Reviewed by Minna Kim Mazza
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2005-11-15 PSP RPG E (Everyone) Agetec / Sony

For those itching to see a decent RPG-Fantasy title for the PSP, you'll have to wait until early December to pick up PoPoLoCrois, but it is definitely a must-buy for the holidays!

You play Pietro, the 10-year old prince of the kingdom of PoPoLoCrois. I don't know who was on drugs when they named this kingdom, but it ends up having a nice ring to it from the narrator. Pietro seeks to rescue his mother Sania's soul from the World of Darkness, which is where it apparently has been for the last 10 years. Coincidentally, 10 years before, an evil Ice Demon tried to destroy PoPoLoCrois, only to be taken down by a beautiful white dragon, except that as the Ice Demon plunged into the World of Darkness, he took the dragon down with him. Don't think too hard about the connection there! In the opening sequence you see the scenes from 10 years ago play out, with King Paulo trying to stop Queen Sania from leaving him.

Pietro learns of his mother's fate, thinking she's been dead this whole time, while actually she's locked up in the tower in a sleep-like state (think Sleeping Beauty or Snow White). He finds out after his 10th birthday party by following his father up to the tower. King Paulo (looking mighty old for having only aged 10 years) tells Pietro not to try to help find his mother. So of course like any good rebellious kid, Pietro starts his adventure.

Similar to pretty much any other RPG, the main character starts off alone, and along the way picks up new adventurers to join the party. It looks like you have up to four characters at any given time. There's of course always the love interest, this time in the form of a forest witch named Narcia, and the bumbling buffoon character - the white knight named... White Knight.

Battle is very similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, in the sense that there is a grid-type interface and it is turn-based battle - mostly. There is a gauge that corresponds to the speed in which the character can act - this actually determines when they take their turn. But once it's a character's turn, time stops and you can take your sweet time executing the command. The grid has overlapping tiles - your character takes up 2x2 grid blocks. Most special skills can be manipulated to cover as much area as possible to affect more enemies.

The graphics are not very slick, but apparently this was intended to look more "old school." However, the movements are definitely more fluid, and the cut scenes are like watching little animated movies, which are not even close to the quality of movies on large consoles, but still very well done and entertaining enough if you can get over the high-pitched little kid voices.

The voices were well done for the most part, though I got sick of voices that would state the special move. There are only so many times you want to hear "slicing wind" from Pietro before turning off the sound. Other than that, it's also fun to note that at least in the preview copy I received, there are plenty of translation errors for your amusement (not in the voiceovers - only in the written text). "Arial Slash" is one of my favorites (I hit you with my typeface!)

As your characters level up, they not only gain HP and MP, they also gain new skills. Along with earning EXP (experience) after winning a battle, you also earn SP, which I can only assume are what they refer to as "skill points" that allow you to gain levels with those skills. I don't think these have anything to do with learning new skills, which is probably related to character level (though I can't confirm for sure, I usually hit the buttons too fast after a fight!)

The storyline is pretty linear, which doesn't leave you much room for exploration. That might change later on as I progress in the story, but it doesn't look promising. I tried going a different direction than the designated spot marked with a flag on the map, and I was told to go back. Certain areas unlock as you complete the storyline, and it doesn't hurt to explore as much as possible to find scattered treasure chests with useful items.

Speaking of the map, it's not as helpful as you would like, though if you look closely enough to the detail, you can figure out the terrain a little bit. However, don't rely on the map to know exactly where you are in an area. It's mostly showing you the main areas of the world map, plus a flag icon to indicate where you are supposed to be heading.

The music is not all that appealing and I drowned it out as much as possible. The battle sequence music is somewhat catchy, but that gets old as well. That, along with the battle cries was not a big plus to the game at all. However, one can look past that and enjoy the story as it unfolds.

Overall this is a very highly anticipated release for RPG fans with PSPs. Hopefully this will be a great chance to introduce the PoPoLoCrois series to North America, as it has only been released in Japan, already on their third installment of the series. It's also definitely a fitting game for younger kids, as there are no scantily clad women or bad language to worry parents. The U.S. release is slated for December 6th, 2005.

Special thanks to Valerie Whetzel at Reverb Communications and Agetec for providing a copy of this title.