Review by Sirius
(Note: At the time I am writing this review, I have NOT played the sequel Magical Starsign for Nintendo DS. Therefore, I cannot draw comparisons between the two.)
Is it a curse or just bad luck that the developers of the quintessential GBA RPG, Mother 3, have also developed this incredible gem unreleased in Occident? Brownie Brown developed two of the handhelds best RPGs, and both only saw the light of day in Japan. What a shame.
Magical Vacation is, without a doubt, an incredible handheld RPG, one that will leave a lasting impression on anyone who tries this paragon of awesomeness.
How will it sustain my interest?
Well, first, the story. A bunch of classmates from a magic school go to a summer camp together and while exploring a cave, some monsters show up (Enigmas). Everyone who gets caught gets teleported to another world (or plain, as the game calls them). So its up to you, the main silent protagonist, alongside one (?) remaining friend to go find them and figure out what the heck is going on. Madeleine-sensei, the class teacher, is hiding something but she wont reveal too much to our heroes.
Whats interesting is the mystery surrounding the events. The game gives you glimpses of information that the students dont know through flashbacks or story sequences involving Madeleine-sensei, but youre not too sure yourself, the player, of whats really going on and why. Youll go through lots of towns, meet lots of different people and cross lots of unique locations.
There are a lot of playable characters in this game. And as you gradually encounter your classmates through your journey, they will join or leave your party. Your interest will be piqued by whats going on with the different groups that have been separated since the beginning, because you dont always know what theyre up to or when youll finally get to meet them again. Then, as your party gradually gets bigger and bigger, youll eventually be able to choose whoever you want to include in it.
It should be mentioned that even though silent protagonists are mostly uninteresting, except you, this games characters all have their own personality and charm, largely making up for your own muteness. This brings me to the script; its incredibly-well written and sprinkled with great humor here and there, ensuring you never get disinterested in its story.
So whats unique about this game anyway?
To start, the battle system looks pretty standard at first glance. Theyre turn-based battles. You can have up to 6 characters at once in a fight. Attack, defend, use an item, run or use magic, which in effect also includes something called seirei (literally: [energy] spirits). What are seirei? Theyre little elemental creatures, spirits that you can find along your travels. If you meet the requirements, theyll join you. There are exactly 16 elemental kinds in this game. Every one of your classmates will have its own attribute. (If you want to know, they are: fire, wind, poison, beauty, sword, sound, rock, insect, tree, beast, water, thunder, ancient, love, dark and light.) Each type is strong against one and weak against another, with the exception of love (neutral), dark (strong against everything, weak against light) and light (strong against dark). So assuming youve found yourself a Tesla, a thunder seirei, youll be able to summon said seirei in battle to power up your corresponding magic. Summoning a seirei (or later two at a time) wastes a turn but then doubles or quadruples (and so on) your magic power when you unleash your attack. The downfall to summoning seirei is the waste of a turn, but also the prospect of having your seirei sent back to your pockets should your enemies attack with the wrong magic or use a spell to dispel them. However, the rewards for launching a seirei-powered attack are significant, and downright essential to winning certain tough battles.
At the beginning of the game, you are able to choose the magic attribute of your main character. Some attributes are considered easy to use, recommended for those who want an easier time, some moderate and some quite difficult. Since youll only get one character of each magic element throughout the game (excluding post-game secret characters), the magic you choose for your hero at the beginning will be the only chance youll have to launch seirei combos by having two characters of the same element in battle at the same time. For example, your hero will be able to launch two seireis on its turn and then the same corresponding element character will be able to launch the same type of magic right away, dealing great damage.
The exception to this are amigos (which Ill get to later) and the MDs (Magic Dolls), little robots that youll eventually be able to add to your party and assigning to them the profile of any character you have available. They are a great addition to your party, since their stats reflect the characters profile you assign to them, and they let you launch seirei combos, making them oftentimes a better alternative as a 6th party member.
Usually, the game throws you in the middle of not-so-popular-anymore random encounters. But sometimes, enemies will also be visible before battle. The random-encounter rate is usually fairly low in any case, so thats a definitive plus. An interesting function is that you can speed through the battles if you hold the A button. Instead of seeing the attack and magic animations every time, holding A will simply display the damage given and received, skipping all animations, speeding up the battles by a great deal.
The game features 3 bonus dungeons once you clear the game, one of them consisting of 50 floors! And since youll beat the game at roughly level 80, and that youll be at level 190 when beating floor 50 of the first bonus dungeon you know what that means. Extras galore for those inclined. Many secret characters and powerful equipment also hide in these bonus dungeons.
And my eyes? And my ears?
The visuals in this game are beautiful. Lush, vibrant, painting-like graphics that are sure to please the retina. The opening and ending animation scenes are also quite beautiful, even if theyre only of a bus in motion.
The game also features some great music, a great amount of tracks and catchy synthetic tunes that will probably have you looking for the soundtrack afterwards. Its hard to recommend without earphones, even more so on mute if traveling, because you could miss out on some memorable tunes.
Flaws? Doesnt this game have any flaws?
It does indeed have a few weak points. First, there is only one save file. Save often, because dying means going back to the title screen. This also prevents you from going back if you made a mistake, and starting a new file without erasing your current save. Fortunately, the amigos accumulated are permanent.
Then, this game uses the aforementioned amigo system. You essentially have to exchange with somebody else 100 times (!) to be able to acquire dark magic for your main character, and subsequently light magic, both of which are required to enter two of the three bonus dungeons post-game. Yes, that means that without a second cartridge, youll never be able to access the final two bonus dungeons. Amigos also let your main character learn magic outside of their main attribute.
If youre a completist, good luck. It is literally impossible to find all seireis without a walkthrough. Some of the requirements to be able to encounter some of them are insane. And some of them are permanently missable, too. It is heavily recommended that you go through the game once just for fun, and then play through it again if youre a completist. Trying to get everything on your first playthrough will give you a major headache.
Finally, and perhaps my biggest gripe with this game, was the final boss. He is much, much too difficult given the level you are at when you reach him. You should be at around level 70 (or less) when you reach the final boss, and at that level he is impossible. The result is that you have to grind in the final area of the game, with enemies progressively taking longer to level you up as you make your way to level 80, around the minimum to stand a chance. If grinding would have taken minutes, it wouldnt have been a problem. But since it literally takes HOURS to do that, its a real pain. One that made me think twice before giving this game a ten. I had a male hero with a water attribute, so perhaps a female (more powerful magic wise) with fire magic makes the final battle a little easier.
Despite all this, it gets a 10? What if I dont understand Japanese is it worth it?
Not understanding Japanese is, as with most RPGs, a big hurdle. It would be unfortunate to go through the game without understanding the script. And even though you can help yourself with a walkthrough and find a translation, reading it on a computer screen afterwards and not in game doesnt have the same impact.
Still, I believe that it IS worth playing, because of the grandiose experience it offers regardless. Some things know no language barrier. Sure, youll miss out on the humor first-hand, but Magical Vacation has so many other strong points, itd also be a shame to simply miss out on it altogether.
Magic does exist, at least for a little while, when playing this game.
Product Release: Magical Vacation (JP, 12/07/01)
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