Praise or scold the tropey anime princess of your choosing in this offbeat NIS America beat-'em-up.
The Princess Guide is the latest on Switch from NIS America and the colorful beat-'em-up shares a lot of the same DNA as last year's Penny-Punching Princess, which was a neat yet overburdened adventure with some unique ideas where you bribed enemies to fight with you. The Princess Guide eschews the novel monetary parts of Penny-Punching Princess, going for a more straightforward progression, but in the process it loses a little bit of the charm and still manages to be befuddling with an onslaught of systems and concepts that are generally underexplained.
Whereas Penny-Punching Princess put you in the role of a money-hungry princess, The Princess Guide has you star as a mentor to one of four princesses. Each one plays a little differently and has their own personality and story. Veronica is a witch out for blood, Liliartie craves good meals, Monomaria fights for her people, and Alpana is a dragon lady. In gameplay, they all feature the same controls, but for example, Monomaria uses guns whereas Veronica makes use of spells. While you make your choice of princess in the beginning, you bounce between all four over the course of the story.
The action is most commonly found in relatively short isometric battle arenas where you do minimal exploring and maximum strategic button-mashing. Your character guides a small group of soldiers that assist in battle, with the gameplay being a combination of light combos from your controlled hero and occasional directed help from your small army. Layers are present to unravel, but a lot of the nuance of battle is obfuscated, even with the aid of tutorials. For the most part, making well-timed dodges and firing everything on big enemies will do the trick.
What makes the combat more amusing are relics, a holdover from Penny-Punching Princess. You can claim a relic at a time, which are mostly used as traps on enemies. Claim a spike trap and then time a button press to have the spikes come out and lay waste to a few foes. It's nothing game changing, but it makes the regularity of these combat situations have more variety. The combat is enjoyable throughout, especially since the length of the levels goes as low as a minute and rarely crosses the five-minute mark. However, the screen routinely gets busy and like its predecessor, the camera angle can make it easy to get lost in the fray and make annoying missteps.
Adding on to the battling focus is an overworld map. In addition to your battling princess, you can control multiple other commanders across this map, including your created princess guide and a variety of recruitable commanders. Each one can be moved around the map to branch out to various missions and challenges as they arise. Routinely, some missions will involve making sure overworld enemies don't reach certain points or are defeated in a certain amount of time. Those are a pleasant change of pace from the routine play of the regular levels. This all adds a level of squad management to the experience that is a little cumbersome but can be engaging when you wrap your head around it.
On top of this is a baffling amount of options and menus that are hard to make hay out of. I had access to many weapons for my commanders, though you can only equip them when they're at the base, which makes sense but restricted the amount of changing and experimentation. You can also build up your princess, but most of that doesn't get detailed until later in the game. A lot of it isn't clear for the opening hours despite the ability to mess with all these menus. The hook to part of Princess Guide is the ability to praise or scold the princess, which has an in-game effect, as far as granting boosts in battle and raising stats. Some of the opportunities to praise and scold just felt weird, though. You can shame Liliartie for eating food, which just felt uncomfortable. The concept of a superior praising and scolding a younger female character feels like it needed a little more care and the writing and gameplay doesn't do a great job of sticking the landing.
Overall, it's an enjoyable action-focused romp, but everything feels a little scattershot. This is a game that packs in a lot but doesn't stick the landing on all that much. The Princess Guide offers up a pleasant little brawler that overcomplicates at every turn and is never truly satisfying.