Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? / Prinny: Ore ga Shujinkō de Iinsuka? (プリニー ～オレが主人公でイイんスか?～) - PSP (2008)
Nippon Ichi aren't a company to do things in half-measures. Their Strategy RPGs are well known for the absurd amount of content crammed into them. So when NIS set out to do a platformer starring the Disgaea series' ever-present Prinny mascots, the end result being among the hardest of its kind should come as little surprise.
The story premise of the Prinny titles are simple. You play one of the hundreds of Prinnies doomed to the service of Demon Lord Etna; a task that only ends when a Prinny has served long enough to earn the right to reincarnate. Considering Etna pays her staff very poorly, if at all, it's widely known that this could take years, if not decades.
The titular hero is a chosen Prinny given the ex-Overlord Laharl's scarf, which will protect him from exploding on impact after being thrown; as Prinnies are known to do. If he dies, Etna will just give the scarf to the next Prinny in line, until they're all dead. On Standard difficulty, each Prinny gets three lives; denoted by scarf icons. On the optionally sadistic Hell's Finest mode, Prinny dies in one hit.
For being essentially a simple platformer, Prinny has a lot of depth to it. The jumping mechanics, to many a reviewer's chagrin, take their cues from the Ghosts 'n Goblins series. Once Prinny jumps in a direction, there's no mid-air adjustment. While the core attack consists of simply running up to an enemy and slashing it to pieces, there's also mid-air ranged attacks (which can deal out massive damage at close range), and a hip-pound jump which is used both for stunning enemies and getting around unsafe obstacles.
The monsters and bosses all come from the Disgaea series' immense roster of demons, each with unique attacks designed to fit into Prinny's platformer style. The sprite animation is as charming as ever, and long-term series composer Tenpei Sato contributed some classic tunes, as well as many catchy new ones.
There's a handful of tricks and treats available in different stages, such as vehicles (many from Makai Kingdom), items, and collectible snacks for bonus points. Each stage (of every variety) also has three hidden Lucky Dolls, which can be collected for nifty bonus features, and even bonus stages and boss fights in the highest amounts. While most of the in-game database can be filled in just by defeating enemies, to get the 'secret' files on the Prinny baddies, this requires either collecting the Lucky Dolls (for immune enemies, vehicles, and obstacles), or finding rare letters dropped by monsters after defeating them many, many times.
Collecting high amounts of Lucky Dolls unlock the ultimate challenges: the ridiculously difficult Martial Tower, which leads to fights with Prinny, Laharl and Baal (on a second visit), and a battle with Demon Lord Etna herself; who calls out all the stops for the toughest fight in the game.
Prinny is jam-packed with content. The main character is given ten hours to recover the ingredients for Etna's stolen Ultra Dessert. Each stage takes up an hour of time. In addition, the first six stages can be taken on at a different time: between the first (easiest) and sixth (hardest) hour. This means there are a whopping thirty-six variations of the first six stages alone, each with a totally unique layout and boss encounter at the end. The last four stages are all unchangeable, leading up to the final boss fight. This is a strictly timed 3:00 battle, requires near perfect memorization (and a lot of button mashing) to defeat; a task that's caused many a gamer to either break their PSPs in frustration, or give up on the game entirely.
The other infamous detail Prinny was advertised with, possibly as a warning: the player starts with 1,000 lives. While this sounds absurdly generous, it's not. The difficulty of the later stages and bosses, along with the necessary trial and error to complete them, can deplete the stockpile of Prinnies extremely fast. There's no recovering lost Prinnies, either. It's 1,000 or bust. (You can always reload from a save point, if it comes to a desperate situation.)
Prinny doesn't just reward button mashing, it practically demands it: the square button is extremely responsive to repeated use, and each and every press of it, no matter how fast, can register a massive amount of hits in a few seconds. Using close-range aerial attacks in rapid succession is a player's best bet for eliminating bosses that would otherwise be impossible. This isn't just helpful for defeating the likes of the final and optional bosses; it's pretty much necessary.
