For a game that has been largely lost to the ages, Princess Crown has remarkable influence on the industry. This Atlus RPG was ahead of its time, in terms of art, gameplay and story, and the effect it has had can not be discounted. It helped shape a company and its games. While it never left Japan, it impacted the world.
Princess Crown can be considered a game that helped kickstart the destiny of George Kamitani, Vanillaware’s founder. After some initial troubles, the game found itself being developed by Kamitani and Atlus. While initially designed as a Princess Maker sort of game, where players would end up raising Princess Gradriel, it became an action-RPG, because that was what Sega wanted for the Sega Saturn. Originally, Kamitani was working on it at an unnamed company, before Atlus stepped in to help get the project done. It released on the Saturn twice, once as an ordinary release in 1997 and again with a budget version in 1998, before coming to the PlayStation Portable in Japan in 2004.
The first hallmark of Princess Crown is its character design. This is a 2D game with oversized character sprites, in comparison to other, similar titles. Particular attention is paid to the character and enemy designs, showcasing details in clothing, feathers and fur. Animations have many frames, even for more minor characters, to convey their personalities as they attack or even just move about the world. It is a precursor to other Vanillaware games, where artistry is highly valued when crafting each title.
Princess Crown’s gameplay is another way in which it set a trend. It blends elements of beat’em ups with RPGs, bringing in equipment, leveling, special skills and stats. We run through these 2D worlds, sometimes moving forward or backward to different planes. This exact sort of gameplay would return in many Vanillaware games. Odin Sphere, Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Dragon’s Crown all follow in its footprints to varying degrees. (Gwendolyn even bears a resemblance to Gradriel.) In fact, Dragon’s Crown’s framework is based upon ideas had for a supposed Dreamcast Princess Crown sequel.
The narrative structure in Princess Crown set another trend. The main story follows Gradriel, who becomes queen of Elfaran at 13 years old. Her tale sees players defeating demons and protecting the kingdom against a legendary evil. As she goes on this journey, she meets a knight named Edward, an amateur witch named Proserpina and Portgus, a pirate. After defeating her story’s big bad, shorter stories starring these other three characters, with different movesets and objectives, appear. Once those are done, the final ending can begin with Gradriel taking on one last challenge to bring good back to the world. This exact design is used in Odin Sphere, down to the introduction featuring a little girl with a black cat grabbing books from a library to “read” each of these characters’ stories.
Princess Crown has cast a shadow over pretty much every Vanillaware game. Anyone who picks up Odin Sphere, Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Dragon’s Crown will see its influence. The art direction, gameplay and narrative structure all created a foundation. This one game made an incredible impact and, even though most people outside Japan did not get to play it, its concepts and ideals live on.