Magna Carta 2 Review
Written : Sunday, October 25, 2009
By: Alan Pettit (GT: The Pants Party)
It has been almost eight months now since we have seen any JRPGs on our beloved 360... perhaps even longer since we could say we really enjoyed one (no offense, Star Ocean!). So, with the release of Magna Carta 2, I think I speak for all of us when I say, "It's about damn time!" Actually coming out of Korea, the Magna Carta series is developed by a company called SoftMax. The original came exclusively on the PC back in '02 with a spin-off on the PS2 in '05. Despite being named as a sequel, Magna Carta 2's plot has nothing to do with the original, giving players unfamiliar with the original, a fresh starting point.
The basic story focuses on themes we have seen plenty of times in the past. You've got your amnesiac hero, your renegade princess and your loyal friends. There's the big villain trying to control the fate of the world, his crazy scientist on the left and faithful lady-friend on the right. Despite these familiar building blocks, the final outcome is something very different from what one would expect. In fact, as the plot unfolds and the full story comes to light, you can almost begin to empathize with the "villains." One different choice along the way and you could even see the "heroes" joining them in their quest. I've never had that feeling after completing a game before, and I must say it was pretty refreshing.
Taste the lightning, suckers!
Because of those stereotyped character models I mentioned before, you'd again expect the game to offer little in the way of characterization. However, things are taken in a new direction again, offering growth, tested loyalties and a deeper connection in the end. On top of that, it is not just a story for the hero and the princess. Every supporting character has a story that can unfold through the game's many optional quests, giving new reason to explore every facet of the game. Beginning these quests offers a tease of what this character is about, and you'll no doubt want to follow that story to its conclusion to better understand them.
With a great story and likable characters in its pocket, only half the battle is won. No JRPG is complete without a unique and engaging battle system, something Magna Carta 2 can offer in spades. More similar to Infinite Undiscovery, Magna Carta 2 employs a free-action battle system with seamless transition to and from battle. With a simple click of the left trigger, your characters ready their weapons and can attack instantly. If you find yourself outmatched, you can click out of battle and high-tail it out of the area. This drastically decreases the amount of load time and waiting that can often present itself in turn-based systems, or even some of the free-action systems that still require that you "warp" into battle.
The things that set this battle system apart are the Kan, Stamina and Chain features. Kan is what allows the characters to use their more advanced attacks. Every normal attack used will increase the amount of Kan available to the character, though only two of the six playable characters can store this as Physical Kan which will stay with them until they need it. The other four characters use Attribute Kan which accumulates in the air around your character, only allowing it to be accessed while in the vicinity. Stamina is a base statistic that allows for a certain number of attacks before putting your character into an Overheat state, although you can simply hold off attacking and let your stamina recharge to allow for more attacks. If you do Overheat, you'll want to initiate a Chain by switching to another character. While inside a Chain, if you are able to send this second character into Overheat before the first character recovers, a Chain Break occurs, miraculously giving both characters full stamina. Mastering this will not only give you an excuse to use all the characters, but also maximize your damage output.
To further deepen the battle system, each character has two different types of weapon types at their disposal. The main hero, Juto, can use either one-handed or two-handed swords, while the princess, Zephie, uses either fans or rods, and so on for each character. Each weapon type has a skill tree attached with various skills and stat upgrades that can be purchased using points awarded every level gain. The further down a tree, the more powerful special attacks you unlock. Once you are able to reach the bottom, an ultimate co-op technique becomes available. These are performed with two characters after performing a Chain, though they require a large amount of Kan to pull off. The rewards are great however, as these attacks are both devastating and beautiful to watch.
The equipment system is fairly simple in the game, just a single weapon and defensive item with two accessory slots. However, there is an attached Enhancement feature that allows the use of "Kamond" items to increase various attributes. Some are as simple as extra HP or attack power, though others will increase the amount of experience, money, Kan or skill points earned, and still others can grant immunities to various ailments such as poison and stun. These can be moved and changed at any time without using them up, so every time you get a new weapon you can transfer over your old Kamonds rather than starting from scratch - a very nice touch from other game's enhancement systems.
With the unique spin on its story and the engaging battle system, Magna Carta 2 is about as complete an RPG as you can have, though there are definitely two other pieces to the puzzle that are also important. Graphically, the piece fits quite well. Taking advantage of the oft-used Unreal Engine, the graphics definitely do their job. The game has very few cut-scenes, with most of the dialogue instead taking place during face-to-face conversations - a technique more often used in strategy-RPG games such as Fire Emblem. These aren't the most impressive I've seen, but the field of battle and the various cut-scenes that are present are excellent. On the sound side, the piece is slightly askew, but that is almost always the case for localized dialogue. There are definitely no "all your base are belong to us" moments, but the English actors for some reason can never quite convey the emotions as well as the original Japanese actors can. The musical score and overall sound effect base make up for that though, making the rest of the game a treat for your ears.
The co-op techniques are deadly and beautiful.
The achievement list is one of the simpler ones in the JRPG market, if only for the game's length. Still a nice offering at about 40 hours, there is far less to explore and no crazy bonus dungeons to master. Despite that, you do still have to finish every quest available, find all the Kamond recipes and master every weapon's skill tree; all of which are variations of themes generally found in a JRPG list. Fortunately, they are comparatively easy and can be done with half or less effort than some of the other games. On top of all that, the game had launch-day DLC that added an extra 240 points (why not 250? I'll never know) that tasks you with obtaining every weapon in the game, including the bonus DLC weapons. For new players, this will add very little extra time, if any, and at only 400 MSP it's not tough on the wallet either. Overall a typical list, though much less difficult and time intensive than its predecessors.
This truly is a fantastic entry into the JRPG catalogue for the 360. Despite a somewhat short experience compared to the hundred plus hours I've spent on other games, the time is spent well. I felt for the characters and cared what happened to them, I was engaged in the story and even saw both sides had good and bad points. The battle system was also conducive to using all the characters and doing more than simply mashing the attack button. Video games are supposedly an interactive experience, but many games tend to be so repetitive that you end up going through the motions. Everything about Magna Carta 2 goes against that taboo, creating a unique, engaging and overall fantastically fun game.
A slightly weak voice acting cast is supported by an overall fantastic sound effect backdrop and musical score.
The face-to-face dialogue sequences are done well, but feel out of place with such amazing environments and cutscenes. The overall visual experience is still amazing though.
There is a small learning curve for the Chain Break system and how to best use the Kan and keep from Overheating, but once you've mastered that, the game is a blast. The difficulty seems very low overall as well, giving little trouble save for a few bosses that like to regenerate their health quite often.
From the story to the battle system to the graphics to the achievements, everything is downright enjoyable about this game. There is little I can point to and say outright "that is a fault." Sure, it could have done a few things a little better, but by no means was anything really "bad."
Another typical JRPG list, though this is certainly more attainable than previous entries. A huge bonus for not forcing a second playthrough of any kind, as well as steering clear of any needless grinding for money or levels.
Magna Carta 2 has cemented itself in my top five JRPGs on the system thus far. Perhaps not as glorious as Lost Odyssey or Eternal Sonata, but it definitely keeps up with Tales of Vesperia and Blue Dragon. A unique, twisting story with likable, engaging characters and a deep, entertaining battle system. Highly recommended.