Review: Magna Carta 2 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Magna Carta 2
Genre: Role Playing Game
Developer: Banpresto/Softmax
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Release Date: 10/13/09


Considering the minimal amount of support the original Xbox received in the way of Japanese RPG’s, it’s really amazing that the 360 has seen so much support on that front, and a large part of that support has come from Namco. Though their two big J-RPG’s aren’t console exclusives anymore, at one time Eternal Sonata and Tales of Vesperia (which is still a US exclusive for now) were two major 360 exclusive J-RPG’s on a console that wasn’t really expected to have any such thing. Further, both games were generally solid pieces of work that were enjoyable examples of the genre done acceptably, if nothing else. Well, Namco Bandai has another exclusive 360 J-RPG for you to enjoy, Magna Carta 2, and at first glance it, too, looks like another winner. Namco Bandai has a solid pedigree as far as RPG’s are concerned, and the visual style of the game is largely based on the works of Hyung-Tae Kim, one of the most outstanding Korean artists on the planet. On the other hand, Magna Carta: Tears of Blood, the PS2 predecessor to this game, was a less than inspired RPG outing, featuring a convoluted and uninteresting battle system that made the game less desirable an experience than it could have been, casting a black mark against the game off the bat. So is Magna Carta 2 an improvement over its predecessor, or is it a negative mark on Namco Bandai’s track record? Let’s find out.

The story of Magna Carta 2 doesn’t have very much at all to do with the prior games in the series, so you don’t need to feel like you should have played those prior to starting this game, and considering one of those two games never made it out of Korea, this is probably for the best. Basically, as we start the game, the continent of Lanzheim is presently involved in a massive, continent-spanning civil war. The prime minister, Schuenzeit, has apparently taken the throne by force, by killing the queen of the empire and taking control of the kingdom in the process. This, of course, isn’t a unified rule, as many people who are opposed to the idea of being ruled by the tyrant who murdered their queen break off from the country and form the Southern Forces Army, with the princess Rzephillda, AKA Zephie, as their leader. As the game begins, the war has been raging for years, and an attempt has already been made on the princess’ life by Schuenzeit’s primary dog of war, Elgar The Regicide. You take on the role of Juto, a young man who woke up on Highwind Island one day with no memory to speak of. As the game begins, Juto lives with his “sister” Melissa, who took him in when he was found on Highwind Island, but after a Guardian (a giant, ancient robot weapon of death) is brought to life by the Southern Forces on the island, the Northern Forces invade and Melissa is murdered by Elgar. After some soul-searching, Juto decides to join Zephie and her associates in the Counter Sentinel Unit of the Southern Forces Army, as he has some mysterious powers to go with his amnesia, and he harbors a desire to kill Elgar after watching him kill Melissa. Things are never that simple, of course, and as the story progresses and things unfold, Juto and company discover a lot of things they may well wish they hadn’t as their quest changes from one of defeating the Northern Army to one of changing the world, if not exactly saving it.

The story is surprisingly interesting in its execution, largely due to some good plot pacing and interesting twists that pop up as the game progresses. Some of the plot twists are unexpected, while others are obvious but incredibly well handled, and the game spends a good bit of time making you question the morality and heroism of what you’re doing, though it ultimately settles into a “good versus evil” story. It’s also interesting that the ultimate goal of the characters isn’t to save the world in the end, but rather to change the world, and once again, morality becomes a focal point of this part of the plot, although in a less heavy-handed and more open manner. The characters are generally interesting and well written, overall, and they develop real character traits and depth, as they DO things instead of having things happen to them, and they actually develop somewhat realistically throughout the course of the story. In fact, there are only three flaws to the story, though they are notable flaws that may put you off. For one thing, the characters are often all too willing to turn on Juto, and several instances pop up where several, if not all, of the cast of characters essentially berate and belittle him, and occasionally openly want him dead. The plot attempts to justify this, and succeeds to a point, but it becomes tiresome watching your main character essentially get dumped on by everyone else for almost half of the game. There’s a difference between “inexperienced hothead” and “whipping boy” and the game crosses it a bit more than is healthy, basically. For another, while the characterization and story are solid overall, there are some incredibly obvious clichés employed that are kind of distracting when compared to the rest of the story. Melissa’s entire character arc, from beginning to end, is incredibly predictable, and every time the game does something with her, you know immediately where it’s going and what’s going to happen in the end, which is annoying considering how interesting someone like, say, Juto turned out despite being built on similar clichés. Finally, the entire first disc is kind of slow in its story pacing, and it isn’t until the second disc where the story really grabs on to you and makes you interested in what it’s doing. If you can tolerate that you’ll mostly like the end result, but playing through fifteen hours of a game to get to the interesting parts may be a bit much to ask for some players.

