Review by Matt S.
There’s nothing that quite compares to this game, in which you get to measure your daughter’s growing bust and hip dimensions on her way to (hopefully) catching the eye of the kingdom’s prince. No, wait, let me rephrase that in a way that doesn’t sound completely creepy… actually, I can’t. Thankfully the semi-annual boob sizing isn’t really indicative of Princess Maker… aside from the very occasional leggy art work or off-colour joke, it’s actually not fanservicey at all.
Princess Maker is a series of reasonably popular bishōjo (pretty girl) games out of Japan, but it has only a marginal presence outside of its home country. Indeed, based exclusively on the title I had for some reason thought that these things had never really been localised because they’re eroge. They’re not, but it goes to show how little presence this series has that even I didn’t know that much about it, and that’s simply becase no publisher has ever really taken a risk and given them a push for consoles and broad markets outside of Japan. That is, until CFK took it on. This Nintendo Switch release is a HD remaster of sorts of the third Princess Maker, and while it shows its age, once you get stuck into it, it’s surprisingly difficult to put down.
The aim of the game is simple – take your 10 year old daughter (who is somehow also a fairy), and raise her over a number of years until, as an adult, she’s ready to set out on her own in the world. You do this by simply managing her calendar. Each month you set her tasks, such as attending school, dance or cooking classes, or church. Each of those tasks will improve some, but not all of the girl’s statistics. Those also cost money, which you pay for by setting the girl jobs to do on other days, ranging from working at the town bar to the local mines. All of these activities cause one negative statistic, “stress” to also increase, which you can manage by giving the girl time off or holidays to reduce it. If you don’t, your girl gets quite sick and needs to spend an extended period of time doing nothing, meaning she is getting no closer to being eloquent, pretty, smart and pious enough to catch the attention of that charming prince.
The only other thing that you’ll need to be aware of is the girl’s moods. If certain statistics are developed too far beyond the other stats, then the girl’s mood might change. By default she’ll be in a “normal” mood, but if she becomes “sassy”, “pretty” or “poor” the jobs available to her will change, and she might respond more negatively to certain classes. None of these moods are “bad”, in the sense that unlike when the girl gets sick from stress you’re not outright punished if the girl enters these states, but they will make certain endings impossible… but then again that might not matter, either. If your goal is to turn your daughter into a courtesan, some of her moods might well help you get her there.
By carefully balancing out the calendar, you can determine the future that the girl has. With dozens of potential endings, there’s a great deal of stat management that goes on in the game, but it’s not complex nor difficult to understand what you’re doing. Those endings can vary greatly, to – everything from concubine through to bank manager and, of course, the girl can grow to become the princess, marrying the prince.
Princess Maker 3 was originally released back in 1997, and it does show here. Though the Switch edition is a “HD” version of the original, the art remains very reminiscent of the era, and while there’s a certain charm at that, when you look at what Spike Chunsoft did with Yu-No, it’s hard not to wish that the publisher at least included the option to play with a re-drawn set of characters and art work. Princess Maker has an attractive aesthetic and developing that connection to your daughter as she goes is entirely what this experience is about. It really needed to look modern to help that along.
It only takes about a half hour of play to get in tune with the aesthetic tone, but the translation of this version of Princess Maker is a much bigger problem, and does dampen the entire experience. Often it’s only barely better than broken English, and while you can figure through the underlying meaning if you concentrate hard enough, any sense of character and personality is lost when the characters are “talking” like this. This is a major black mark for a game that is entirely character-driven, and it’s particularly surprising that this one doesn’t have a good translation, given that the PC re-release of Princess Maker 3 a few years ago had the same issues, and the developers had two years to get a new translation done. I get that localisation is an expensive initiative, but Princess Maker relies entirely on its words. It was not an area to cut corners.
Nonetheless Princess Maker 3 is both funny and charming, and the core gameplay loop, limited as it is, is compelling if only because there are so many different endings to aim for that the game both encourages and rewards people that experiment with it. I’m often in the mood for simple but rewarding gameplay loops over stuff that is overly complex and exhausting, and I can see myself coming back to Princess Maker for quite some time to come.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld