In the opening cutscene of PoPoLoCrois, we witness a beautiful woman, the queen of PoPoLoCrois, preparing to jump from a castle tower. The king pleads with her not to jump, but it is her destiny. She steps off the tower and the king is crushed. But the sadness of the moment is (temporarily) alleviated as a giant white dragon rises into the air. The queen has transformed herself into a dragon, and she proceeds to fight off the Ice Demon that is attacking the city-state. The queen/dragon wins the battle, but dies in the process.
Fast forward ten years, and you begin the game playing prince Pietro, who was an infant when his mother defeated the Ice Demon and, as far as he knows, died in the battle. It is quickly discovered that the queen is not actually dead: She lays in a deep sleep, and Pietro sets out to find a way to revive his comatose mother.
Throughout the game, the story is told in very nicely animated cutscenes. Agetec has done a wonderful job remastering and optimizing these animations, and they look absolutely beautiful on the PSP screen. PoPoLoCrois is a unique RPG-- it is not a strategy RPG in the style of Final Fantasy Tactics, and that is a very good thing. PoPoLoCrois is much closer to classic strategy RPG titles like Arc the Lad, which features a similarly unique take on the battle system.
As you wander around cities and the world, everything is seamless. You move from city to world map smoothly and without any zooming in and out or major scene changes. When you encounter a battle, the action does not change to a "battle screen." Instead, battles play out directly on the map or city screens. Each move you make is performed on a grid that is superimposed on the environment and the battle proceeds like a traditional strategy RPG fight. This battle system is quite satisfying and enjoyable. The strategic qualities of each battle help keep them interesting. You must balance moves, predict the moves of your enemies, and insure proper facings so your characters can better defend and attack.
Throughout the game, you'll gain several comrades who will fight with you, each with different abilities. Some characters are healers, which should be kept out of harm's way as much as possible, and others specialize in ranged or melee attacks. The variety of characters in your party is good, and each character has a unique personality that comes out through the cutscenes and dialog sequences.
The other characteristics of PoPoLoCrois are pretty standard: The graphics are done in a classic 2D RPG style. These go very nicely with the fully animated cutscenes. The audio is also very traditional, featuring catchy tunes with a classic MIDI sound. These are good, but there aren't enough different songs throughout the game, and they'll get repetitive.
But this is not a straight port of a PSOne game. PoPoLoCrois is comprised of the first two games in the series with additional content added. The game itself provides at least 30 hours of play, although dedicated fans will likely find it possible to spend much more time with PoPoLoCrois. In addition, the save system has been revamped in order to provide a very easy save-anywhere function. This kind of ability to save is absolutely essential on a handheld platform.
One of the most contentious aspects of the PoPoLoCrois PSP optimization is the loading style. Rather than loading an entire area or city, the game loads small chunks of data very often. That means that for each battle there is a slight pause (a couple of seconds) as the game loads the enemies, and when you enter a city or new area, there is another load (generally a few seconds). These load times are frequent, but short enough to not be too annoying (unless you're the kind of gamer who cannot tolerate any loading, in which case you probably shouldn't own a PSP).
The traditional RPG genre is, in itself, a matter of debate for gamers: Some gamers love traditional RPGs, and these gamers will likely enjoy PoPoLoCrois a whole bunch. However, some gamers have left behind the 2D cutesy graphics for good, and the idea of playing a 10 year old boy won't necessarily resonate with more mature gamers. But for a large body of gamers, PoPoLoCrois is just the thing they've been lusting for on their PSPs.
There are not a lot of RPGs for PSP, and PoPoLoCrois is the first old-school style game we've seen on the handheld system. This is the first time the PoPoLoCrois series has hit the US, so fans of traditional RPGs will not want to miss this one. PoPoLoCrois is a great addition to the PSP's scant game library, and if you think you will enjoy this game, you probably will.