If the main game proves too difficult, finding hidden letters between stages at Etna's Castle can also unlock the secret Asagi Mode (also accessible through a code for the impatient), which provides new stages and special boss fights against the ever-present NIS heroine who's still fighting for a starring role in her own game.
In addition to all this, the game also has a few dozen achievement-esque 'awards' given out for completing key tasks ranging from the mundane to the truly impressive; such as clearing the game, defeating the optional bosses, or simply performing a few hundred hip-pounds. (These are given out via news broadcast between stages by an amusingly oblivious Succubus reporter.)
For the truly devoted, Prinny even has three DLC levels which can be purchased on the PSN, each with a unique (and voice-acted!) boss fight. The Marona and Flonne levels are modestly challenging, while the 'Lil Asagi Comes Home' stage is only for the most masochistic of players. Fortunately, they all offer unlimited lives, and they will be necessary.
With a game this packed with content and replay value, it would have made Prinny a fantastic game in its own right. What really makes the game shine is NIS America's finest localization work to date. Every story segment and NPC is fully voiced with some of the most hilarious voice work and writing the company has produced yet. Even the file database, providing background on the many enemies and items in Prinny, is chock full of in-jokes and amusing references.
Among the highlights of the localization is a late-game boss, a giant armor-clad boar called Darth Moab; voiced by a hilarious James Earl Jones impersonator that talks in nothing but parodies of Darth Vader lines:
"If he could be churned, he would make a powerful stir-fry."
Each and every character from the lowly Prinnies that populate Etna's castle to the charismatic bosses all have charmingly appropriate voice actors. Many of them are also returning vets from previous NIS titles. The English voice talent for Flonne, Etna, Laharl, and even Marona from Phantom Brave all return to reprise their characters' voices. (The Etna VA from Disgaea 1 was replaced for Disgaea 2, and she's remained the voice actress for Etna ever since.) Asagi's voice work is especially enjoyable, due to the many accents she puts on for her brief appearances in Asagi Mode, which is worth playing just for the comedic story sequences. NIS America went above and beyond for Prinny's localization, making one of the craziest platformers ever a truly special gem.
Prinny 2: Dawn of Operation Panties, Dood! / Prinny 2: tokkō yūgi! Akatsuki no Pantsu Dai Sakusenssu!! (プリニー2 〜特攻遊戯! 暁のパンツ大作戦ッス!!〜) - PSP (2010)
Prinny expected a lot of players, and for better or worse, they supported it. It was a resounding success both in Japan and in the US, and it didn't take long at all for a sequel to get announced. In true NIS tradition, it didn't just continue the first game's legacy; it expanded on it and jacked the crazy up to 11. As with the original, there's not much to the story. This time Etna's had her unmentionables stolen by a rogue Moab called the Phantom Thief, and she sends the Squad to go retrieve them. If they fail in retrieving her underwear, she'll have them all skinned for fabric to replace it.
After the dozens of hours of replay value offered by the first game, there were some lofty expectations for Prinny 2. NIS didn't make many changes to the core formula, though. The largest complaint levied against the first game, the fixed direction of jumps, hasn't been changed, nor has the infamously high difficulty level. In fact, Prinny 2 is actually harder than the original, in many ways. Although the bosses aren't quite as nasty, the new stages have various new obstacles and environmental hazards to make a Prinny's life even more difficult. Additionally, the three lives of the first game's normal mode have been cut down by one for the sequel. Three hits and it's over. The one-chance-only Hell's Finest mode makes a return, and there's also a new beginner difficulty called 'Baby Mode', which replaces scarves with diapers. Similar to Mega Man 10's easy mode, this also adds bridges and other elements into stages to make clearing them easier.
