Review by Suprak the Stud
The Sequel To The Charter That Revolutionized Law In England. Wait, I'm Being Told I'm Wrong About That
Magna Carta 2 is surprisingly good. I don't mean that it is of such quality that it is shocking how amazing it is, though. I mean that my early impressions of the style and gameplay lead me to believe that going to be so bad that if you played it in front of your dog it would go in the corner, urinate, and then die of sadness. So when I actually got into the game, I was shocked that it was actually fairly decent and didn't cause my Xbox 360 to run out of the room sobbing and throw itself off of the nearest cliff. Admittedly, some aspects of the game are flat out bad, and things like the voice acting and some parts of the presentation were so dreadful that I had to assume that leaving it on too long would cause my system to contract an STD. However, if you stick with it though, there is a competent RPG underneath the rough edges with enough substance to recommend to fans of the genre.
If Typical RPG Story Syndrome were a diagnosable medical malady, Magna Carta 2 would be suffering from a terminal case and clowns would be visiting it in hopes of making its last days less painful. You play as Juto, a somewhat lazy young man suffering from amnesia and spending his days on a peaceful island that has somehow escaped the war that has engulfed the rest of the kingdom. The princess of the kingdom comes to excavate an ancient artifact that had been used in the past to turn the tides of a similar war, and poop inevitably hits the fan as the leader of a warring fraction and weapon capable of ending the war tend to draw the attention of hostile forces. They might of well as erected a giant neon sign pointing to the island's weak spot and set their crops ablaze and the effect on the livelihood of the villagers would have been the same. Juto inevitably gets swept into the war while assisting Princess Zephie, and you spend the next 50 or so hours trying to end the war, figuring out the causes behind it, and clawing out your ear canal from the horrible voice acting.
The early portions of the game features story about as generic as you can get, and a protagonist suffering from amnesia is a concept used about as frequently in RPGs as pausing the game with the start button. The whole thing takes quite a while to get going and has all the momentum of a group of girl scouts pushing a boulder up a hill to get their "Child Cruelty" merit badge. The game really doesn't even begin to get interesting until about 15 to 20 hours in, and if I wanted to spend the greater part of a day being bored I'd just watch a Two and a Half Men marathon.
But like a potato chip dropped behind the couch, the story in Magan Carta 2 actually has some crunchy goodness in it if you can get past the initial layer of dust and mold. There are a good number of twists later in the game, and the game does manage to evolve into something a bit more complex than the standard quest that similar games adhere to, where you must stop the comically evil villain and destroy his kitten slaughtering machine that is powered by the tears of orphans. The overarching theme is one I've encountered several times now in RPGs, but it is handled competently and once the game finally hits the meaty portions of the story I was interested in where it was going. It takes a while to get there though, and it feels like the storywriters got lost for early portions of the game so it was written by the janitorial staff in between breaks. It would be like if your favorite basketball team sent in their overweight uncles to play the first quarter and a half before they finally decide to sub themselves in. Things do get a bit overly melodramatic at times, giving the game the feel of an after school special, but for the most part the story is interesting and isn't as simply black or white as other RPGs giving it a bit more complexity and lasting power.
Similarly, the characters and dialogue both have so many rough edges that the writing staff would need to be replaced by an industrial strength sand blaster to fix them all. The dialogue as a whole is serviceable, and at times helps to flesh out the characters and make conversations entertaining. However, most of the time the translation fails to go beyond the literal meaning of what characters are trying to say so some conversations have all of the emotion of two robots taking about their favorite method to keep their joints from rusting. Some conversations are just embarrassingly cheesy and I have a hard time believing a professional writer actually wrote this and didn't just copy it from his or her daughter's Lisa Frank notebook.
Like the story, the characters stumble through the first 15 hours in a drunken haze before sobering up, getting their act together, and deciding to start being interesting and stop urinating on my doorstep. Early on, the characters all feel more like caricatures rather than characters. All characters get one specific character trait that gets harped on every time the character opens his or her mouth, and its like the game assumes its audience is suffering from short term memory loss so they need to constantly remind everyone of how the character acts in every single scenario. Argo is stoic, Zephie is conflicted, and Crocell is annoying enough that he will inevitably find work starring in a made for TV movie on the Disney Channel.
Luckily, they do start giving the characters some actual development around the time the plot starts to pick up, and for the most part I actually liked most of the main cast. There are a couple of exceptions, and the damage Crocell had done early on by being an annoying brat was never fully repaired, but almost all of the playable characters were at the very least tolerable. Most do adhere pretty closely to common RPG archetypes, but they are developed nicely so even if you have seen the same cast a dozen times before they are still fairly memorable.
