...something along these lines serves as the introduction to La Pucelle. As you might have guessed, the story takes quite some religious influence. It revolves three members of La Pucelle, a church devoted to defeating monsters and keeping peace around the world. The main character, Prier ("to pray" in French), dreams of becoming the new maiden of light, but her haughty attidute and foul tongue don't exactly qualify her for the task.
Before you go to battle you can make preparations in the local town, Pot Au Feu ("Pot on Fire" in French). The townspeople also provide some information, as well as some of the funniest lines in the game.
Every character you get has four slots of equipment, and you equip whatever you like. You can equip Prier with four weapons and make her a total powerhouse but sacrifice her defence, and so on. Every new chapter will provide you with more equipment to buy, but it's also important to keep your equipments levels up to date. They go up as you fight while having them equipped, and high-level equipment is actually more important than high character levels, especially during post-game battles.
Talking about levels, every stat in this game has one! Your strength stat raises if you attack, yada yada, but it's nowhere as terrible as Final Fantasy II's retarded leveling system. It works a lot smoother, and your characters won't end up completely useless. The max level of any character is also, rather unusually, 9999! Don't be scared though, there's absolutely no need to ever reach that number. In fact, you can beat the final boss without being in your hundreds!
Also new to the whole thing are the Dark Portals. They're streams of dark energy emitting from a central point. They will continously spawn new monsters until you purify, aka close, them. If you do so the energy will be released in the form of the portal's element (Fire, Ice and Wind are the default ones, but you can combinate them), causing every enemy who happens to be standing onto a stream panel to take damage. You can place your characters around to redirect the energy into a circle, which will have a mega-awesome effect, like dealing huge chunks of elemental damage to all enemies, or completely restoring your party's health. One of the big problems with this though is the fact that your allies will counterattack enemies when they attack you during their phase. This will often cause you to defeat all enemies, and thus ending the battle, without being able to pull the chain off, and setting those up requires quite some time, so expect to be frustrated in the end.
Also, talking about Purification, there's more to that. While the game doesn't let you create any additional characters aside from the story ones, you can recruit pretty much every monster by puriying them often enough, and then kicking the crap out of them. They will usually start at low levels, but they can become just as strong as your regular characters with some grinding.
The game also has some of the smoothest animation seen in an SRPG. While the sprites aren't particularly high-budget, they're damn well animated!
The soundtrack by Tenpei Sato is also first-rate, with some really fresh songs that never fail to capture the mood of the situation. My only complaint is that there aren't enough tracks, but the ones present are wonderful.
Since the localised version of La Pucelle's spiritual successor Disgaea was such a success, Mastiff picked the game up for localisation. While the translation is very well done and contains a lot of humour, there is quite some censorship. One of the game's main characters, Croix ("cross" in French), always smokes a cigarette, which was edited out of his character art and sprites. However they didn't alter any of the animations, so you get to see Croix taking out nothing out of his mouth and putting nothing back in. All instances of crosses were also removed, which is quite fatal considering this is a game with heavy religious overtones.
The game contains both English and Japanese voiceovers, and both are very high-quality performances. (allthough the Japanese setting has more scenes voiced than the English one, probably due to budget restraints). Prier is voiced by Jennifer Hale, who masterfully captures her attitude problems.
The biggest addition, of course, is a completely new scenario starring Demon Prier. You get some all-new special abilities and two new plot routes, which allow for actual multiple endings this time, one of which is now considered canon.
Sadly, Nippon Ichi of America have officially announced that they won't be localising the port, for whatever reason. It's still rather easy to play with a guide and some minor knowledge of Japanese.
While La Pucelle may lack some of the polish that made later NIS games stand out so much, it's still a pleasant experience and highly recommendable for strategy RPG fans.
Next time I will be covering Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. Good bye!