Magna Carta 2 is artistically pleasant, thanks to a combination of an interesting game world and Hyung-Tae Kim’s character designs. The game world is a vibrant mesh of technology and fantasy elements, featuring bright and beautiful landscapes in one setting and war-torn battlefields the next, and it helps to make the experience convincing. The character designs, thanks to Mr. Kim’s artwork, are interesting, and the characters match up with his artwork well. They are also well animated, both in cutscenes and in battle, and the flow of their movements is mostly natural and pleasing, though the running animations occasionally look weird. The game also makes plenty of use of bright and dynamic special effects, and spells and special abilities have a definite visual flair to them that is pleasing to the eye. This isn’t the best looking game on the 360, but it’s absolutely one of the better ones. The game music consists largely of the expected rolling orchestral scores that often accompany these sorts of games, but it’s generally rather nice here and fits the theme well. The voice acting is fantastic, thanks to some great work from Johnny Yong Bosch (Juto), Michelle Ruff (Zephie), Yuri Lowenthal (Crocell), Steven Blum (Schuenzeit), and everyone’s favorite, Wendee Lee (Melissa). So, yes, Adam from Power Rangers, Yukari Takeba and Youske Hanemura are out to save the world from Wolverine. I love that. The sound effects are also very nice and fit the aesthetic of the game well, complimenting the battles and cinematics nicely.

Magna Carta 2 plays like a standard J-RPG in most respects, save the combat system, so fans of the genre should understand the game well enough from the get go. The left stick moves you around, the right stick controls the camera, the A button interacts with various things in the environment, and the start button opens up the menu. The game also offers various hotkeys to get to whatever you want, depending on the menu you need at the moment. You’ll spend a good portion of the game following the map (which usually has handy icons on it to indicate where you’re to go next), talking to characters and opening boxes for loot, but the game does a few interesting things while you’re not in combat to keep things interesting. Each character can perform actions to objects in the environment that are receptive to said actions, so, for example, Juto can kick things, Argo can punch things, and so on. In some cases, these actions are needed for specific reasons (Juto can kick bombs back at things, Crocell can set torches alight, and so on), but many times they can be used interchangeably. Juto can also harvest items when needed (usually for quests), which initiates a little mini-game where you have to press A rapidly to extract the item from the ground. You’ll also be able to use various items you acquire with the B button, either for quest-related purposes (poisons, Kan collection devices) or to toss at enemies (bombs). These can be switched by holding the Right Trigger and selecting the items you need, in case you have multiples.

Sooner or later you’ll end up in battle with enemies, however, and the combat mechanics in Magna Carta 2 are where the game shines. You can switch from navigation mode to combat mode at any time you’re not in a town or non-combat zone with a press of the left trigger, allowing you to jump into or out of battle as needed. You can use up to three characters in battle at any time, and the D-pad allows you to choose between the three as you wish. The combat is real-time, and the controls for movement are identical to those for non-combat situations, except that you lock on to the enemy you wish to attack and thus strafe around them instead of moving normally. You can change which enemy you’re locked onto with the bumpers at will, in case you want to target the ranger attackers instead of the melee, for example. The A button acts as your primary attack, and you can chain attacks together with the button as needed until you hit your maximum combo length (which increases as you level up). The X button uses your Skills, which deplete magic (Kan in this case) for added damage, and the more damaging or interesting attacks deplete more Kan, as expected. You can switch between Skills by holding the Right Trigger as well, which allows you to switch between different attacks at any point, and you can press the Y button to open the battle menu at any point to change leaders and use consumable items, like healing items and such, allowing you to do pretty much everything you need to do on the fly. The B button allows you to unleash Signature Attacks, which can be used when a prompt for these appears on-screen. Each weapon type and character has a different Signature Attack, which can be anything from a counter-attack to a special-damage ability to generating a protective shield to turning an enemy into a Kamond and more. These attacks don’t always pop up in battle, but when they do, they’re EXTREMELY useful and cost nothing to use, making them ideal to use whenever the situation presents itself.

Kan availability is determined by character, in an interesting change from conventional expectations. Basically, every character can generate Kan by attacking enemies regularly, but Physical Kan users (Juto and Argo) store their Kan within themselves to be used at any time, while elemental Kan users (everyone else) has to generate Kan in battle before they can use any. If all of the casters in battle are using the same Kan type, this can pose a problem as well, because this means they’re all essentially drawing from the same magic pool, making magic users high priority targets in these cases. There are also instances where Doomseeds can prevent anyone but physical Kan users from using Skills, making your standard casters essentially useless. You can change party members at nearly any time, however, so this isn’t an insurmountable issue. Aside from Kan management, you also have to watch your Stamina as you attack. As you unleash regular and Skills, your Stamina goes up, and when it tops out, you go into Overdrive state. In Overdrive, you deal additional damage to enemies, but once you end your combo, you enter Overlimit state, which essentially leaves you burned out and unable to do anything until you rest for several seconds. This, however, can be mitigated by use of Chain attacks. Essentially, you enter Overdrive state with one character by using a Skill, then switch to another character as that character enters Overlimit. From there, you jack out the next character’s Stamina, then employ a Skill with that character to send them into Overdrive. This not only allows that Skill to deal DOUBLE damage, but also clears both characters of their Overlimit, reducing their Stamina gauges to empty. Learning the timing of Chain attacks can be tricky at first, but they’re absolutely vital in later battles.

