The Princess Waltz – a dance of whirling blades held to find the princess worthy of becoming queen of Seven Central in the fantasy world of Eldelant. Hopeful candidates travel from all the kingdoms of Eldelant to take part in the waltz, but only one princess will reign supreme. You are Fukamori Arata, and you know nothing of princesses or waltzes. In fact, your daily life in modern Japan couldn’t be any more ordinary – you live with your mother and sister, are woken daily by your childhood friend to go to school, and live a generally full but normal life surrounded by a gang of rowdy classmates. When rumors start circulating about a transfer student to your class, you don’t pay much attention – princes from foreign lands don’t study abroad here in this day and age, do they?
Princess Waltz is a mahou shoujo oriented eroge published by Pulltop in 2006. The title is scheduled for official English translation and Western market release by Peach Princess in 2008. This review applies primarily to the original Japanese edition, although for the sake of clarity and in anticipation of the English version, utilizes non-conflicting press release information from Peach Princess when possible.
For the longest time I regarded Peach Princess – a subdivision of the J-List company – as little more than a gimmick and fetish studio. Although their library enjoyed several titles, I only appreciated Brave Soul from the available lineup, holding the sister brand of G-Collections (yet another face of J-List) with far greater regard: not only did they have a much larger selection, but the majority of titles were profoundly story intensive and character driven. Just see Crescendo, Kana, and Figures of Happiness if you doubt me. For this reason, I secretly made the decision to avoid reviewing titles with the Peach Princess label, as I greatly admired what the company was striving to achieve, but would ruthlessly tear apart their offerings with hateful comment after hateful comment. It was a delicate and highly biased position that frustrated me to no end. This train of thought was challenged by the recent release of the emotional magnificence found in Yume Miru Kusuri: A Drug That Makes You Dream, a circumstance that I merely ascribed as a fluke: after all if you let a monkey randomly pound on a keyboard long enough, actual words will be typed from time to time. Yet soon thereafter the announcement for Princess Waltz was made, a title I purchased when it was originally released in Japan, and suddenly came to the realization that the Peach Princess I’ve negatively viewed as a third-rate importer, has now become a source of quality I’ve secretly wished it to be.
Princess Waltz is the story of Fukamori Arata, a somewhat popular though otherwise normal student who is largely ignorant of romance (to say nothing of women), and his involvement in a tournament that the eroge takes its name from. The instigators and participants of this deadly competition hail from Eldelant, an alternate dimension which intersects within our own, where magic is commonplace reality. The goals to the contest are as simplistic as they are brutal: to defeat all contestants until one stands alone, earning the reward of being crowed as Queen of Seven Central, the position of absolute power in Eldelant. Yet as the Princess Waltz grows with greater intensity, questions arise towards its rationale and legitimacy, ultimately unearthing a series of events that undermine the tranquility of Creation itself. Through the course of the story, Arata’s alluring charisma and unbreakable determination results in the various Princesses to reconsider everything they’ve been led to believe, gradually redefining their morality and perceptions. Yet in doing this he unknowingly forces the hand of an ominous power who will challenge this interference in their dark designs for the Princess Waltz.
I’ve frequently noticed mentioning of the eroge Fate/stay night when discussing Princess Waltz on various message boards and the official English site. Although there is some truth to the comparison, I must formally express a strong dissatisfaction this viewpoint brings. While it is clear that inspiration was drawn from the Type-Moon masterpiece, and the two share a great deal of thematic qualities due to this (for example the superficial tone of the Holy Grail Wars and Princess Waltz, or character mannerisms found in Chris Northfield and Saber) the story of Princess Waltz is nowhere near as meticulous and far reaching as the one found in Fate/stay night. In simpler terms: it’s not as epic. Yet let me stress that this is not a damaging factor in of itself, and although anyone who is expecting a Type-Moon clone will be disappointed by the lack of deep complexity and overwhelming examination Fate/stay night offers, Princess Waltz is not an attempt to leech off the success of another title. Due to this key factor, the eroge easily stands on its own without the need to reference Fate/stay night: indeed doing so cheapens the greater qualities found in both.
