Monday, November 2, 2009

Xbox 360 Review: Magna Carta 2

Magna Carta originally launched as a Korean RPG back in 2001. A few years later a sequel was released on the PlayStation 2, though for us here in the States it served as the first installment. The game caught on with the hardcore anime crowd and it was met with moderate success. Sadly, this was probably largely due to the fact that the game toted artwork by Hyung-Tae Kim, whose style uses buxom, beautiful girls in seductive poses. Who says sex doesn’t sell!? Even so, the game turned out to be not all that bad and there were some redeeming qualities. Is it worth another go-around though?

Magna Carta 2 follows a rather typical role-playing storyline. There’s an effeminate boy who also happens to be an amnesiac. This boy, Juto, lives on a peaceful island that finds itself smack dab between the opposing military forces of the North and South. Both armies are attempting to find something on the island known as a Guardian, and Juto gets caught up in events beyond his control. Soon enough he vows revenge against the North and joins the Southern forces to aid a Princess named Zephie. Together, along with some other party members, they do what they can to stop the Northern forces, destroy Guardians, and unlock parts of the past.

There is more to the plot in Magna Carta 2 than just that description alone, but in all honesty this game is a slow burn. Many key plot points are not revealed until much later in the story and as you progress you’ll receive tiny morsels to sate your appetite. Even so, the plot here is nothing to fascinating and it’s not entirely original either. That combined with the fact that it takes forever to progress the story leaves much of Magna Carta 2 feeling dry. Sadly the gameplay doesn’t do much to stave off that impression.

For all intents and purposes Magna Carta 2 is an action-RPG. You run around the world environment in real time and can enter and exit combat as you see fit. Your proximity to an enemy dictates whether or not you’ll be able to hit them and there’s no such thing as turn-based actions here. Instead of giving your free reign to do as you please though, there is a stamina meter that allows you a limited amount of attacks and special skills. Because of that, it’s safe to say that this game isn’t exactly a dungeon crawler, but rather a hybrid that also feels like an MMORPG in a way. It’s an interesting system that works towards the game’s favor.

Combat definitely takes the center stage here, and there are many nuances that come into play. For instance there’s a system known as Chain Break, which allows you to snap characters out of an exhausted state when they use too much stamina. This is essential in big battles, especially during boss fights and it’s important to listen to what the tutorial tells you about this when you come upon it. Otherwise all you really need to know is that in order to do special attacks you have to connect regular ones. The more regular attacks you do, the more “Kan” you build up. Kan is basically this game’s word for skill points, and it dictates all super attacks and magic skills that you may feel like unleashing on your enemies. The nice thing is Kan sticks with you after a battle and it lends itself to some strategy for going into the next fight.

While there is a fair amount of strategy to employ here, and some challenge built into the system, the combat just isn’t very lively. This isn’t the kind of game where you can level grind for hours on end and still be excited to take the next step. Fighting feels like a means to an end here and often times it’s kind of a chore to stop and battle in between objectives. That’s because each battle boils down to using the same mechanics, swapping between the same characters, and using Chain Break to reset your party’s stamina. It’s a very formulaic set up that doesn’t allow for trying new things.

Exploring the game is another thing that makes Magna Carta 2 feel somewhat like an MMORPG. You run around a city, over-world, or dungeon running into NPCs and getting questions from them. The amount of side and story quests is pretty hefty and there’s a nice experience and monetary reward that follows each. Some quests even net you handy items.

Speaking of items, there is the matter of equipment to bring up. Each character has a choice of two weapons they can use, a piece of armor, and two accessories. As far as the weapons are concerned they vary by style. For instance the hero, Juto, can use a one-handed sword technique, or a two-handed one. Argo, a party member, can use a hammer or axe, and Zephie can use a rod or fan. For each character depending upon the weapon you choose, different skills will become available. As an example, if Zephie is using a rod she’s more dedicated to healing, while the fan is more for attacking. There’s a nifty Skill Tree for each character that allows you to allocate points and unlock new abilities for each weapon style. The system is fairly deep and allows for some nice customization early on.

Adding to the customization level is something called Enhancements. These are basically the Materia (from Final Fantasy VII) of Magna Carta 2. There are orbs called Kamons that can be equipped to each weapon and they have stat boosting effects. Exploring which ones work best for the different weapons and each characters fighting style definitely leaves room for interpretation and uniqueness.

Aside from the nice customization options and mildly entertaining combat system, Magna Carta 2 is little better than your average RPG. The game is incredibly linear, despite the side quests, and the story takes far too long to develop before it starts to become interesting. All in all the game just doesn’t feel like that much of an improvement over the original, and it’s not strong enough to go toe-to-toe with some of the Xbox 360’s other RPG games such as Lost Odyssey, Star Ocean, Blue Dragon, and Infinite Undiscovery.

The gameplay doesn’t necessarily rise above the pack, and I hate to admit it, but the graphics don’t really either. The overall character design are nice, even if they don’t particularly match Kim’s gorgeous style. The world design, however, is rather static and kind of boring. Nearly every environment is lifeless to the point it looks like it could have been plucked from ye olde RPG. Adding to that are some muddied textures, a lack of finer detail, and an incredible amount of pop-in that occurs as backgrounds load. The game just looks like it’s been in gestation for far too long and simply doesn’t pack the punch some of the aforementioned RPGs do.

Thankfully the sound fairs much better. The voice cast really brings the game to life in a way that few other games can mimic. The roster is full of anime greats such as Steve Blum, Travis Willingham, and Laura Baily. The list goes on, really, and I have to say that the cast brings a tremendous amount of personality to an otherwise dull plot and script. The music is good, but standard RPG fare, as are the sound effects. During battle there is a nice use of the soundfield though, and some boss fights truly come to life, like the one against two giant sea monsters that appear on both sides of you.

Overall Magna Carta 2 isn’t a horrible game, but it’s not one that really makes you stand up and cheer either. It’ll tide over RPG enthusiasts with its game-by-numbers structure and may be enough to entice players to pick up the first game if they didn’t. However, you have to blindly dedicate yourself to the game in order to get anywhere with it. The plot takes forever to get going and the gameplay never picks up in speed. If you’re looking for an RPG to hold you over until the next big thing then consider this one a light recommendation.


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