbook example of how a preview session can hide a game's larger overarching faults.
Let's start with the good, however. The Princess Guide features a very charming aesthetic, and each of the game's titular princesses all animate with a bounciness that one might, at first glance, think was bugged or sped up. The soundtrack accompanying many of the actions taken when interacting with each of the princesses is rather nice, and the fact that each princess appears to have a different theme is a nice touch that is sadly underutilized thanks to how little of the time the game actually incentivizes you to interact with the princesses.
The game's story never really develops beyond the premise. You were a war hero for some unnamed country, that decided to persue writing. Eventually you offer up your knowledge to the princess' of the land, as a tutor. Each of the 4 princesses have their own goal, but it's hard to say that any of their personalities evolve from their first appearance. You simply spend too little time with them for any sort of significant character development to occur.
The gameplay structure is similarly simple, and never really changes throughout. You send a party (usually commanded by your currently selected princess) to a tile on the map where a mission is currently active. Along the way, you might run into enemies that you'll have to fight. Combat is similar to that found in Penny Punching Princess, with a few caveats. First, while you'll pick up money, there's no reason to not capture any and all traps found on the battlefield. They're free to capture, and they're an efficient way of dealing with enemies. The princess can attack with either the Square button or by pressing both the Square and the Triangle button at the same time. The Triangle button will use one of the members of your squad's special attack. These are limited, but you can use the dpad to focus on another member of your squad, meaning that unless you're spamming them you'll never run out of special moves at your disposal.
The princess herself has a few moves up her sleeves, too - though it at least partly depends on the weapon that she has equipped. Pressing R1 to go into "Battle Mode", where your squad will attack on their own, and pressing Circle will activate your equipped weapon's special attack. That, and she can dash/dodge by using the Cross/X button. You can hold R1+L1 and then press a button to scold or praise your princess up to 3 times each battle, but what these options actually do in the heat of the battle are obtuse at best.
Combat, while not bad, gets monotonous quick. Each princess has a slightly different moveset, but what you're doing each mission never really changes throughout the game. You're either tacking down enemies on the map, defending one tile (by squatting your butt on it and waiting for enemies to come to you...), or finding the most efficient route to a specific tile (usually culminating in a boss fight). That's about it. During missions, there might be moments where you'll be asked to scold or praise your princess, but it happens so infrequently that the whole thing ends up feeling literally pointless. This whole aspect of the game, which is even the origin of the game's English title, feels like an afterthought.
Thankfully, the game doesn't last too long, but even then it somehow feels padded. You're forced to play through the first half of every princess' stories, each of them taking around or under an hour to complete. Then you're forced to choose the princess you liked best, and spend 1 final hour finishing up their story. There's supposed to be a ranking system depending on how well you guide each princess, including a true ending if you sufficiently trained each princess in the first half, but just completing the handful of side missions that each princess is tasked with was enough to get their levels up high enough to proceed down the 'true' route.
It's obvious that the game wants you to replay it to see every ending, but getting every princess' endings takes up significantly more time than it's worth for a game that never seems to evolve past the first mission. As it stands, I finished the game feeling like I had accomplished and done absolutely nothing. It's almost impressive how hollow The Princess Guide feels.