The supporting cast, however, is not nearly as strong, and pretty much everyone else in the game is too dull to even warrant a mention. One of them, named Igton, is one of the worst characters I've ever encountered in an RPG, and there as no time that he was talking that I lost the urge to beat him around the face with a lead pipe full of bees. It is like someone dressed Nathan Lane as a bird and stuck him in the middle of a wartime drama, with specific instruction to try and end the war by annoying everyone to death. The villains, while fairly well designed in concept, are little more than stock evil characters that kick puppies just for the sake of kicking puppies and never flush the toilet in public restrooms after they use it. While the main villain seems to have loftier goals and at least fills his role adequately, the rest never seem to have gotten the memo and decided that just scowling and torturing people was enough character development for the entire game. The rest of the NPCs never really had anything interesting to say, and the game never really gives you much of an incentive to go around and talk to people. Too many conversations are just boring and pointless and I almost started dreaded heading into towns to talk to people.
While the characters and story are rather standard and typical RPG fare, what keeps Magna Carta 2 from getting mired in mediocrity is the combat system and way the gameplay was executed. While the game adheres to many of the tropes of the genre in terms of the story, it is nice that the game breaks free of them in the combat. For a while, a lot of games were utilizing a turn based battle system based on random encounters every couple of feet in a dungeon, and it felt like you were more the coach of a football team instead of an actual player. While there is nothing inherently wrong with turn based combat, taking control of the action yourself is nice, and it was always sort of weird you always encountered polite monsters in those games that always waiting their turn instead of just devouring you and repurposing your skull as a snack bowl.
Magna Carta 2 throws you in the action yourself, and you take control of one of the three characters in your party. The attacks are fairly standard action RPG fare, but there is a bit of diversity and strategy involved due to the way the game implements stamina and special attacks. While your character does eventually get tired if you just keep on hacking away at a monster's head like it was a particularly thick weed, you can chain your attacks together by using a special attack at the right time and switching control to another character. Especially early on in the game, the combat is by far the strongest aspect and chaining attacks together keeps you from falling asleep during long battle sequences.
Still, while it is fairly fun it there are a couple of hiccups that prevent it from being especially noteworthy. First, while you now might actually be a member of the team rather than just the coach, it turns out that your teammates are kind of morons and without a coach there they are content at times to just sit in the background and chase butterflies. Too many times I would max out one character's stamina, and then attempt to switch to another to perform a chain attack only to find out the second character was trying to outmaneuver a particularly devious rock or just standing there watching me like a lazy cheerleader. There are options to change the AI settings, but unfortunately there isn't a "for the love of GOD DO SOMETHING YOU LAZY JERK" setting so this is just something you have to deal with sometimes. It doesn't happen every battle, and it wouldn't even be that much of an issue if the chain system didn't require the second character to be in close enough proximity to attack and have some stamina used up already.
Additionally, the combat system does get a bit tedious later in the game. While it is still fairly entertaining, it isn't like there are any combos or different attack patterns you can pull off, so every battle basically boils down to you mashing the attack button as quickly as possible and hoping one of your teammates has decided to show up for the fight. Special attacks later in the game get more detailed and drawn out, which is a nice touch the first time you pull it off and watching the scenes for the more elaborate attacks gives you a nice impression as to how powerful your character has become. At least, that's true for the first couple of times you pull it off, but far less true when you've already seen it a dozen times and there isn't any way to skip these now repeating two minute long cutscenes. Without the option to skip, these end up slowing down the battles, and later on in the game I would actually bring a book to read so I had something to do during all the cutscenes. Typically, it isn't a very good sign when you need something entertaining to hold your attention when you're waiting for a game to let you play it again.
Another issue is that the targeting system seems to be actively plotting your death at times, cutting your break lines and conspiring ways to prevent you from attacking the guy pecking your eyes out as it is focuses on the guy half a screen a way eating a sandwich and doing a crossword puzzle. You need to scroll through the enemies to get to the one you want, and the game always seems to get some sort of amusement out of putting the one actively attacking you as the last priority. It usually isn't too big of an issue, as during all the more important battles there are only a handful of targets, but at times there might be ten or so enemies attacking you and finding the one you want to smash might take a bit of time.
The game also has some nice extras that supplement the main quest in Magna Carta 2. There are a lot of side quests (over 100) that you can choose to partake in if you're enjoying the game or are an obsessive compulsive that can't stand to see exclamation marks go unanswered. It really was a nice addition as they actually add something to the game, both in terms of gameplay and story. Some give further development into the characters backstories, while others give unique weapons or recipes that can't be obtained elsewhere. The extra content is always nice, and it provides a nice outlet if you want to take a break from the main quest for a while. Too many of them are too similar after a while, and there are a lot of worthless filler quests thrown in there that typically just have you slaying a certain amount of monsters or finding someone and talking to them, so the concept could have been strengthened if a bit more diversity had been added to types and goals of missions.
Character development was also approached somewhat cleverly, and provides you with a bit of input into how your character grows. While stats are set to grow at a certain preset rate, each character has two unique weapon styles that come with their own special attacks and techniques. These techniques can only be learned after gaining enough points through leveling up, and the path you take in learning these skills is up to you. It is nice that you aren't forced to play a certain way with each character, and learning new skills is an extra incentive to continuing battling and leveling up.
