Take a quick glance at Princess Debut on the Nintendo DS and no one would blame you for writing it off as girly, easy, boring, mindless, etc. You name it. The box art would give that impression. The back of the box reads, “Step into the shoes of the princess of a magical kingdom.” In a hobby infested with toxic masculinity and dude-bro culture, what self-respecting gamer would bother with Princess Debut? The answer: everyone. Everyone should take a look at Princess Debut because it’s exactly what the world needs right now. The game’s cheerful atmosphere and fun rhythm gameplay are the remedies for a world that feels like it’s always spinning out of control.
At the start of a new game, you name your heroine and pick her astrological sign. Things open with watching her lament about living a humdrum life. She gets home from school and starts to hear voices coming from her closet. A princess from a magical kingdom with the same appearance as you, accompanied by an adorable critter named Kip, pop out of the closet and ask if you’d be willing to take her place as a princess. Hopping into the closet/portal, you’re transported to the Flower Kingdom. As the new princess, you have to win over one of six princely suiters, master various styles of dance, and participate in the castle ball. You’re given 30 days to find a suitable partner and dance your heels off. And just maybe, you’ll be able to find some true love along the way.
Everything about Princess Debut’s story is warm and fluffy from the start. The Flower Kingdom is inhabited by both people and Disney-esque talking animals. Every area of the kingdom is named after a style of dance. During your tenure in the kingdom, you’ll be able to hop around each area and enjoy visual novel styled exposition. There will be occasions where you have to make choices while talking with the princes of the neighboring kingdoms; answering correctly will increase their affection towards you. After a few days, you’ll be able to select your dance partner. The neat thing is that you can still interact with the other members of the supporting cast to continue building their affection. To my surprise, everyone in the cast was likable and well-developed. They each had their own quirks, mannerisms, and personalities. Unlike other visual novels that can outstay their welcome, Princess Debut’s story is succinct. It gets to the point while still delivering a sweet tale.
Your princess needs to ready herself for the ball in 30 days. To do this, she needs to practice her dance moves. In the Practice Hall, she’ll meet Tony Rabbit. This lifesized bunny will teach her the ins and outs of dancing. You start by selecting a track, and then selecting an accessory. Each accessory will transform your princess Sailor Moon-style into a unique ballgown ensemble. More accessories are acquired as rewards or from specific events. The actual dancing requires the usage of the touchscreen and stylus: simply trace a moving ball across various shapes to the music. It’s simple to pick up, but it’ll take some time before mastering. The top screen will display the actual dancing. Various dances and songs mean various levels of difficulty. There’s a lot of songs (and accessories) to unlock. The variety is impressive, and while it can be a bit tedious to get your stamina up, there’s an enjoyable rhythm game beneath all the glitz and glamor.
To no one’s surprise, the music is topnotch. Outside of the classical music used during the dances, the themes specific to the game are enjoyable, too. Thankfully, there isn’t any voice acting other than cheerful “yays!” or “woos!” when you perform well during the dancing. The character art is adorable. The big-eyed, Saturday morning anime style perfectly fits the game. But, this being a Nintendo DS game, the character models don’t match the artwork’s charm. The 3D models move well to the music, but they look blocky and expressionless.
The character models aren’t that major of an issue. But, they add to the pile of other issues such as some translation mishaps, some tedium in trying to reach certain story points, and the slowness of acquiring new tunes during the start of the game. Still, it doesn’t take long to finish Princess Debut a first time. In doing so, you’ll unlock new modes of gameplay and get the chance to romance a different prince. It will take some time before acquiring all the accessories and mastering all the dances. Personally, I’ll be happily going through the game again since there’s more I want to unlock. Or maybe, I’ll be going through it again when I want to escape with something that’s the polar opposite of what the real world is. One of the great things about being a gamer is that we can escape into other worlds. Sadly, a lot of contemporary games still have aspects of the real world in them. Princess Debut has none of that. What it does have is everything the world needs, and sadly, lacks.
Overall, 8/10: Never judge a book, or game, by its cover. Princess Debut’s heartwarming scenario and fun gameplay are for everyone.