Magician’s Quest Mysterious Times
Release Date: 05/08/2009
Animal Crossing has become one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises. From the N64DD to the Game Cube to the DS and finally to the Wii. It’s been a successful formula that people have purchased repeatedly even though the vast majority of the game has remained exactly the same. Surprisingly, no one has tried to cash in on the concept – until now.
Last week Konami released the US version of their Animal Crossing clone, Magician’s Quest. The graphics are very similar, you collect insects and fish while decorating your room and buying items from the games equivalents of Tom Nook. Now while there are some things that MQMT does that are not in Animal Crossing, the question is whether or not the game differs enough that this is worth buying in addition to Nintendo’s franchise. That’s what this review aims to find out.
Welcome to Magic Academy generic character #4263! Choose your face from a minute number of options and go to town! Decorate your dorm – just like a house in Animal Crossing! Collection lower life forms – just like in Animal Crossing! Talk to furries – just like in Animal Crossing! Send notes to your friends through the post office – just like in Animal Crossing Shake trees for items – just like in Animal Crossing! Go to school and learn magic spells while solving campus mysteries – just like in Animal Cross…wait, that’s NOT in Animal Crossing.
This is really the only thing that separates MQMT from AC -the ability to learn magic spells. However, these spells have limited functionality and generally can only be used in certain places or at certain times, coupled with Pavlovian reuse. You can also only take one class from each teacher a day, Monday through Friday which means to learn all the spells, you’ll have to play for over a month. If you miss a weekday, that spell goes to the back of the line, meaning you could miss the earlier and thus easier spells if you don’t take a class every hour on the hour. Of course, this is a bit hard because the game gives you two choices for class schedules: 8am to 8pm, which means you can only really play in later afternoon if you are in school or an adult, or you can do the Midnight to Noon class schedule option, which is blusteringly useless as only a percentage of a percentage of gamers will be able to use it. Now, if it was reversed and ran from Noon until Midnight, the majority of gamers could take advantage of that, but it’s not so you have a game whose key gimmick is fundamentally broken from the moment you turn it on. Of course, there’s also the “no learning” on the weekends, which is when one has the most free time to play a game, meaning all you can do is hope mystery options come up and that you won’t become so bored from talking to lycanthropes and collecting bugs that you’ll actually want to play the game come Monday.
There’s not as many items to collect ala Animal Crossing where each item was entered into a scrapbook. However, interactivity with townspeople is what Konami is hoping more than makes up for it. With a wonky rumour system that doesn’t work quite properly to the ability to form close relationships with other characters, up to and including dating the furry animal person of your choice, the object here is for gamers to care about the community rather than the “catch ’em all” aspects. It’s cute for a brief period of time, but it’s also creepy. If I want a date simulator, I’ll play something like Bloody Bride or Sakura Taisen, as they offer more content with better graphics and sound. I’m not really into the anthropomorphic animals, so having a bunny girl wanting to date me just creeped me out more than it made me go, “Wow, what a fun game.”
What’s contained in MDMT is fine, but the non-AC plagiarized content just doesn’t hold up very well at all. Most of the content is broken, dull, or just plain inane. If you really love Animal Crossing but were looking for some new content, you’ll find MQMT passes muster, but the vast majority of the game feels like you’ve already done it before.
Story/Modes Rating: Decent
The visuals for MQMT are a hair below that of Animal Crossing: Wild World. Actually, a lot of the graphics look like they were ripped right from that game save for the occasional ani-man who looks slightly worse than that DS game from 2005. Yes, that’s right. Four years later, we have a clone that was unable to improve on the visuals. That’s…kind of sad.
The colours of the game are muted and quite dreary. At times it feels like the game was done in pastels. I would think with a game like this that is geared for a cheerier atmosphere and a younger audience would have made use of a better colour scheme and some more textured graphics. It gets worse when you use the secret key and trigger “Mystery time” as the game does a palette swap that seems to have been developed by a team of colour blind monkeys. I’m not saying this to be mean. I’m just saying the colours when this happens are so amazingly ugly, it gets kind of sickening to look at the sky in the game.
Once nice thing about the visuals is how well the game uses the dual screens of the DS. At almost all times, the game uses both screens so you have a vertical widescreen picture going on. While this may induce some degree of motion sickness in gamers as you have your protagonist walk around the world ala Bubble Bobble Revelations, both screens synch up in such a way that I was constantly impressed, even while I found the game to be quite ugly.
Although the graphics are more akin to something from the early days of the DS rather than this late stage, MQMT still manages to pull out a few surprises. It’s just too bad they’re attached to arguably the most unappealing colour scheme in the history of this handheld.