Without a doubt in my mind, Princess Waltz will be one of the most – if not the actual most – text intensive eroge to see official release in the Western market. The sheer quantity of spoken dialog and descriptive wording exceeds everything I’ve thus-so-far experienced with the Japanese originals of other Peach Princess and G-Collection titles in my possession. Quite surprisingly, this does not immediately equate into heavy character development or thought provoking introspection, for the eroge is the equivalent of an action themed anime. Literally hours of playtime is spent listening, reading, and watching – thanks to creative special effects – the heroines battle against one another for supremacy. As might be expected, there is much smackdown and awesome one-liners that are traded during these moments, resulting in battle sessions becoming an entertaining aspect of the story. Further emphasizing this action orientated focus, in a rather bold move, Princess Waltz drops the typical “choose your response” menu system that most eroge share, and provides a limited form of player interaction with the cast through a card battle system. Unlike the settings of Magic the Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh, these card battles are a metaphorical representation of direct combat between opponents, rather than the summoning of proxy creatures. The easier and quicker you defeat your opponent, the more kickass your attitude towards their humiliated kicked ass.
Though a significant portion of its presentation is dedicated to the depiction of fight scenes, do not think for an instant that Princess Waltz is deficient in delivering a non-violent side. While mortal combat between the heroines serves as an important fulcrum, key moments of character development and plot revelations are found in the “peaceful” moments of the eroge’s narrative. What impressions you form of a princess while fighting her, are completely at odds with her true personality when she’s devoid of stress and aggression. Thus it is these quiet periods (relatively speaking) when the most characterization is achieved. Many scenes are of strong comedic nature, playing off the stereotypical aspects of the character involved. Nevertheless, there remains a noticeable change of tempo when the swords stop flying, which might serve as a negative focal point for someone desiring more action and less talk from the protagonists. Yet even the most action packed movie has to actually convey WHY the violence is happening, else the film is nothing more than a collection of random chaos and pointless mayhem. Furthermore these segments of social interaction do more than give direction: they humanize the cast so the player can actually form a bond and see them as more than royal sexy magic girls who beat each other to a bloody pulp (although you have to admit; that’s kinky as hell).
From a purely visual standpoint, Princess Waltz ranks among the best eroge I’ve seen in recent years. Although the character designs are not memorable in of themselves, the vivid detail and colorful resolution of each paper doll is smoother than silk; an impressive feat that’s completely blown out of the proverbial waters, when compared to the incredible cinematic illustrations. Those with a keen eye for such things, will find the lush attention devoted towards background layout a joyous pleasure. An array of special effects accompany much of the dialog and narration throughout the story, ranging from slashing swords during combat, to the paper dolls mimicking actual movement as they move from one side of the screen to the other. The sheer genius in this dynamic presentation has to be seen for a true appreciation of the magnitude, creativity, and ingenuity put into them. Once you have witnessed what feats can be achieved in an eroge, the vast majority of titles you play thereafter will be static and lifeless. As if this was not enough, the audio department was given an equal amount of attention: clashing weapons, growling monsters, and raging flames merely scratch the surface of a massive sound library used with surpassing finesse. Save the player’s role of Ataru, every character is provided an actor or actress to voice their lines, and there are times when the attention to detail is highly remarkable: during a card battle, just listen to the breathing the combatants as their hit points slowly decrease. While I could never claim every song is inspirational or noteworthy, several of the thirty selections are shockingly divine, with one badass tune in particular following a Latin Choir style with Heavy Metal riffs.
So is Princess Waltz the first class premium eroge English gamers have been waiting all these decades for? That truly depends on your point of view. There’s little question that the title holds significant strengths in the arena of audio and graphics, exceeding the vast majority of titles released in Japan during the same year. While the story and characters of the eroge are built on solid ground, anyone expecting the magnitude of Fate/stay night will be sorely disappointed. As a friend once told me, “You don’t watch Star Trek and expect Star Wars.” At no time does Princess Waltz attempt to challenge the Type-Moon title on its own turf; the two are similar in some regards, but entirely different as a whole. Experience the eroge as it was meant to be experienced, without the need to directly compete with another of its kind, and you will find yourself mesmerized and dazzled within minutes of starting.
— Central Characters —
The hot-blooded and impulsive hero of our story. An all around good guy with a positive but rather simplistic worldview, he is quick to rush to the defense of those he sees as wronged. He values friendship highly, but turns a blind eye to romantic entanglements unless they are thrust upon him.
The mysterious exchange student who appears before Arata claiming to be the prince of a kingdom called Seven Central. While his refined conduct befits such a role, he is quite approachable and makes friends easily. What is the secret of his true identity?
The daughter of Fukamori Nanae, and Arata’s foster sister. Raised together since they were small, despite the lack of a blood connection their relationship is that of true siblings. She acts as his mentor in many ways, a strong and serious presence more like a samurai than a traditional Japanese beauty.
Arata’s childhood friend, an all around girl-next-door type who goes by the nickname “Nono”. She’s a bit of a trend follower, and is of the age where she’s in love with the idea of romance. She’s generally bright and cheerful, bad at sports but an above average student.
