If you're looking for a quick and dirty summation of the game we first previewed on Xbox 360 back in May, it's this: the same game, but the smaller screen forgives some of the graphical problems while the loading times make it more boring.
Ok. At least we can answer the "does it get any better once you get past the first bit?" question.
Puzzle Chronicles is one of the latest Puzzle RPG games from the makers of the first Puzzle RPG game, Puzzle Quest. Something of a surprise hit, Puzzle Quest spawned a genre and other developers and publishers have been scrambling to fill demand for this new, semi-niche casual game style. It's only natural, then, that the originators of the genre are themselves continuing to tweak the formula and release iterative derivatives in an attempt to recapture the glory of their initial success.
Unfortunately, it seems that the original (a near pixel-perfect clone of Bejewelled) may ultimately prove to be their crowning glory as yet another variant continues the ever-downward quality trend, supplanting Galactrix as the new all-time low for the genre.
The actual puzzling action, now a side-on mix of Sega's Columns and popping balloons, is fine. Sure, it's nothing to write home about, but with solid execution it could have been a decent bedrock on which to build a narrative-driven RPG. The problem is that even at the core, the execution is sloppy. Simple things, such as the ability to take full, masterful control of your descending block is stripped away with cludgy, slow controls. That may not seem that big a deal but when every puzzle is a speed-matters match against an AI opponent who is not similarly hamstrung... to say it's frustrating is an understatement. When a 26 year old arcade game with similar mechanics has infinitely superior controls you know you have problems. Given how derivative the rest of the game is, that Tetris's control scheme wasn't ripped off wholesale seems a mind boggling oversight.
Ostensibly your purpose is to group like-coloured gems together and then smash them into smithereens with the little gem-smashing bricks that occasionally appear. Puzzling this ain't. Sure, you can think about how you cluster them, but with no ability to switch around the order in which your bricks fall, even this ability is limited. What is puzzling is exactly who is winning or when a round will end. What little there is in the way of onscreen display is awkwardly assembled and rather poor at communicating the status at any given moment.
The meta-game involves moving your character through an awkward overworld map, with limited paths opening up in an agonizingly slow animation. Selecting places to go on this awkwardly laid out monstrosity of an interface is frustrating and cumbersome. Given that the designers could have come up with any kind of layout they wanted to, exactly how they arrived at this interface is a question best left unanswered. Ponder it too long and your neck will ache from shaking your head throughout.
Graphically things are pretty much as they were in the 360 version, although the PSP's significantly smaller screen makes things look sharper and the much lower power of the device makes the low fidelity somewhat more explicable. That they lack any demonstrable artistic skill (let alone flair) is still vividly apparent, however.
One thing new to this version is the loading times - they are long and they are frequent. Even loading into dialogue sequences on the overworld map results in lag as the UMD spins up, with loading into (and out of) levels taking quite some time. Each individual load isn't overly long (15-20 seconds on a 3000 series PSP), but the frequency of the loads eventually annoys even the most patient gamer.
Unfortunately Konami's Puzzle Chronicles is not something we can recommend - to anyone. Obviously built on a too-small budget or by a B-team, it's slow and unrewarding to play. The graphics are ugly and nothing from the puzzling itself through to the meta RPG or even the narrative have anything significantly valuable enough to suggest tolerating any other part of it to experience. Puzzle RPG gamers deserve better, quite frankly and we're sure it's in Infinite Interactive's ability to deliver it to us. Just not this time.