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Magnacarta 2 Review Rewind

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On 12/31/2011 at 12:00 PM by Angelo Grant

It doesn't suck, but that's not for lack of trying.

If you're someone who has already played this generation's better JRPGs and are looking for something more, this title may hold something for you. For more casual fans of the genre, or those of you that are looking for something more substantial, keep looking. This will not scratch the same itch as other, better developed RPGs.

Magnacarta 2 is the latest entry in the historically unremarkable Korean RPG franchise. The first appeared on PC, and the second, better known release, called Tears of Blood, was released on the Play Station 2. There have been quite a few changes since its last appearance: it's on a new platform, has a newly overhauled combat system, has a new world and story, and uses the newer, flashier Unreal engine 3 to power its visuals. The one thing that hasn't changed, however, is the fact that the game still remains unremarkable.

That's not to say the game is bad; in fact, it practically oozes potential. In just about every aspect though, it manages to stop just short of becoming interesting or creative. First there's the battle system, which seems to draw liberally from several well established ideas without improving, and in some cases degrades the quality of these elements.  Combat takes place in real time while controlling one of three on-screen characters.  Control can be switched to another character instantly by using the D-pad. Basic attacks are linked to a single button, pressed over and over again to build up “kan,” which is special energy used to unleash special attacks (mapped to other buttons). That’s honestly all there is to it.  In the first few hours of gameplay, you will see everything this system has to offer.

Controlling kan to build up and chain special attacks is crucial to defeating the bosses in this game, and that’s where the combat is at its worst, especially towards the end where your characters will need to have their kan meter full in order to execute the required high level attacks.  Failure to properly execute and chain these attacks will result in the fight dragging on for a very long time.  Additionally, your AI controlled teammates can use their stored kan at will, which can easily destroy all the effort invested into powering them up.  I can't tell you how many times I built up someone’s kan in combat only to watch them waste all that effort on a useless low level move the second I switched control over to charge up another party member. The frustration is enough to spike your blood pressure.

Then there’s chaining.  In order to give combat a more turn based feel, the developers added a stamina meter.  With each swing, your gauge fills up, and when it crosses a certain threshold, a character enters an overdrive-like state, dealing extra damage for a limited time.  It’s essential to execute special attacks in this window, and then quickly switch to another character.  Failing to switch out properly causes the character to ‘overheat’ and remain idle for a set amount of time before their gauge even begins to drain.  Success, which actually requires doing this twice, means a free stamina refill for your entire party in the form of a ‘chain break’.  It does take some time to truly master the chaining mechanic, but that's not something the developers should be proud of. It's clumsy, unintuitive, and fails more often due to an unblockable attack leveling character or the 360’s famously shoddy directional pad rather than player skill. 

To assure you that it’s not just me, I had a friend of mine who is much better at twitch based games  try out the combat as well.  His response was more of a question: “Just why exactly are you even playing this game?”  I think that says it all right there.

Character development has a small twist that really doesn’t amount to much in the end.  There are two skill trees per character, which you would think would mean that you would get to mix and match skills from both to create a custom character, but that's not how it works.  Each tree is used exclusively based on which of two weapon types the character is currently using.  You unlock the skills on the tree in traditional skill point fashion.

Every gained level allots you a set number of skill points to use. The problem is that, despite the increased cost of skills as you work down the skill tree, the amount of skill points gained every level never increases.  In fact, if you don't exploit the kamond and equipment system to maximize each character's skill points gained per level, you will not even complete one tree by the time you finish the game. The only true way to get all the possible skill points is to change a character's equipment and kamonds to items with a bonus to skill points earned every time they are about to level. If you fail to do this, especially near the end of the tree, the amount of skill points you receive will be so low they will be just about useless.

This kamond system is fairly similar to the materia system in Final Fantasy VII in that your weapons have color coded slots in which colored stones are placed to change your attributes. Unlike materia, however, these don't grant you extra skills or abilities, but boost your stats in various ways. The manual mentions bonuses that grant you an extra stat boost or kamond slot, but there seemed to be no logic behind them. Short of using a guide, you will only discover these at random, not by any of your own tact or skill. It's like they took the materia system and actually went out of their way to make it as boring as possible. Mission accomplished.

There are some gamers who are willing to overlook multiple, and even serious flaws in gameplay as long as they have a good story to keep their interest. Unfortunately for them, this one is equally generic and uninspired.  Your character is... wait for it... an amnesiac who washed ashore of an island and was rescued by a (very attractive) local lady. Seriously, it's exactly as bad as it sounds, and it really doesn’t get much better. Eventually we find out that he's a powerful fighter  with some crucial role in something much bigger, possibly involving, you guessed it, the fate of the entire world!

I'll give the writers some credit, they did try to spice it up a little, but even when they try to spin things, or generate some intrigue, it comes off as campy. For example, there's eventually a scene where a character is suspended in a position not at all unlike hanging from a cross while a crowd of people cry out for them to be sacrificed. Yeah, they went there.

Of course, any tale is only as good as the characters that make it, and the characters in Magnacarta 2 unfortunately suffer from the same bi-polar quality as the story. The main character is prone to lengthy, boring monologues, and while there are eventually some curious facts revealed about him, he himself never actually becomes someone you care about. The supporting cast ends up being just that, support. With the possible exception of the princess (whom you are charged with protecting—shocking, I know) they all have remarkably shallow personalities telegraphed by their appearance. The overdressed wizard is cocky and full of himself, the giant hairy beast is the strong, silent type, and the bikini topped forest elf, whoops I mean Mare, goes a little crazy for one of the male members of your party.

 The presentation, likewise, is double edged. I can tell the team put a lot of effort into the way things flow.  They tried to keep loading screens to a minimum, and combat takes place in the same environment as exploration.  Outdoor environments feel open and airy, while dungeons and caves feel more like tunnels.  It could have worked, but this flow ends up being ruined by the need to constantly babysit equipment and shift kamonds around as mentioned earlier. It really keeps you from getting sucked into the environment, which is a shame, because it really does look good. Again, so close, yet so far.

While on the topic of visuals, the graphics generally look really nice. Environments are colorful and bright, and the characters look good on the field. It's great to see the Unreal engine used to make characters of mostly reasonable proportions, and colors other than shades of gray and brown.  But they're not good enough to save the atrocious cut scenes. The monologues move at an unbearably slow speed and can only be skipped in their entirety, not moved ahead one line at a time like other scenes. During times when people are talking to each other, their gestures are stiff and awkward, and their idle animations are strange. They don't ever change the pace at which they breathe, which causes them to appear, unnervingly enough, to be inhaling while talking.

Speaking of, well, speaking, there's the voice acting. It's just not good. The vast majority of the lines sound forced and uninspired, and it often sounds like the actors were instructed to speak as slowly and distinctly as possible above all else. Seriously, listen to Zephie every time she says “southern forces.” It's bound to get on your nerves eventually.

It's no secret that the Xbox 360 isn't exactly this generation's go-to platform for JRPGs, so those of us who are fans of the genre have to at least consider what few releases have appeared in its limited library. I want to reiterate that this game is not a colossal failure; it is, however the epitome of flawed mediocrity.  I can only imagine the most hardcore of JRPG fans will get any value out of this as simple filler to consume between other releases of higher quality.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



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