Long live the princess!
Way back in 1994, GAINAX were priming up to release Princess maker 2: the follow-up title to Princess Maker: the first ever royal raise-em-up. Now, a staggering 22 years later, an updated and remastered version has been released on Steam. I fondly remember playing Princess Maker back in my school days, and I was delighted to see it wing its way to Steam with polished up graphics and full voice-acting with this new Refine(d) version. Princess Maker 2 Refine casts you as a knight of a fantasy realm, who is given an immaculately conceived daughter to raise by the gods, who have a great destiny in mind for her. Whether she lives up to her divine destiny though, or chooses to walk a different path, is down to you.
The first thing I noticed is that Princess Maker 2 hasn’t gotten any more accessible in its old age. Immediately upon finishing the opening cutscene, you’re bundled onto a screen depicting your daughter in her bedroom. You’re then given the option of buying stuff for her, checking an arcane list of statistics and scheduling her life for the upcoming month. There’s not much in the way of a tutorial to ease you into things beyond the occasional prod from your bat-eared butler. Did you know that your Princess will be more or less stressed depending on her bloodline? Could you anticipate that your little miss will have her starting stats massively adjusted based purely on her starsign? Unless you’re using a guide from ye olde internet, the workings of Princess Maker 2 are completely opaque.
The fundaments of Princess Maker 2 Refine’s gameplay are managing your magical offspring’s myriad meters and stats to keep her healthy and de-stressed enough to pursue her passions in life, or the ones you stubbornly project onto her. Every year, you’ll get a royal stipend for your day-job as a knight of the realm, but this wage evaporates quickly (the cost of schooling your princess in various skills costs an absolute bomb). If you want money, you’ll have to make your poor little princess work for it! Jobs can range from cooking at restaurants to hunting game in the woods. Every job is accompanied by a delightful little animated tableau – showing a chibi-fied version of your princess waiting tables or scrubbing floors – changing from day-to-day, showing different animations if she’s slacking off or screwing up. These cute animations really help make the stat-building nature of the game more fun. You can even send your daughter off to work at a Cabaret or Sleazy Bar at the age of 15 (just like any responsible father).
The most fundamental dilemma you’ll face is how to balance your little lady’s work/life balance. If the stress she accumulates from tirelessly working exceeds her constitution score she’ll get sick, which will eat into her time and require an expensive trip to the doctor (however, raising your daughter’s constitution requires a heartier diet, which costs more money each week). Even more frustratingly, if you let her mind fill with sin, she’ll succumb to deliquency and run away for months at a time! Just like being a real parent (I’d imagine) it’s a challenging but satisfying experience to navigate the course of your child’s life to achieve her dreams.
Another way to open new opportunities for your princess, is to have her attend court and chat to various royals (and their toadying courtiers). This can be a great matter of trial and error though. You’ll have to learn whether each pampered courtesan/nobleman prefers decorum, temperament or refinement! Leverage your reputation at court well though, and your daughter could one day marry a handsome young prince (swoon)!
As well as developing your princess in more ladylike ways, you can also have her participate in another perfectly healthy activity for a child: wandering fields and tundras in search of terrifying monsters to fight! The combat in Princess Maker is pretty standard fare for a JRPG in 1994. You take politely take turns to batter monsters, with the opportunity to flee available if needed. There are bosses to defeat and treasures to find – but if you’re looking for a classic RPG dungeon crawler with well thought out battle mechanics, PM2 isn’t outstanding in that regard. Rather, combat is just another part of the still quite impressively well rounded way you can shape your daughter’s life. How well you do in combat is more about the Rocky-style training montage of how you build up your daughter’s stats through martial arts lessons, and other physical and mental trials – not on the navigation of an in-depth combat system as such.
The big appeal of Princess Maker 2 Refine is just how wildly different each play through can be, and the excitement of the sheer number of different endings available. There are 70+ endings for your daughter, based on a huge range of behind-the-scenes calculations – depending not only on your daughter’s skills and reputation in various areas, but also on various special events you’ll encounter on your playthrough.
You can even shamefully fail your parental duties by allowing your daughter’s morals and piety to go into freefall, ultimately getting a “Harlot” ending. You’ll even get a picture of the nubile 18 year old nymph cavorting around with scarcely a patch of clothing – having discarded notions of self-denial in favour of debauchery! Of course, I’m sure you’ll want to avoid that! Best send her to church constantly to cleanse her impressionable mind of sin!
Princess Maker 2 Refine isn’t quite as… refined an experience as it likes to think (*ba-dum-dum-tiss*). The old-fashioned interface is definitely showing its age in many respects. For example, when flicking through dialogue boxes you’ve heard/read before, you’ll notice you can’t just skip them with a couple clicks as in virtually all visual novel type games released from the late nineties onward. This means hearing and reading the same lines over and over can get tedious.
It’s also the restrictive design that’s an issue. There’s also something of a lack of freedom in how you can develop your darling daughter. For example, sending your daughter to work at a restaurant will raise her cooking skill (in a shocking twist) but it will lower her combat skill. This means if you’d had dreams of your budding princess being a legendary knife fighter with a peerless skill in carving up potatoes and monsters alike – you’ll be disappointed. This system feels like a primitive attempt at increasing challenge through stat management, but all it really does is close off certain opportunities for developing your princess.
At the end of the day, building your daughter’s skills up tends to be a case of constant repetition and min-maxing statistics. If you contrast this with the tighter focus on key moments and life choices of PM2R’s more modern peers like Long Live the Queen – Princess Maker 2’s design feels particularly antiquated.
You can’t be too angry at Princess Maker 2 Refine’s old-fashioned trappings though – after all, back in 1994 we were all going crazy over a radical, wicked awesome upcoming console called the “Virtual Boy”. To enjoy Princess Maker 2 Refine, you’ll need to be able to cut an old game some slack! If you’re a youngster all hopped up on dubstep and snapchat (or whatever it is the kids are doing these days), the grindy gameplay of Princess Maker 2 might not resonate with you. If you’re the misty-eyed nostalgic sort – with a love of classic anime-styled simulation games – you could do a lot worse than snatching up Princess Maker 2 Refine for an updated take on the original.
Princess Maker 2 can still amaze me with all its possibilities, even over a decade since I first played it. Personally, I’m looking forward to forcing my hapless offspring to scrub many more floors and fight hordes of mutated beasts in search of all the myriad endings on offer. Ah, precious family memories!
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: CFK Co. Ltd. ; Developer: CFK Co. Ltd. ; Players: 1 ; Released: September 28th, 2016 ;
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy provided to hey Poor Player by the publisher