Graphics Rating: Poor
There are a lot of tracks to find and collect in Magician’s Quest. Just like in Animal Crossing, there are CD’s for you that you can play in a stereo if you buy one. Unlike AC, where you receive CD’s from K.K. Slider, you can buy CD’s in MQMT. In fact, you can also whistle and play music with your friends. This is a nice fun touch that is a definite improvement over AC. However, none of the tracks in MQMT are quite as good as the ones you get from Mr. Slider, which is a bit disappointing considering Konami is well known for making killer soundtracks.
All the characters in the game speak animalese ala AC, although the animalese is a choppy Japanese sounding dialogue rather than the babble noises in Nintendo’s franchise. I prefer MQMT’s version as it almost sounds like a real language. In fact, if I didn’t know Japanese, I might have assumed it actually was that language being spoken.
Sound effects and the like are nothing impressive. The one you’ll hear most is that of your wand turning into a fishing pole or shovel or butterfly net. You know, the same items you encounter in…Animal Crossing. None of the effects in the game are up to Konami’s usual quality, but what’s here is passable, much like the rest of this game.
Overall, the sound aspects of MQMT is probably the best that the game has to offer. However, even that isn’t enough to give the game its own identity or audience.
Sound Rating: Above Average
4. Control and Gameplay
The actual gameplay of Magician’s Quest is a bit too bogged down for my liking. Too many steps to do anything in what is already a dry and somewhat stale game. Your L button controls your inventory and your R button changes the form of your wand (instead of the AC-esque items taking up spots in your pouch, which is a nice touch). I would have preferred the Inventory pouch to have been the X button, but that instead is used for waving to other characters or using your wand after you’ve set up a magic spell combination. The A button is your investigate and initiate button, the B button is the cancel button and Y brings up the menus, menus, and more menus required to cast spells.
Of course, you can’t even begin to cast spells unless you go into wizard mode in the first place unless you make a clockwise spiral with your stylus. Then, to cast a spell, you need to put together an incantation from a set of icons that are spread through multiple menus. For a lengthy incantation is can take some time just to remember where each icon is. As well, you only get an incantation chart for each spell you learn, which again, is only one to three spells a day. This means if you really need a certain incantation to get past a mystery or to complete something and you don’t have it learned yet, well progress stops. Too bad for you that you couldn’t play the game at 9am instead of earning a paycheck or being in class. Whoops.
Attending classes is simple enough. You pick the latest class, go into the classroom, watching a talking head jabber for a minute, answer a VERY simple trivia question and then get a stamp in your attendance book. Ten stamps and you’ve got a prize. Repeat until all spells are learned. Yay.
Other than this, the game is exactly like Animal Crossing. You make friends, walk around town, buy things, and just generally Shemue it up until you finally get bored or have exhausted all your classes for the day. Sure you could spend hours just collecting bugs, but really, why? WHY?
I would have preferred a more streamlined spell system, classes to be available at times that are more accommodating to someone with a life, job, or school schedule, and a less nonsensical rumour system that is meant to help you with mysteries, but is about as consequential as the English version of Simon’s Quest. There are no real issues that makes the game hard to play or even detracts from the experience, but things could have easily been realigned to where things advanced faster and smoother. There’s nothing bad here, but it’s also really only enjoyable if you don’t have a life outside gaming.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Above Average
Once you start a game, you have to realize you are in this for the long haul. Starting over means losing all that progression and weeks or even months of things unlocked and purchased. It’s like a game of Pokemon – you don’t restart unless you are insane or the battery dies.
Of course, unlike Animal Crossing, you can only engage in the key features of MDMT at certain select times. What if the only time I can play the game is from 9pm to midnight? Then I am screwed. I will never progress in the game. This is the Achilles heel of the game, for there is no progression in Animal Crossing – there is only the experience and what you can take away from it. Because Magician’s Quest tries to combine the AC experience and some sort of lose progression of story, the game falters – not due to the concept, but the implementation and some very ill-thought out things. It’s hard to play this game for more than an hour or two by design, and the progress is so banal and slow moving that only hardcore simulation fans or AC zealots will be able to get more than a week of play out of this before succumbing to boredom. You can, in theory, play this game forever, but when most of the game is just repetition, the question is, why would you?
There are balance issues, but not in the usual way one thinks of. After all, you can’t die. You don’t have to worry about starting a level all the way from the beginning. There is no SNK End Boss Syndrome. You just walk around and occasionally stuff happens.
Where the game does have balance issues is with all the content that isn’t directly ripped off from Animal Crossing. There are only certain times you can access spells. If you miss a day of play, that spell goes to the end of the line even if you will need it for a mystery or quest. This means you can’t progress. This means you have to figure out something else to do.