However, it becomes apparent after a while that this is less of a complex decision on your part, where each choice you make will contribute to a unique and personalized version of the character based on your personal tastes, and more of the kind of decision you make when choosing between sausage and pepperoni. There are some significant differences between the two attack styles, but once you pick one you're pretty much stuck with it all game. The biggest and strongest attacks that do massive damage and take enough time to watch that you can go and make yourself a sandwich during the battles can only be learned after going through a decent amount of the less impressive techniques first, and leveling up later on becomes so much of a chore that you won't have enough points to learn both paths on one playthrough unless you planned ahead by checking a FAQ. So while the leveling up is still somewhat enjoying, it is far less complex than initial appearances and the only choice you really make you do so when you first obtain the character.
There are a lot of other minor annoyances to the game that can end up leading to some big headaches. The most egregious of which is the fact that the voice acting is so laughably bad that I can only assume that everyone involved lost their membership to the Voice Actors Guild and have been banned from appearing in anything other than public service announcements warning about the dangers of accepting any job you're offered. At times, it is so bad that it feels almost campy, like the developers were doing a spoof of how laughably dramatic some RPGs can get but never let us in on the fact that it was a joke. The sad voice for Juto is laugh out loud horrendous, and there are scenes that are supposed to be dramatic and serious that I just couldn't help laughing at because the voice actor sounds like a sulking five year old who was told he couldn't have ice cream by his parents. There are a couple of competent voice actors, and the one who does Zephie's voice was actually pretty good, but for the most part the voices range from annoying to just awful and it made me yearn for the old days when RPG characters only spoke in text bubbles.
The art design also makes the game look like it was put together as a class project. The manual has these extremely detailed and unique looking characters that leads me to believe the development staff spent all of their art budget on a highly talented individual capable only of drawing using non digital methods. The character designs look great, even if they might point out to the fact that the artist has a specific fetish that he has to work into all of his female characters. All of them look like they have been plucked off either an adult film set or whatever the video game equivalent to Hooters is, with chest and thighs that are so enormously out of proportional that I'm not entirely certain if they can walk without toppling over. The presentation is about as welcoming to women as a comic book store filled with sweaty overweight men all cosplaying you with their eyes.
Still, regardless of this fetish at least everything is well drawn and looks like it was done by a professional. The translation of this into the 3D models used for the game is substantially less successful and they look more like funshouse reflections of people rather than actual characters. This is true primarily of the female characters, and Melissa, for example, looks like she was assembled out of Play-Doh by someone without any working fingers. The graphics would be passable by PS2 standards, but on this newest console generation they just look silly. The cutscenes are at least well done, but there aren't enough of them to justify the blahness of the rest of the game. It isn't just the character models, as the backgrounds are similarly unimpressive and everything just looks and feels generic.
While I have a bunch of minor complains about Magna Carta 2, overall what you have is a solid RPG with a fairly entertaining combat system and a decent story. It certainly isn't going to light to RPG world ablaze, but fans of the genre will want to check it out at the very least. It is just a shame that more time wasn't spent improving the overall quality of the game, because the dialogue, voice acting, and visuals are all far below average. If most games can be compared to a Broadway production, this one feels more like the video game equivalent of a high school play, complete with awkward line deliveries and one fat kid that falls off stage halfway through.
Magna Cum Laude (THE GOOD):
+Pretty interesting story with a fairly strong conclusion
+Main cast is fairly likable and well developed
+Lots of extra quests and weapons to collect to add some replay value
+Growth system gives you a little bit of choice; makes leveling up more rewarding
+Combat and chain system makes gameplay pretty fun and makes battles more of an active process
+Cutscenes and stronger attack animations are well animated
Magna Cum Shame (THE BAD):
-Voice acting is laughably bad
-Graphics looks like they are from around 10 years ago
-Story takes a while to get going; somewhat cliche even after it reaches the good parts
-Weak cast of villains; supporting cast completely forgettable
-Friendly AI is a little sketchy and makes some battles harder than they need to be
-Targeting a little frustrating
-Dialogue wavers between being forgettable and memorable for all the wrong reasons
Magna Cum Creepiness (THE UGLY): Remember how I said that all of the female characters look like they are taking a leave of absence from their jobs "dancing" to pay their way through college in order to appear in this game? One of these scantly clad, buxom women frequently reminds us that she is twelve years old, which means purchasing a copy of this game most likely lands you on a government watch list. The best part? Her romantic interest in the story is 80, which I assume was done because five or six people in Kentucky didn't find the whole thing creepy enough yet. They are different species, and are said to age and mature differently, but I can think of no other reason that this would even be mentioned in the game unless the ESRB is trying to find out which gamers shouldn't be allowed within 100 yards of a school.
THE VERDICT: 6.00/10.00
Product Release: Magna Carta 2 (US, 10/13/09)
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