Atlus spoils.  They have convinced me to do some pretty drastic and bizarre things over the years, from playing through a three-hour tutorial to ordering a collector’s edition pizza box to wearing a yellow t-shirt.  They’ve outdone themselves this time, though: they sold me a 3DS XL.

For the past three years, my aging DSi XL has been my constant companion.  As an older person who needs larger screens, I had to wait over a year for the 3DS XL to arrive before I could upgrade.  So far I’m happy with the system; the weight and circle pad feel great, the 3D doesn’t give me a headache, the cameras are fantastic, it surfs the Internet like a champ and I’m blown away by the sheer variety of things it can download.  I was going to wait a few more months, but one look at Agatsuma Entertainment’s Atlus-published side-scrolling hybrid RPG/fighting game Code of Princess convinced me to board the 3D train.

The titular code-carrying princess is Solange Blanchefleur de Lux, the hilariously naïve Princess of DeLuxia, a kingdom besieged by monsters and political strife.  She alone is capable of wielding (well, dragging) the only thing that can save the world: the DeLuxcalibur, an enchanted sword that is much too big and heavy for her.  The effect is phenomenally silly, but as she grows stronger and faster, combat becomes very gratifying.

It’s hard to dislike a game that passes the Bechdel Test three times in the first hour.  The first two people Solange meets as she flees her homeland are strong, funny females, and the three of them set out to do what needs to be done.  (Later they are joined by male characters, but none of these seem as important as the trio; interestingly, most of the villains are also female.)  It’s not a complicated story, but the writing and voice actors’ delivery drip with style and wicked humor; the plot throws some nice curveballs without taking itself too seriously, lampooning the entire RPG genre in the process.  Solange’s cries of “Nooo!” and “Stop that!” would be disturbing in a serious game, but here they make sense.

As beat-‘em-ups go, this is a relatively fast-paced and technical one; there are button-mashing chains and careful sequential attacks, and both are necessary.  The difficulty skyrockets after the first few missions, presenting some real challenges.  Each of the playable characters feels quite different, and their stats can be increased individually by leveling up and equipping armor.  Battles are fought along three rails; damage can be increased by utilizing a Lock-On, which doubles damage to one specific enemy, or with Burst, which stuns foes while increasing damage but draining MP.

The Campaign is about 20 hours long, but the fun doesn’t end there— there are bonus quests, as well as a robust multiplayer mode.  Multiplayer offers a dizzying 50+ characters to choose from (many are monsters and bosses from the campaign), some of which possess not a single useful attack, but it’s loads of fun to read their flavor text and see what they can do.  Internet play (co-op or competitive) is smooth and addictive.

The game shipped with a miniature art booklet containing a delightful eight-song soundtrack sampler.  The music deserves an honorable mention if only because the songs have absolutely nothing in common, ranging from romantic to funky.  (The omission of Marco Neko’s shop theme is tragic.)

Code of Princess manages to marry the best parts of role-playing to some challenging hack-and-slash, topping it with a nice satirical bow; the dialogue is top notch and the combat is great therapy.

Available at your friendly local game store.  Enjoy with a nice rosé!