Wistful game

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The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince
Playstation 4/Nintendo Switch

FROM THE outset, The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince has moved to tread off the beaten path. In a live broadcast early last year announcing, among others, its development, Nippon Ichi Software made sure to highlight its unique plot: It tells the story of a wolf needing to take on human form and pretend to be a princess in order to help a prince it accidentally blinded regain his sight. And, as subsequent public updates have likewise shown, it does so by employing a singularly flat aesthetic; it relies on a hand-drawn art style that emphasizes its Grimm Brothers-storybook tone.

That The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince was the winning pitch of an in-house competition held annually (and, NIS just had to point out, by a female web designer) served only to punctuate its distinctiveness. As with previous contest winners Yomawari: Night Alone and htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary, it figured to push the envelope in its treatment of the subject matter. And, with uncommon flair, it succeeds. It isn’t merely a puzzle platformer cum action adventure; it takes pains to accentuate its themes of love and companionship by having the lead characters take center stage together.

In The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince, gamers control one or the other depending on the situation, with the princess literally holding the hand of the prince and guiding him through challenging terrains and, whenever necessary, turning into her original wolf form to take care of hurdles or do battle with the forest’s threatening inhabitants. Meanwhile, the prince can aid in the journey by appropriately using — or placing, with directional cues — objects only he can hold. The mechanics result in an experience that summons the need for both quick reflexes and analytical thinking. Even as jumps require perfect timing, puzzles oblige solutions that can border on the complex.

To be sure, the gameplay of The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince takes a little getting used to and, admittedly, can lead to frustration. Even those long familiar with side scrollers that test hand-eye coordination will find it exacting; its unforgiving nature makes the task of navigating two characters at the same time through rough patches difficult at best. On the flipside, it never fails to immerse, and the manner in which it does begets further engagement. Death is unavoidable, but leads to improvement; brain teasers stump, but never to the point of being unfair.

The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince benefits from complementary visual and sound designs that enhance the moods it wants to convey at any given moment. The visceral feedback cannot be denied, and is a decided boon for a chronicle that constantly pulls at heartstrings. And, indeed, the art and music are favorable to both the narrative and the action; they enable gamers to better capture the nuances of the characters in the context of the tale as well as the trek. The journey to the witch who stands as the prince’s salvation and the wolf’s redemption is made more compelling.




Expectedly, The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince runs best on the PlayStation 4 Pro. That said, the Nintendo Switch also manages to acquit itself well, even undocked. Load times are fast on both platforms, with controller feedback exhibiting no lags and the muted colors and traditional look and feel of the title coming through as envisioned. Moreover, the deliberate pace, uncomplicated interface, and frequency of checkpoints make for technically stress-free gaming at home or on the go. Notably absent are the frame drops that plagued the previous release on the PS Vita.

In any case, the relatively short length of The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince comes off as both bad and good. Gamers are allowed to take their time en route to their destination, with optional collectibles (flowers and leaves) and objectives (concept art and background information) available for completionists to pursue. Nonetheless, it can be finished in less than 10 hours — and well under given the elective of a single button press to move on to the next stage. In the final analysis, it’s probably just as well; it neither feels rushed nor overstays its welcome. And, ultimately, it manages to do just what it wants: connect with and compel those who partake of it to invest emotions in characters and thereafter regard them with wistful longing.

THE GOOD:

• Outstanding story featuring layered characters

• Complementary art and sound designs

• Challenging puzzles, but not to the point of being unfair

• Leisurely pace; gamers never feel rushed

• Original Japanese voiceover is retained, augmented by English text

THE BAD:

• Short and can be finished in well under 10 hours, even by completionists

• Occasional gameplay glitches

• Iffy replay value

RATING: 8/10

POSTSCRIPT:

YIIK: A Post-Modern RPG — Ackk Studios’ labor of love is exactly what its title suggests: a role-playing game set near the turn of the millennium. It’s also decidedly unique: It gladly gives in to Oriental influences in look, sound, and thematic presentation, but employs the setting of a small Western town in thrusting characters at the forefront of a narrative rich in the mysterious and the supernatural. Alex, newly graduated from college and unsure of his direction in life, serves as the ideal principal protagonist, eager to spout theoretical concepts while dealing with practical realities.

YIIK: A Post-Modern RPG is by no means perfect. It makes no pretenses about its Earthbound roots, and because it draws inspiration from the Super Nintendo Entertainment System cult classic, it manages to be a winsome look at a not-too-long-ago era spiced up by alternate realities. Unfortunately, it also sets itself up for misplaced comparisons. As an aside, the turn-based combat mechanics, affecting in their use of otherwise-nondescript items as weapons, suffer from uneven pace and balance. On the whole, though, it delivers on its promise of 20-odd hours of immersive gameplay. (8/10)

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The ultimate objective looks and sounds simple, but the journey winds up to be a blast because Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop!? offers you challenges without taking itself too seriously. You craft weapons, try to find buyers for them, make unique ones, and forage for the required supplies, the seeming tedium broken up by unexpected developments compelling you to take action, not to mention by the constant reminders that, hey, you’re a potato head dealing with other potato heads sporting names of venerable figures. When you interact with such notables as Claude (with — what else? — the Busted Sword), Luke Spudwalker, Wolverinnie, Nyandalf the Grey, and Hairy Pota(to), levity is assured. (8/10)