The major update to the gameplay, which can make boss fights and stages much easier, is the new Break mechanic. After inflicting enough hits on enemies and certain obstacles, Prinny goes into a berserk mode that makes all his attacks stronger. He also gains special abilities to inflict extra damage, such as an air-to-ground dash that wipes out all enemies in his path, a slashing spin-dash, and much faster projectiles during mid-air attacks. This does little to balance out having one less life than in the first game, as many lost lives will happen as a result of the sadistic level design, not from enemies and bosses. Although the final boss isn't as strict on strategy as Prinny 1's, it's still a daunting task that requires quick reactions and memorization of its attack patterns.
The new underwater stage gives Prinny higher jumping speed, in a level full of electrical currents and instant death floor panels, and there's a windy stage with misdirecting breezes similar to the second level of the classic Ninja Gaiden II. Certain stages even have massive background obstacles which arrive to launch projectiles at the stage, such as fully rendered airships which fire missiles, and Disgaea 2's Dark Sun, which rains down pillars of fire.
The general flow of the game is also pretty much just like the first game. There's ten hours to complete all the stages, and the first six each have six variations of each level.
There's still a wealth of replay value as well. The hidden Lucky Dolls return in force, along with new achievement-awards that have even more sadistic requirements than Prinny 1's. (Now presented by a hilariously 'cosmopolitan' Lilith reporter.) There's also several added monster and boss varieties, most coming from the newer Disgaea titles.
Where Prinny 2 is an immense disappointment compared to the predecessor is the localization. All the NPCs and bosses are again fully voice acted, but the quality has taken a nose dive. The original voice of the Hero Prinny, a mainstay since the earliest titles, has been replaced by a far less suitable voice actor, whose dialogue sounds awkward at best.
The Hero isn't the only one guilty of this, though. While the first game was full of enthusiastic voice acting and well-suited dialogue, nearly all the voices in Prinny 2 feel phoned in. Etna's voice sounds so bored that it seems like a completely different actress, although NIS America have insisted it isn't. Even Flonne's voice, clearly provided by the original VA trying her best, sounds disinterested in the dialogue, thanks in no small part to how bland it is.
As if the subpar voice acting wasn't bad enough, there's almost none of Prinny 1's clever writing to be found here. The database is clinical and straightforward, with few if any comedic references that the first game was full of. The lack of effort taken with the game's localization detracts from a decent, if frustrating, experience. Fortunately, NIS America didn't totally botch the job.
Asagi Mode also makes a return for Prinny 2, with wildly different results. Instead of using Hero Prinny in different stages, the newly dubbed Asagi Wars levels star Asagi herself; reduced to a Prinny form after dying at Hero Prinny's hands in the first game. The stages are entirely the same as the main game's, with the same variable time zones. Asagi Wars is just as large in scope as the main story.
The story to Asagi Wars is hilarious, and easily the highlight of Prinny 2. Even the localization is much better here than in the main story. Asagi's voice actress makes a return, and Flonne replaces Etna in the base hub as her main companion. The writing of the multiple Asagi clone-bosses is well-written and acted, to the point that makes one wonder if a different localization team was responsible for Asagi Wars.
Instead of using knifes and aerial attacks, Asagi gets a huge arsenal of firearms. Asagi Mode is more like Contra than Ghouls 'n Ghosts. However, all her ammunition is limited. The rapid-fire shotgun offers the most shots, while the high-powered rocket launcher and flame thrower get depleted rapidly, and are best saved for boss fights.
Rather than having lives, Asagi Wars relies on ratings. Killing enemies and gathering items builds up the rating percent, while getting hit and falling depletes it rapidly. Once the ratings hit 0%, it's over. Fortunately, it's possible to prevent death by killing enemies before the meter hits rock bottom, but bosses can do lots of damage to a full meter very fast. Asagi also has a Break Mode of her own that allows her to deal out extra damage, which also causes her incredibly catchy theme song to take the place of the stage music.
Unlocking Asagi Wars requires finding the hidden letters throughout the main game, though it's also accessible through a code. Anyone frustrated with the sequel's main game, which can be very taxing for even Prinny veterans, should definitely give Asagi Mode a try before giving up on it. It's easily the highlight of an otherwise disappointing sequel.