• Anata No Yonkihime Kyodoutan Review - Nintendo Switch

    Good and bad games, at least from a reviewer's viewpoint, have one thing in common: they make for easy writing. It's easy to put in words what a game put you through when game mechanics, graphics, music, and story come together to form a pleasant experience or crash and burn like a vehicle from '80s action movies. Average games on the other hand are just what they are: they might have one or two standout points but even those never reach any tip of the scale and there arenít many ways to say a game is average without over-repeating yourself. Case in point Anata No Yonkihime Kyodoutan (which translates to the even more cumbersome "Your Four Knight Princess Training Story"), Nippon Ichi's latest effort that mixes Gauntlet (or to keep things in house The Witch and the Hundred Knight), Ogre Battle, with a pinch of Princess Maker.

    Graphics are colourful, with a very well defined style although they can get too confusing, music and sound effects do their job, controls work well, it's a fun game without too much of a challenge, all game mechanics work well together but none of them are particularly deep, and there's an overall charm unique to Nippon Ichi games. And yet nothing is particularly memorable and the game will be easily lost between other titles of superior and inferior quality.

    You take the role of an Instructor Knight recruited by one of the four princesses in the title. As their instructor, it's your task to decide which lessons to teach them, arrange their armies, lead them into battle, and praise (or scold) the princesses for their actions.
    AnaKyon (Iím shortening the title like that) is divided into two main parts: during the first youíll be introduced to all four princesses in a short campaign, after which youíll choose which princess to guide through her story arc. AnaKyon isnít a particularly long game, 12 hours from start to finish, and if you plan your savegames correctly you wonít have to replay the first part.
    All princesses have different endings based on the trust between her and your avatar, with replayability somewhat further enhanced by slightly different dialogues based on your avatarís personality.

    The first thing to do in a campaign is to set up teams you'll then dispatch from the princess' castle. Two of these teams belong to you and to the princess; the others must be recruited from various mercenaries. Teams are composed of a leader and three troops. The chosen leader will also dictate the kind of troop that will accompany him or her; as the game goes on, different leaders with more powerful troops will become available, as well as more advanced troops for you and the princesses. Teams move on an overworld composed of several locations connected by pathways. Movement is in real time and some missions require you to stop enemies from reaching a fixed destination or a moving ally. Teams can wander around the map as long they have enough APs and health to partake effectively in action segments. Should one of the two get dangerously low, it's possible to immediately send teams back to the castle. Teams will need some time to rest, counted in in-game hours that equate to about one minute in the real world. Sending teams back to the castle is the only way to replace lost troops or change a team's composition.

    While not an incredibly deep system, there are situations where you'll have to manage troop movements carefully or risk a game-over, and the only thing I can say about this phase is that some of the later maps are uselessly large: there will always be two training spots to bring new teams up to speed, a few treasure chests scattered around, at least a couple of random enemy teams, and mission markers, but it's not enough to really liven up any overworld, often resulting in boringly long segments were you wait for a unit to reach something. You can speed up time, but there's still too much waiting in later maps.

    When a team touches an enemy token or reaches a mission location, AnaKyon will switch to an action segment where you'll take direct control of the team's leader. Troops simply follow the leader around and won't act until ordered to do so: the basic attack is executed immediately wherever troops are, so you must mind their position and facing, otherwise their attacks could end wasted. Holding down the right shoulder button will set troops free and they will gang up on the nearest enemy, attacking as they see fit and acting as shield for the leader. The right shoulder button also unleashes special moves when combined with face buttons.

    Dungeons are littered with relics, objects serving as environmental hazards or rare healing points for the team. Relics are hostile at first, but can be captured by your troops and be used a limited number of times against enemies. You can capture as many relics as you want but only the last will be active, requiring you to think about the overall picture rather than blindly capturing everything in sight. For example passive relics like healing points are always active once captured even if you get another relic, but active relics will stop being usable if you capture a passive relic after.

    At times relics are clumped together and it's difficult to precisely pin-point which one you want to capture, or use something you've already brought under your control, or order your troops to attack, as all these actions share the same button.
    Action segments are decently done, though they are repetitive. Any given overworld only has a few stage layouts and the game blocks certain areas off to give the impression of a larger pool of available stages. The four unit classes don't really amount to much, and while troops and relics do boost firepower in certain occasions, the burden to complete the stage is always on you as the leader.

    Opposition isn't particularly strong but it's easy to die: enemies might spawn right next to you and it's not easy to distinguish them from your own units. Bullets are a bit too small and too easy to miss, even on large screens. Graphic filters around the screen's edges are a bit too heavy, often masking enemies that are already attacking you.

    There are only a few bosses in AnaKyon and all of them are way too easy to fight, at times requiring you just to sit on one side and hammer the attack button. Other bosses have well telegraphed attacks that make for easy dodges, with some random encounters requiring more interaction to be brought down. Bosses are strangely quiet as they donít have many, or any at all, sound effects associated to them or their attacks.

    There's no difficulty selector, although the princesses themselves might be: Monomaria is the hardest to play with due to her accompanying troops, low mobility, and low damage. Liliati and Alpana are close-range warriors and have average health and damage, while Veronica can pick enemies at range with ease and her low health doesn't really represent a drawback.

    The four princesses have very distinct personalities and you'll be able to pick up how their story arcs will go in the introductory campaigns, and personally I found Veronica and Alpana the most interesting of the bunch.

    During action stages and certain cutscenes you'll need to praise or scold your princess. This will increase, or decrease, the trust she has in you, and during action stages it will also give various bonuses. This mechanic is perfectly fine during cutscenes, although on a couple of occasions the game asked me to praise or scold with little to no idea why I should have interacted with the princess. During action stages the praise/scold mechanic feels rather strange because you are praising yourself for doing good in battles.
    Praising and scolding is also used to teach ideas, that will translate into better stats once both you and the princess are at the castle. At the castle you can assign to a princess up to two ideas that she can develop during action stages, partake in simple minigames, or spend skill points to improve your avatar. This step is actually very important although very easy to overlook, as you'll always want your avatar and the princess on the front lines as they are the most powerful units.

    AnaKyon has a very distinct graphical style. Portraits are particularly wipsy while talking and their lines always end with a peculiar "jump" that makes it easy to advance a custscene without cutting voices as there's no auto button. The interface looks very busy, but even with all the moving elements the attention is always on the characters talking and where they are. On the Switch the overall layout is clear enough for both docked and handheld modes, though some text entries might be a bit too small. Music is rather subdued and forgettable, while voices are a perfect fit for the four princesses. Of particular note is the performance of Kengo Kawanashi, who voices every single male character, from your avatar's five voice samples to the last of NPCs; it's particularly fun to notice this the first time and seeing every character he voiced in the credits is quite impressive.

    All these system come together in a game thatís fun to play but never goes past being average. The overworld, the action segments, even the story, are lacking in depth and refinement and the impression is not that Nippon Ichi didn't know how to elaborate on the various mechanics, but rather they purposefully left them as they are, unwilling to exploit their full potential. You won't miss anything if you don't play it, and you won't regret it if you do.

    Currently the game is available only in Japan and at the time of this review no localisation plans have been announced.

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    Temjin Virtual On Figure, boxed

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