The kingdom in Penny-Punching Princess is the worst case scenario of role-playing game kingdoms embracing capitalism way too much. People amass piles of debt and go bankrupt, all while a shark (or in this game’s case, a dragon) loan company continues to increase their coffers. So when the King himself went bankrupt after a string of bad investments, the Princess took it upon herself to rectify the situation.
Penny-Punching Princess’ clever combination of a top-down beat-em-up, dungeon-crawling RPG sees players using the power of money to make everything happen. The game’s main concept is collecting as much money as possible to bribe your way through. You do this in two ways: by opening chests full of money and by punching the living daylights out of your opponent. The first step is self-explanatory as long as you’re curious enough to explore every nook and cranny.
The second step is the most exciting facet of the game. Lowering an opponent’s health down to a specified “tick” puts them in a “Break” status, rendering them immobile. This is when you can loot as much money out of enemies before they start moving again. In other words, you beat them senseless and then take their money.
Now that you looted your enemy, what do you do? Use that money to bribe them, of course! Using the power of your magic calculator, you pay them their asking price so that they stop fighting you and start fighting for you. Though you can’t haggle, it’s still satisfying to punch an enemy to near death, loot them, and bribe them with their money. It’s savagery at its finest.
You can also bribe obstacles called “relics” and use them to, you guessed it, do your bidding. In fact, bribed relics become the most reliable way to do mob control when being swarmed with enemies. Aside from preventing them from hurting you, the relics can deal damage to a bunch of enemies simultaneously without leaving you vulnerable.
Which is why it’s too bad that Penny-Punching Princess necessitates relic bribing instead of making it optional. Several sections per floor close temporarily for battles and these spots are riddled with relics of all shapes and sizes. The result is a battle area that feels crowded with no breathing room. Bribing relics becomes less of a strategic decision and more of survival necessity.
Bribing wouldn’t be so bad if the calculator weren’t so finicky to operate with buttons. ZL brings up the calculator, and you can either manually type numbers or press ZR + A to target someone/something with a price and pay them automatically. Manually entering the price requires you to use the directional buttons, making auto-target a more attractive option in the middle of battle.
Except ZR targeting is only reliable half the time. There’s a small input gap that you need to mind after bringing up the calculator when using this option, and that gap is enough to mess up your flow in the middle of battle. Instead of successfully bribing after pressing A, you’ll end up entering “5” in the calculator. Having any number entered disables the auto-target, and now you have to worry about manually deleting this number. All this while strafing to avoid getting hit, of course.
Outside of missions, cash is used to create armor and pay for skill upgrades. You increase your coffers by taking home any leftover money after each mission, which means that you can repeatedly complete a particularly easy stage for more coins. Revisiting stages also gives the opportunity to increase the number of bribed citizens. Other than population bonuses, these citizens are used for creating statues in exchange for more skill points. Redoing missions to bribe more citizens for statues is the key to maxing out your skills. Getting access to wallets with bigger capacity and better special attacks also rely on revisits due to each armor’s requirements.
Later in the game, you get access to a second character named Isabelle. Even though she can also bribe just about anything, her slightly longer punch range ensures better survivability. The double-edged sword, however, is that even though she’s not reliant on the calculator, she has to bribe things at close range. Her bribing is also dependent on a shared action that can only be repeated for five times before waiting for a refill.
The story, on the other hand, is relatively straightforward. The princess wants revenge, and with the help of her relative Isabelle, they venture out to take down the Dragoloan family one by one. Each mission begins and ends with a short dialogue cutscene, which sees anyone and everyone who talks like someone who has a Brooklyn accent. It’s a strange choice, to say the least, to make everyone speak the same way.
But regardless of whether you pay attention to the dialogue or not, it’s hard to ignore the game’s appeal. It’s amusing to watch a perpetually frowning, silent princess pay her way through revenge. It’s just as equally funny to watch a stag beetle, who serves as her butler, do all the pep talk for her. They’re a wacky group, that’s for sure.
The gameplay is not without its merits, either. The hyperfocus on money and the mechanics around it are sound, albeit with some technical hiccups. Each battle in every mission is equal parts challenging and annoying, which ends up being a surprisingly potent mix to keep you coming back. Penny-Punching Princess may have its quirks, but it won’t waver in keeping your attention.
Note: NIS America provided a copy for review purposes.