Dubbed the “Princess of Blades”, little is known about this mysterious participant in the Waltz beyond her name.
|Angela Victoire Blendin
One of the competitors in the Princess Waltz, hailing from the land of Agnis. Also known as the Dragon Princess, a name which fits her proud and domineering personality. Her natural elegance is balanced against equal measures of self-satisfaction and lascivious speech.
The crown jewel of the kingdom of Shihou and a competitor in the Princess Waltz, she is also known as the Princess of Earth. She led a very sheltered childhood and has no knowledge of men or the outside world.
|Liliana “Lun-Lun” Gyunstar
The Storm Princess of the ocean kingdom of Lenstantsa, and a competitor in the Princess Waltz. She’s a high tension character, a pleasure seeker always in good spirits. “Battle should be flashy and fun” is her motto, but she’s incredibly serious about her participation in the Waltz.
The Princess of Steel from Palmeed, country of blacksmiths. She fights to prove that her own personal dress is the strongest. Uninterested in matters beyond smithing, she doesn’t get along well with those beyond the inner circle of her artisan comrades.
— Scored Summary —
Scenario: 35 out of 50. The plot is strong, the comedic skits are funny, and lovable characters can be found everywhere, but let’s be perfectly clear about this: the player has zero control over progression of the plot. The common influence provided, is minor dialog exchanges during the fight scenes, which are determined by how large a margin the player wins through the card battles. This eroge has ONE storyline. This eroge has ONE ending. Towards the end of the game, the player makes a series of decisions which determine which princess might carry Atara’s future children; but that covers the entirety of freewill you are granted.
Visual: 20 out of 20. Your eyes will weep with joy after witnessing such splendor, as everything is above and beyond the standards of your “average” eroge title. The superior quality artwork, multiple paper dolls, and exquisite special effects immediately flood your senses only minutes after starting the title.
Audio: 16 out of 20. The soundtrack is not perfect, as a handful of songs are true lemons, but these failings are appreciatively counterbalanced by the presence of several grandiose themes. All characters except the player’s are voiced; an omission which is a truly a pity, as his inclusion would have been an immense benefit. Creative sound effects punctuate scenes with outstanding results; especially during the action and comedy.
Erotica: 5 out of 10. Since the eroge does not make sex a major focus point, the quantity of erotic event is kept to a minimum of seven scenes: one for each princess, with the except of Chris getting two. To help counterbalance this, everything puts a focus on quality, extending their duration above the ordinary expectations. Hymen sundering all around, as these ladies are chaste royalty, which is completely consensual and one-on-one. Tis a pity that the supporting cast can’t be conquered. Isn’t it sad Nono-chan?
Mechanics: +5 bonus. In a nutshell, the card battle system in Princess Waltz works as follows: at the start of each Turn you and your opponent are provided a random set of five cards with a numeric value printed on them. This distribution is then immediately followed by two successive events: an Initiative Phase and an Attack Phase. The objective is to use a combination of your five available cards in each of these Phases (no less than one; no more than four), to exceed the value of your opponent’s played cards. Did I mention their hand is always hidden? The victor of the Initiative Phase is rewarded the Offense role for the Attack Phase, leaving the loser on Defense. If the Offense plays a higher card value than the Defense during the Attack Phase, then the Defense takes damage (greater the difference, the more damage). If the Defense has the superior card total, then the attack is blocked or dodged with no damage inflicted. Ordinarily only the Offense can inflict damage during the Attack Phase… but there can be special exceptions. Once these two phases are complete, used cards are replenished with new ones, while unused cards are slightly increased with a higher number value – your reward for taking the risk in doing such a thing – and the battle continues until one of the two sides is reduced to zero hit points. Let me reiterate the aforementioned account is far more simplistic sounding than the card battle system functions, omitting factors such as Attribute Scores, Bonus Abilities, Special Attacks, the rock-paper-scissor nature of each card’s color, and so much more. Fortunately for those who find this system too challenging or annoying, the option of enabling an easier difficulty level is presented before each card session.
Final Score: 81 out of 100. Five years ago, I would have been resolute in claiming that an eroge such as Princess Waltz was “too good” for Western translation. It was a time when third-rate titles were the predominant offerings. Yet seeing this is no longer the case, with Peach Princess able to reward followers for years of loyal commitment brings genuine tears to my eyes. In a situation like this, I am ecstatic to be wrong. Recommended for purchase, but be patient for the English version. We’ve been waiting so long for a top tier title like this, and now we’ve finally got it!