Review by CthulhuDreams99

Reviewed: 08/20/09

Why, that's delightful!

I will abstain from making the standard glib reference to the document made famous by King John in the 13th century. Anyone interested in this game already is familiar with this gag.

MagnaCarta started off as a PC RPG that was ported to the PS2, and more recently to the PSP. I have not experienced the first game. From what I've read and heard, it was full of problems, particularly with combat, but the graphics and design were lauded highly (the characters were designed by Hyung-Tae Kim). As you may have gathered from the character designer's name, it wasn't a game developed in Japan. Neither was this incarnation.

MagnaCarta 2, a game panned by some, eagerly awaited by others. I've played a pretty hefty amount of it since I picked it up the day of its release here in Japan. Please allow me to elucidate my opinions concerning the game, as a non-fan, or recent convert, of the series.

STORY:

Without spoiling anything, I'll try to briefly summarize.

In the kingdom of Rantzheim (can't be sure of the anglicized spelling), there is a violent civil war laying waste to all unfortunate enough to be entangled with it. Schuenzeit Baren and his lackeys successfully completed their coup, forcing the heir to the throne, Rzephillda Grena Berlinette (say that five times fast), to run for her life. Alex Laimon Roodo of the Southern kingdom offers her his support in her bid to reclaim her throne. As you can guess, shenanigans ensue!

You are thrown amongst this war onto the relatively isolated island, Chinook (Fuukenjima), as a young man with no memory (wow, what a shocker) named Juto. Juto lives a lazy, relaxed life on the island, constantly emasculated by Melissa, the young woman who has taken it upon herself to care for the lost Juto. We learn relatively soon that Juto is not even your real name, but the name of a type of grass surrounding the village with oh so symbolic meaning. We also learn that try as he might, Juto has a psychological barrier preventing him from holding real weapons. In the beginning, we learn of some of the background of the world, and the fact that the royal princess, Rzephillda, is coming to visit the island on official business, hunting an old relic that may endanger the people of Chinook, called a "Sentinel". This inactive sentinel is in a cave near the village.

Can you guess who volunteers to show the way?

That's basically how the story begins.

Concerning the story, while its themes and motifs are not entirely original, what it lacks in originality of script and plot, it more than makes up for in detail and character. The world has an incredible amount of detail paid into fleshing out each and every race and kingdom, and if you bought the initial release, the included art book provides even more detail concerning all the areas and races. The backdrop impressed me, because it wasn't a generic fantasy world that so many other asian countries' developers embrace. It was a unique world, peopled with INDIVIDUALS. This brings us to the characters. In a move familiar to fans to the Tales series, Softmax chose to provide plenty of detail and background for each and every vital character. Every character you meet has personality and individuality, with slight alterations to the standard stereotypes embraced by developers in Softmax's neighboring island country. While every development in the plot is a little heavily foreshadowed, the characters and world have enough uniqueness to let this reviewer forgive that.

GRAPHICS:

Guess who's back? Hyung-Tae Kim is. So, all the characters have an interesting hybrid appearance, embracing elements of realism, but still retaining the cartoonish qualities so popular in asian comics. I have to say, the character design is what caught my attention. It was unique, yet familiar. The slight element of realism to the characters is what won with me. I am tired of overly exaggerated cartoon characters.

In game, the character models all look beautiful and move smoothly, rarely having any clipping issues with the environment. Speaking of the environments, they are breathtaking. Each area is special and has identifiable characteristics that distinguish them from all the other areas. Dimension is especially awe-inspiring, in that each area feels truly like a 3D environment.

So rest assured, this game's graphics were definitely ported well into the seventh generation. I wouldn't say they are the best I've seen, but they are up there.

Concerning the dialogue sequences, you are treated to fully animated close-ups of the character models, which really does help distract you from the static approach to background in these sequences. Personally, I would have preferred a more dynamic approach, but the amount of detail put into each and every minor gesture and expression for each character is impressive.

FMVs, interestingly enough, all make use of the in-game graphics engine, which really helps keep in the game. There are certain screens that are given frozen frames with a painted feel during important points, such as soliloquies or internal monologues. These feel appropriately cinematic, and sit well within the game world.

In summary, the graphics are nice.

SOUND:

Well, let's start with the opening tune. Despite being made by Glay, it has a fairly 'metal' like feel.

More importantly, the in-game music is actually pretty good. There are unique themes for each area and for combat. Each area has a distinct flavor, Chinook island having a distinctly asian sound, and another example being Cota Mare, having an appropriately new-age like feel. While the music is not mind-blowing, it fits well into the background and swells at the right times. Sound effects are timed well, and I haven't noticed any specific problems.

There are MANY voices in the game. Naturally, being localized by Banpresto, which means of course published by Bandai-Namco, you can expect the same level of quality and professionalism given to the Tales series. Personally, I would have been interested to see the game have the option for a Korean dialogue track, it might have pushed the voices from pretty decent, into the realm of great. Granted, that's a personal preference, watching or playing things in their original language with subtitles. On the other hand, the Japanese language track is well made and far from disappointing.

GAME PLAY:

The developer's have obviously learned some lessons about developing for consoles. In fact, I understand MC 2 was developed solely for console release, so you may think the control issues of the first game could have been resolved. You might be right, not having played the first one, I couldn't tell you.

I found the game play to be mostly smooth, combining elements of a very popular Blizzard title played by millions, and a much lauded and equally reviled series from a particular British game studio. If you haven't followed my written acrobatics, I am referring to World of Warcraft and Fable.

Basically, this game is an action role-playing game.

