Review: Princess Maker 2 Refine is a noble attempt
The Princess Maker series helped kick off a genre. When Gainax gave people the opportunity to raise an orphaned girl, determining her schedule and helping her find the right path through life, they were setting us up for a challenge that could be harrowing, heartwarming and hilarious. Princess Maker 2 ended up being the most famous entry in the series and now, 23 years after its debut, it has finally received an English release. The question is, was Princess Maker 2 Refine worth the wait?
As a fan of life sims, my knee-jerk response is an enthusiastic yes. Princess Maker 2 Refine is a very unique and very Japanese game. Players are a war hero who pretty much single-handedly saved a kingdom from a demonic overlord. After vanquishing all of the evil, there was left to do but, well, retire. He settled down in the town he saved, collecting a tidy 500G pension each year. But apparently, that didn’t mean he headed into seclusion. The gods were so pleased with the way the hero handled the war that they decided to put a human life in his hands.
With that, you’re suddenly raising a 10-year-old girl. There’s little fanfare. Nobody seems perturbed about what’s probably one of the kingdom’s most famous citizens suddenly showing up with a kid. (Maybe there were a lot of orphans running around after the war?) Instead, it’s business as usual. You have to dictate her weekly schedule each month for eight years, hopefully helping her build the character and stats that will lead her into a promising future. While that may sound exciting, it really involves clicking through a bunch of menus for about ten hours. Give or take, of course, depending on your speed settings and in-game schedules.
Forget about practical childrearing techniques when it comes to Princess Maker 2 Refine. It’s better to think of your darling daughter not as a kid, but as a commodity. The 500G allowance the king gives you each year is only enough to cover a year’s worth of food for the girl, providing you opt for the 10G or 30G meal plans. You need to perform a delicate balancing act, deciding when and where to send her to work, which classes she should take when you can afford them, who she socializes with at the palace and how involved she gets in the community. Every decision carries quite a bit of weight, as one bad month can leave her stressed out, sick and on the verge of delinquency. It’s a challenging game that makes you think, even though all you’re doing is managing stats.
Every decision carries quite a bit of weight, as one bad month can leave her stressed out, sick and on the verge of delinquency.
Keeping track of those numbers requires more care than you might expect. While Princess Maker 2 Refine may have only 10 classes, 15 jobs and four very limited, JRPG-inspired dungeons, there are over 70 possible endings that can result from the combinations you pick, order you pick them in and resulting reputations in the community. It’s an unexpected amount of variety; every playthrough can and will be different than the last.
Parents and guardians should take caution, though. There can be lewd and unsavory situations in addition to the all-ages interactions and endings. It can be quite a shock when you are enjoying an otherwise G-rated experience, go on a vacation and suddenly she’s lying on her stomach on a beach, sunbathing naked. It’s especially uncomfortable when the fanservice involves a child you’ve watched grow up. But then, one ending can have her marrying you, her adopted father, so maybe that’s what some players want? Regardless, stumbling across that scene when trying to lower Michibi’s stress levels after working as a farmer and hunter one month was quite a shock and reminded me why I always preferred Princess Maker 4.
All those calendars, status screens and menus mean Princess Maker 2 Refine is a very text-heavy game. While the localization is serviceable, it’s hardly flavorful. You’ll have no trouble understanding and getting through the game, but any time there’s any sort of exposition, it shows its age. The script wasn’t the best to begin with, and this adaptation has ample examples of awkward phrasing, spelling errors and syntax issues. But then, it isn’t as though this is a visual novel where every encounter needs to be perfect. You can go months without any important interactions. And, even if it doesn’t read well, at least the Japanese voice acting is rather lovely.
Princess Maker 2 Refine looks better than ever too. Sprite-based games tend to age well to begin with, but this version of the game enjoys a fresh coat of paint. The daughter’s character portraits, poses and CGs have been redrawn. While the standard UI doesn’t look all that different, the updates are very obvious whenever you happen upon a special event, take her on a vacation or unlock an ending.
Now that the current gaming climate is more accepting of a title like Princess Maker 2 Refine, this release is more about making what was once an impossible release possible.
I suppose the nature of the game has helped Princess Maker 2 Refine feel relatively fresh. Even though it is 23 years old, it belongs to a genre that we don’t often see in regions outside of Japan. At least, not with this sort of depth and maturity. Your daughter in the game is basically an advanced virtual pet, only with more dire consequences. It isn’t as simple as caring for a Nintendog or Tamagotchi. You get more attached, even if it isn’t the most active experience.
In a perfect world, we would have received Princess Maker 2 a few years after it launched in Japan. Maybe a company like Atlus would have localized one of the console iterations, leaning into the kitsch and niche nature of the game. While Princess Maker 2 Refine’s localization doesn’t make this game sparkle, it doesn’t have to. The selling point here is that it is now possible to legitimately own and enjoy an English copy of the game, one that offers improved graphics, voice acting and Windows compatibility. It’s a part of Japanese gaming history and the most memorable entry in the series, and people who have been waiting 23 years for it will appreciate it for what it is and represents.
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