The rumour system, which involves residents of the community occasionally dropping hints or potential leads for later mysteries really doesn’t work properly – which is telling, as this was a heavy complaint about the Japanese and European versions of this game. Although the commentary and comments your friends and fellow residents can make are amusing, they really aren’t helpful in the way they were meant to be. As mentioned above, it’s like how the localization of Simon’s Quest was so severely messed up that characters who were supposed to point you in the correct direction now just speak gibberish.
For the most part though, Magician’s Quest is a nicely balanced title and in some ways, more so than Animal Crossing. For example, it’s very easy to earn money so that you can buy items that you are looking for. You also get rewards for cataloguing fish or insects, which is another nice touch. You can definitely tell Tom Nook is nowhere near this game.
If you’re looking for a friendlier version of AC, at least in regards to furnishing your home, MQMT does indeed give you that advantage. It’s just too bad the rumour, quest, and magical learning systems are a bit flubbed up.
Balance Rating: Above Average
Okay, 75-85% of this game is a direct rip-off of Animal Crossing. It is impossible to deny this. However, the last 25% is completely new and original. It’s Harry Potter– esque, which should entertain the kids or fantasy obsessed, even with some implementation issues. It’s nice to see someone add such much needed extra content to the AC series, even if it’s not in an AC game.
It would have been nice if Konami had tried not to be so blatant with the plagiarism. A different colour scheme, some different character designs, even some other things to collect other than the exact same things in Nintendo’s series. It’s just too bad the magic aspects of the game are such a small piece of MQMT, even though they’re also the main selling point. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel like I’ve been playing this game for about a decade.
Originality Rating: Very Bad
Magician’s Quest Mysterious Times was dreadfully dull to me. Part of it was because I never felt like I was playing a new game and Animal Crossing was something I outgrew many years ago. Part of it was the pretty ugly visuals. Mostly though, it was that the magic lessons can only be accessed at times that are exceedingly inconvenient to most gamers. Lessons should have been available 24/7 with the caveat of 1 lesson per teacher per day left intact. After I learned each lesson, I found myself walking around with nothing entertaining me. Oh, I can collect things or buy things or talk to people? Whoopee. I’ve done that four different times. I’m over it.
Perhaps this game would be more interesting to someone who hasn’t experienced Animal Crossing or someone who absolutely loved it and still plays it to this day, but really those people are few and far between. Most people will drop MGMT after a week simply due to the fact that the content is neither interesting nor all that different from AC:WW. I was just happy when Sacred came out for the PS3 so I could move on to a different game for review purposes. FREE!
Addictiveness Rating: Dreadful
9. Appeal Factor
If you’ve never played an Animal Crossing game, I’d suggest going with this first, if only because it has more content. As well, it will allow you to enjoy this game far more than if you played AC first. However, you’ll have to find a way around the awful scheduling issues in the game. AC fanboys will love this game as it’s everything they already play with, but with magic and spells and dating furries. Knock yourself out kids.
Konami hasn’t even bothered promoting this game with their usual fanfare. It’s as if they want it to stay lowkey so as to stem the “Wow, good job on copying an entire game!” comments. I think they too know that only a fraction of an established audience will want to play a game that is more or less the same game they already played on their DS back in 2005. However, those that love the AC format and style of gameplay will fall in love with this. For a very select niche group of gamers, MQMT is a must buy.
Appeal Factor: Bad
I really wanted to like this game. I’ve been following it for months and nearly imported to European version. In the end, I was shocked at how boring I found this game, especially as I used to love Animal Crossing back in like 2003, but perhaps this specific type of game has just passed me by. I am really disappointed in Konami for so blatantly cloning Animal Crossing. I was hoping that this would be an alternative rather than a few new things added to a doppleganger. This was a perfectly example of how lazy developers have become and how publishers are pushing for an easy payday instead of a quality alternative to an A list franchise. I can’t recommend this game to anyone save the most ardent Animal Crossing lover. Everyone else should stay away, if only to send a message to developers about the importance of creating your own game rather than copying someone else’s.
Miscellaneous Rating: Bad
Sound: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Very Bad
Appeal Factor: Bad
FINAL SCORE: BELOW AVERAGE GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Although Magician’s Quest Mysterious Times doesn’t do anything wrong, it doesn’t do anything right either. The vast majority of the game is a direct planarization of Animal Crossing and the little content added to the game to separate the two is neither very fun or well done. At best the game gives you a sense of deja vu mixed with amusement over the mash-up with a Harry Potter type setting. At worst you find yourself exceptionally bored due to the game’s constant shameless ripping off of Nintendo’s town simulation franchise. Only if you really love Animal Crossing should you even consider picking up this game. In that case, and ONLY in that case, will you find a game guaranteed to delight you. Everyone else will just be counting the moments until they can trade this turkey in or sell it on Ebay.