Vanillaware may have left their mark on the industry with Odin Sphere back in 2007, and once more with Odin Sphere Leifthrasir in 2016, but their first dance happened way back in 1997 when they were an internal studio within Atlus. Princess Crown was technically the debut game of the Atlus team that would eventually become Vanillaware and achieve great success. Princess Crown, however, was more than just their first creation as it even laid the groundwork to the Odin Sphere we all know and love.
Princess Crown was released for the SEGA Saturn in Japan back in 1997 and was unfortunately not localised or released anywhere else. It would later receive a port on the PlayStation Portable in 2011 but unfortunately even that never left Japan. Still, if you were looking for a way to try the game then the region-free PSP version is probably the most accessible. Although, as a SEGA Saturn game Princess Crown was a special gem.
Right from the opening moments, Princess Crown will feel very familiar to anyone who has played (or is planning to play) Odin Sphere. Exactly like Odin Sphere, Princess Crown starts out in a little library where you take control of a little girl, and the game starts as soon as you sit down with a book, with each book representing one of the game’s playable characters (again just like Odin Sphere). From the combat system to the menu systems and even to the art style, Princess Crown basically laid down the groundwork which eventually became the basis for Odin Sphere. While Odin Sphere is obviously superior in every way, Princess Crown is nothing to sneeze at. For you see long before Odin Sphere left a mark on HD gaming with the most breathtaking 2D visuals, Princess Crown did exactly the same for its era, and even more fitting was the fact that it was a Saturn exclusive.
During the mid-late Nineties 3D gaming was all that mattered to the video game industry and audience, and honestly it still does. 2D gaming probably went out of style too prematurely, especially when you consider that 2D and sprite-heavy software has aged far more beautifully than any 3D game. Similarly, hand-drawn animation has unarguably aged better than any CGI Pixar/Dreamworks film, but I digress.
During that time the Saturn distinguished itself from the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 by being the ultimate 2D powerhouse. When it came to high end 2D graphics and animation, nothing could touch the Saturn, the PlayStation practically crumbled when processing refined sprites and animations. Still, that 2D advantage was underappreciated as the typical gamer didn’t care for anything unless it had blocky polygons or FMV cutscenes. Saturn’s library had some breathtaking 2D titles, with the likes of Astal, Guardian Heroes, Elevator Action Returns, and a slew of great shooters and fighters that are more celebrated now than they were at the time of their release.
Princess Crown was a game that showcased amazing 2D graphics, with an engine that only the Saturn could have handled with ease. Gorgeous highly detailed sprites painstakingly assembled pixel by pixel to look like hand-drawn art, and animating with great fidelity. As for the detailed the backgrounds, each backdrop looked like an oil painting. In terms of gameplay, Princess Crown felt like a 2D fighting game, with all the necessary attacks to make for some engaging and polished 2D battles. The pace of Princess Crown is certainly slower and more methodological than Odin Sphere, with enough RPG depth to keep things interesting.
Princess Crown was certainly a darling among importers back in the day despite it being a Japanese text-heavy action RPG. There was nothing like Princess Crown back then, and there wasn’t anything resembling it in style and gameplay until.. well.. Odin Sphere nearly 10 years later. Is Princess Crown worth checking out? Well yes, in the sense that it follows a fairly straightforward structure (not dissimilar to Odin Sphere), but story progress can be cumbersome without knowing Japanese as you need to trigger certain events to move things along. If you’re a hardcore fan of Vanillaware then Princess Crown will make a nice addition to your collection.