What is Princess Maker 2 Refine? Its history and the series's potential future
Princess Maker 2 has been a cult PC gaming classic for years. Under the right circumstances it could have been a popular title among what was available on the North American PC game market at the time, and perhaps even a gateway for subsequent Princess Maker localizations.
Instead of what could have been, the series is all but unknown in the West except to those who happened to stumble upon it. That's a shame considering a fully functional English translation of Princess Maker 2 has been floating around the internet for free since the mid-'90s and the game itself is a very solid raising sim.
Now that an official English release has hit Steam a lot of old fans are wondering what's different from the original MS-DOS release, and newcomers to the series are scratching their heads over what the game even is. Princess Maker 2 Refine is finally out in the West, 23 years after its Japanese release, and it's pretty much the same as ever.
So what is this game even?
Princess Maker 2 is a through-and-through raising sim that puts players in the shoes of a retired military hero who has been handed a 10 year old girl directly from the gods to raise into a fine young woman with a bright future.
Raising the girl, who is now effectively your daughter, is a complicated affair. She has a slew of stats that must be lowered and raised via work around town, schooling, random events, socializing, equipment and items, and adventuring. You must choose her monthly schedules based on the stats you want her to work on, what she's innately good at, and her stress levels.
Yeah, the above is a mouthful. When you're new to the game it all seems to be a bit much. Jobs and schooling have both negative and positive effects on her stats you must keep in mind to raise her the way you want and poor management of her stress, morality, and stamina can make raising her harder than it needs to be when you don't know how these variables effect her behavior.
Along with the above is the game's optional adventure mode, known as errantries on the schedule, where your daughter can explore four separate areas for loot and events. The adventure mode adds some variety to what would otherwise be an entirely menu-based game.
You'll likely know if the above all sounds good to you. Princess Maker 2 seems a very unique game compared to both newer and older PC titles, but its genre (raising sim) has been a staple of niche Japanese gaming for decades. There's a formula for these types of games and it works -- though the raising sim genre seems to have given way for the female-oriented otome genre, which has many titles with stat manipulation for players to pair up with their favorite guy(s) in the game. And why not? The primary demographic for Princess Maker has been women for a long time, it's only natural for many otome games to borrow raising sim elements.
Princess Maker 2's history from MS-DOS & PC-98 to Steam
Let's lay it out there: Princess Maker 2 was developed by Gainax -- yes, that Gainax -- and published in Japan in 1993.
Small North American publisher SoftEgg jumped through figurative burning hoops to localize and attempt to have the English version published between 1995 and 1996. You can read more about that on their official site (it's a good read).
The game's translated beta somehow found its way onto the internet in the mid-to-late '90s, which is exactly how I and thousands of others first encountered it over the years. Many, myself included, thought it would be very risque on first playthrough. It is very far from that, though it has the markings of an old Gainax title.
As with so many other Japanese MS-DOS and PC-98 games of the era, Princess Maker 2 did have some fanservice. A few revealing outfits, and some nude but never overtly sexual CGs can be encountered when players go on vacation or get some particularly low-morality-oriented endings. This is something one chocks up to it being a Gainax game and the signature of a different time and market.
Princess Maker 2 saw a second full-fledged release (sans ports to the Sega Saturn, PlayStation 2, and Dreamcast) in Japan in 2004 with the Refine moniker, indicating it was an upgrade to the original game. Though that upgrade is in graphics alone.
As Princess Maker 2 Refine was released just over a decade after its initial release and replaced the game's dithered artwork with drawn versions, a small portion of its CGs were changed to fit the time's sensibilities. In short the Refine version has slightly less fanservice than the original release but ultimately that does not affect the gameplay experience. The changes to some scenes were not brought upon by the game being published on Steam, but by its initial Japanese rerelease.
The state of the official English release
Those who have only played the MS-DOS beta version of Princess Maker 2 may play the Steam release and think it's censored, but that is not the case. The multi-lingual version we have on Steam today is identical to the initial Refine release.
Nothing has been removed from the original in Princess Maker 2 Refine except the Mad Eddy cheat menu and the beta's script. Any CG changes were present in the 2004 Refine release, and those changes are at most very minor. You can still be a terrible father with a daughter of ill-repute or an amazing one who raises her into a full-fledged queen and the CGs are still the same, albeit drawn instead of dithered.
Any fan of the game can be excited for this release but it's not without its problems.
The current translation is several leagues below the English beta. It's not only rife with poor English but also some very real typographical problems, such as saying your daughter has been defeated when she wins a duel. All of the flavor of the first localization has been thrown out the window, which will surely throw some newcomers off right within the introductory scene.
There is one glaring stat-oriented bug where your daughter's faith stat takes a complete dive when your inventory is full and you try to sell something, which every Princess Maker 2 Refine player needs to be aware of going into the game.
Furthermore the Steam overlay doesn't work with the game nor does Steam's F12-press screenshot function, and most tragically the letter your daughter writes you at the end of the game in the Refine release is audio instead of text as in the MS-DOS version. There are no subtitles for this and players who don't understand Japanese are rightfully upset they can't understand their daughter's last message to them before the very end.
The above issues do need to be fixed and are something both new and experienced Princess Maker 2 players will have issue with. Publisher CFK Co. has stepped forward looking for feedback and hopefully these problems are fixed in time.
Hope for Princess Maker 3 through 5
Unsurprisingly Princess Maker 2 is the only game in the series in English. If you read SoftEgg's account linked way above you can see how much trouble localizing and trying to find a publisher for the second game was, you'll understand a bit more why the DOS beta was a one-off attempt.
The Princess Maker series was handed to Korean publisher CFK Co. some time ago, in part because of the popularity of the series in Korea. CFK Co. are the ones who have brought the second game to Steam, and according to Japanese gaming website Dengeki Online they also want to bring further installments to the platform.
Princess Maker 3 through 5 are very different games from the second installment, each one with their own features that separate them from the others with the fifth entry to the series being the biggest and best of them all. Being the series's swan song, Princess Maker 5 has more stats to raise, methods to raise them, events, and general things to do than any other game in the series and is perhaps larger than the others combined in scope.
It's clear that CFK Co. want to bring further games in the series to Valve's platform and that happening appears to be entirely reliant on the second game's sales. Whatever their metric for success is, fans can only hope Princess Maker 2 Refine will have sold to expectation and has paved the way for the first ever full translations of 3 through 5.
My excitement at this prospect is unparalleled and that is exactly why I have laid out the game, its contents, and its history here on GameSkinny.
Princess Maker 2 has a skewed reputation in the West because of the old rumors it was a hentai game and the very small amount of nudity found in certain scenes and the low morality endings. The reality is it's simply an older Gainax title that has seen minimal change in its rereleases through the years.
Today it still stands as an engrossing and unique sim game. Whether you play the Refine release from CFK Co. or the original DOS version via DOSBox the gameplay is the same and the fun intact as ever. If nothing else this new localization and paid release has proven Princess Maker 2's gameplay is nearly timeless (RPG adventuring segments not included).
It seems to be up to CFK Co.'s metrics for success and the fan's purchases to determine whether or not we'll see more of these games grace Steam in the future, but it's up to the market as a whole whether or not the Princess Maker series can survive in today's PC market. With the massive amount of gameplay time the fifth installment has to offer it's hard to imagine it not, but whether or not we see the more modern entries may hinge entirely on Princess Maker 2 Refine doing well on Steam. One can only press the 'Buy' button and hope.