There were times that RPG was a bit of rare commodity for the Microsoft gaming console. Well, it’s still a bit rare that the Xbox360 has an exclusive JRPG release. And with the world-famous illustrator Hyung-tae Kim for character designs, the art is definitely pleasing to the eyes. Yes, we’re talking about MagnaCarta 2, the latest RPG from Softmax, published by Namco Bandai for North America.
The story of Magna Carta 2 begins on Highwind Island with Juto, a young man suffering from amnesia. He lives a peaceful life in the village, with his sister-like figure, Melissa. But the island soon becomes engulfed in the civil war that wages in the Kingdom of Lanzheim, between the Northern and Southern forces. Through a series of events, Juto joins the anti-sentinel unit of the Southern forces, at the suggestion of Princess Rzephilda, or Zephie. As Juto fights with the Southern Forces, he meets many people, some friends, some foes, and sees the many different faces of war, including his past.
Okay, so perhaps the storyline isn’t as original as it could have been. But the game progresses at a pace that keeps you interested and makes an effort to get you invested into the story. For example, the majority of the important dialogue is conducted with two characters taking up the left and right side of they converse. Each character makes his/her own hand gesture and facial expressions, which add (although the text on the bottom kind of detract from it) emotion to the dialogues. The game also has cutscenes where Juto narrates his inner thoughts, with a stylized still picture in the background. They made some effort in bringing the player in, but as I mentioned before, the storyline is really nothing new.
The visuals were actually pretty good. some of the landscapes and city designs were beautiful, and the character designs were fun too. The facial expressions that each character made definitely put a fine touch to the presentation. Though when you first enter a new area, it takes a few seconds for all the elements, i.e. trees, mountains, etc. to pop up. That was kind of a distraction. But other than that, the Unreal Engine 3 complimented well designed characters and presentations. The music was good too. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it fit the game well. It reminded me of one of those Final Fantasy epic musical ensembles, but at a much smaller and tamer scale. We had some mixed feelings about the voice acting in MagnaCarta 2. At some points, they actually sounded good and we felt emotion. Other times, the voices were flat, or sounded like that had literally translated something from another language. And one of the characters’ voice was a bit much. It was the stereotypical Japanese cute girl voice. I’ll let you guys find out who it is.
Cue the music. Ladies and gentlemen. This is where Magna Carta 2 really shines. Simply put, the battles in Magna Carta 2 are fun and awesome. Why you might ask? Introducing, the Chain/Chain Break system. But before I dive into that, let me explain the basics of battle. Slightly reminiscent of FFXII, there are no transitions between exploration and battle. The enemies are lurking around on the map, and you can choose to engage them or not. If you do choose to engage them, you draw your weapon and enter combat mode via the Left Trigger button.
The character you control automatically targets the nearest enemy which you can then proceed to deal the ass whoopin’ by means of weapons or skills. You can have three characters in your immediate party, and can easily switch characters by pressing the corresponding D-pad direction. Each character can fight with one of two styles, depending on which type of weapon they are equipped with. Each style has its own skill tree that can be unlocked by alotting skill points gained through level-ups. These skills can be used when a character has enough Kan. Kan can be generated by attacking. Some characters, like Zephie for example, can use the Kan in the environment as well. This means that if the certain are you are in has, for example, a Wind Kan of 1, Zephie will always have a minimum of 1 Kan to work with.
The great thing about this Kan system is that you really don’t have to worry about running out of Kan. You can always regenerate it via attacking. So, you can use skills, heal, and buff without having to worry about conserving MP or skill points. I loved it! And just chaining together attacks and skills looks so cool. However, it’s also important to know when to conserve Kan. Just blindly using up Kan may work on earlier battles, but as you progress, the enemies get tougher, and the battles a bit more difficult. You really have to know how to use your Kan wisely.
Now comes the Chain/Chain Break system that really makes battles fun. First of all your actions in combat mode except for walking and using items have a certian stamina cost. Once you enter combat mode, a Stamina Gauge appears at the bottom of the screen. As you attack, use skills, or dash towards an enemy, that stamina gauge begins to fill up, and once you reach a critical point, your character goes into Overdrive mode. In Overdrive mode your character’s attacks will do extra damage for the next string of attacks, including skills. But once that string of attacks ends, the character goes into Overheat, where he/she is out of commission until their Overheat gauge goes down.
HOWEVER, as a party, you can Chain overdrive boosts and even heal your overheated characters’ stamina with a Chain Break. If a character uses a skill and goes into Overdrive, or uses a skill at the end of a string of attacks, the Overdrive boost that they gained can be carried over to another character via a Chain. Now, the second character has the Overdrive boost the first character had, and can begin to attack or use skills. If the second character then uses a skill in the same situation mentioned above, before the first character recovers from his/her Overheat state, a Chain Break occurs, where the stamina gauge of both characters in Overheat regenerate completely, allowing you to use them immediately. And this Chain/Chain Break system is the essence of the battle system. By utilizing this system, you can chain attacks and skills one after another. The battle system of MagnaCarta 2 may seem simple and shallow at first, but, as we soon discovered, the battle stystem has a lot of room for strategizing, and it just never gets old! It really feels like the developers put alot of effort and creativity to make the battles exciting, fun and addicting.
We understand that for many people, the storyline is a crucial element of an RPG. However, we also think that one of the most important element in games across all genre, is whether you enjoy playing it or not. MagnaCarta 2 may not have the most intriguingly gripping story, but it is definitely fun to play, and that in my mind, makes it an excellent choice to satisfy your upcoming RPG needs. Unless if you hate the genre with passion, MagnaCarta 2 definitely deserves your peek.