Let's start with the combat. For the most part, it is simple, using mostly three buttons for actions and the d-pad to switch between members in your party. Everything happens real time, and the pace is fast. The basics of the combat work very similarly to Tales titles. Your basic attack button executes simple attacks that make longer combo chains as you increase in skill. The other two buttons match your weapon skills and character unique skills. Need you use the old standard MP, TP, or PP to execute these skills? NAY! One thing you discover soon after playing MC 2, is to look at those character stats carefully. Attack and defense are important, but stamina and stamina regeneration is far more important to the gameplay.

As you perform actions in combat, your fatigue raises. Most of your skills require a certain amount of stamina to execute, or in some cases, a certain level of fatigue from repeatedly swinging. You can move around freely and choose your target carefully with the right bumper. You can then rush the target with a simple depression of the left analog stick, which helps build a little fatigue as well as close the distance between you and your target. Now, once you have depleted your stamina, you go into overdrive mode, within which your attacks do additional damage as long as you can continue swinging. Once your combo chain breaks, you go into overheat, and cannot move until a quarter of your stamina replenishes. If you could solo the game, this would be a game breaking mechanic. But, you aren't alone. While in overheat, you can switch to either of the two characters supporting you with a simple press of the dpad and execute a "chain combo". Chain combos increase the selected characters damage, but can practically double your damage output if you then force the selected character into overdrive. Now, you might think the game is pretty unforgiving, now having forced two of your characters to go into overheat, and leaving you with one active character, but there is an upside. If you time your links and overheats well, you can perform a "chain break" and instantaneously restore all stamina to both used characters by switching back to your original character after overheating your second character in your combo chain. This does take timing, but the game itself is actually very forgiving, with a nice little prompt flashing over your stamina bar letting you know the right time. Overall, you should never find yourself worrying too much in most situations, and you have plenty of time to practice the essential techniques necessary for success in the beginning of the game.

Another important aspect to combat derives from "kan". Melee fighters build kan through attacking, while magic based characters maintain a higher level based on their intelligence or wisdom. Kan is needed for magical attacks or support spells. Don't worry, it replenishes fairly quickly. Magic characters also need to focus on ambient elements, because each character has a unique element, easily distinguished by their base clothing color, or from their personalities. You can easily see elementals floating around in the air. This doesn't mean you can't use certain mage characters in certain areas, it just means be careful of the basic checks and balances inherent to elemental based magic systems.

You may be wondering, with all this talk of combat, how do you enter combat? It's very simple. You engage whenever you feel like it. You can also disengage anytime you like. The world is open and free roaming, and all fights are easily foreseeable. This means you can launch a preemptive strike lobbing holy hand grenades or whatever special items you might have at the enemies. There are no random encounters, and there is no overworld map.

Now, coming back to skills. All characters have unique skills and weapon skills. Each character has two weapon types, focusing on different approaches to combat. Each weapon has a skill tree, as you improve in level, your basic combos don't just increase, but you gain skill points that you can spend in those weapon trees based on how you would like to play. Sound familiar Blizzard fans?

Now another important aspect of the game is "Kamondo". To the unaware, they look like materia from Final Fantasy 7, and how they are applied in weapon slots (which vary based on the quality of the weapon) also seems familiar. But, this approach was better used of course in another Blizzard franchise, from which this game is inspired. Kamondo basically act like buffs on your weapons, and based on color matching Kamondo with slot colors, additional buffs may be reaped. Are these permanent? No, you can switch them whenever you like. Also, Kamondo can be used to create better equipment from recipes you acquire throughout the game.

Being an open-ish world, story progression might seem troublesome, but the mini-map always points you towards important story event areas. Outside these, there are a plethora of side-quests and things to collect that you can do anytime you feel like in certain areas. These side-quests again will seem familiar to anyone who has tried World of Warcraft. Their appearances and applications though serve as a nice break from the linear story. One downside to the map, while you always know where to go for the story and for getting side-quests, the map is pretty useless in directing you during side-quests, as the arrow always seems to push you towards the story events.

Other than this, the game has plenty of mini-games and tutorials to help you through the game. Any tutorial you receive will always repeat. TWO times. You will first hear it from a character, then you will see it described step-by-step on screen with very helpful diagrams, and then you will receive a sort of "in-game email" reminder through your groups inter-communications system. Additionally, you can read tutorials from the main menu at your leisure and skip them in game when prompted. My main complaint with this system, is three times really that essential? Then again, you can't complain about the game being confusing about how to play, it's constantly helping you and giving you extra information on precisely what you must do.

For a quick recap, the game borrows heavily from Fable and Diablo, with the right elements from World of Warcraft, something Capcom has yet to learn.

REPLAYABILITY:

Honestly, I couldn't tell you right now about replayability. For completionists, there's plenty to look for. Casual players may just want the single play-through. At two discs, two play-throughs is reasonable, but not compulsory. Also, every time you start the game, it looks automatically for any updated content, at the moment there is zilch. Give it some time, there may be some additional things worth looking into.

OVERALL:

Is it worthwhile? I would say Magnacarta 2 is worth checking out. Is it fun? I thought so. It was fairly quick (tempo, not length), the story always seemed to be moving forward, and there was rarely a time I felt like dropping the game and coming back to it months later. The graphics were gobsmaking, the world felt alive, the combat was pretty fast, but also mostly optional outside story events and side-quests. Is it worth dropping 80 sawbucks? That depends on what you are looking for. I always recommend leaning on the side of caution and renting first, but I felt my money was well spent on the game.

I felt like this deserved a very strong 8 out of 10. Very nearly a nine, but some small technical things like the map, obvious foreshadowing, the lack of an option for a Korean language track, and the absence of choosing your dialogue and character appearance/background, while not game breaking, left me feeling like there is still room to improve. Granted, this game is nearly great, but it's certainly not revolutionary, just a very good experience.

Rating: 8

Product Release: MagnaCarta II (JP, 08/06/09)

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