The abilities, Skills and Signature Attacks your characters can use are dictated by the weapon style they’re using, as each character can use two types of weapons. Each weapon type comes with different inherent benefits, as well as different unlockable Skills to earn. You’re given skill points at each level which allow you to buy these Skills, as well as improve the attacks and the statistics of your characters while using these weapons, giving each weapon style inherent benefits on top of the benefits of the weapons themselves. These weapons can completely change the combat style of your chosen characters, however, so it’s best to pay attention to what each weapon style offers. Zephie, for example, works as a healer with some mild damage abilities when using a rod, while she becomes a combat caster when using a fan. This can be vitally important to be aware of when you need a healer in the party to back you up, so it’s best to take note of who is equipped with what and what that means their role in battle is before bringing someone into the active roster. Some weapons also allow you to perform team-up attacks with other characters, which deal massive damage, but cost five Kan per character and require you to initiate a Chain attack, but in a different fashion. These team-up attacks are flashy and damaging, but are often not necessary when simple Chain attacks will win the day in most cases.

The game also offers a few other novelties that help to make it feel more interesting and fresh. For one, each weapon allows you to install Kamonds into it, which are essentially gems of solidified Kan. Each Kamond can offer any number of benefits, such as increased attack power or defense, elemental or special resistances, increases to stamina and stamina recovery, and other interesting effects. By equipping them to your weapons you can open up more Kamond slots, thus allowing you to improve the weapon (and yourself) even more. You can also find special Kamonds which can improve multiple abilities at once, or offer special bonuses like boosts to money earned, increased experience earned and so on, which can really turn a character into a powerhouse in a hurry. You can buy or find these Kamonds through the game, and Zephie can turn enemies into rare Kamonds with a Signature Attack, and they’re always desirable when recovered. You can also take on a ton of quests throughout the game, which offer up experience point, financial and treasure-based rewards, based on the quest offered. Most quests you’ll find don’t take terribly long to complete, and often take place in locations you’re expected to go to anyway, so they’re not annoying. Further, characters who aren’t in your front line gain full quest experience points, making these missions profitable for keeping your characters leveled up, as said secondary characters only receive a portion of combat experience. There are around one hundred quests to take on across the game, each of varying requirements and complexity, so those who want to see and do everything in a game will have lots to occupy themselves with.

The game itself can be completed in around thirty hours if you shoot straight through it, but adding on the quests can add another ten or twenty hours to the game in total. Many of the quests add on some additional plot to the game as well, so it can be worthwhile, aside from the obvious benefits, to see them all through if you enjoy the story. There are also a whole lot of achievements to unlock throughout the game, ranging from collecting all of the weaponry for the characters to maxing out skill trees for characters and so on, which will take some time to do for anyone interested enough in doing so. There’s also some DLC up on Xbox Live that downloads two incredibly powerful weapons for each character as well as some side story dramas to view, with the former being excellent for anyone who doesn’t want to be bothered upgrading weapons for a while since the weapons are unlocked for use fairly early on, and the latter being excellent for anyone who likes the characters and likes adding flavor to the plot of their games. There’s no New Game Plus option, sadly, so you can’t carry your goods into a new session, but if you like the plot and combat mechanics enough that might not even matter to you, honestly.

Magna Carta 2 isn’t an especially problematic game, and fans of the genre should like it quite a bit, but the game thinks a good bit higher of its combat mechanics than it should, which means that you’ll be spending a good amount of time with them, as around the halfway point regular battles can take up to five minutes APIECE to complete. You’ll literally find yourself abusing the Chain system in almost every battle you fight for the last several hours simply because the battles take far too long to complete without it, and while that’s certainly involving, it also makes battle a chore. This is further compounded by the fact that, as the game progresses, most battles involve multiple enemies that can inflict status ailments on the party, which either means you’re equipping a Kamond or an accessory onto every character you use to avoid this or you’re spending a whole lot of money on curatives, which, while challenging, gets annoying in a hurry. Challenging combat, especially in an RPG, is a fantastic thing, make no mistake, but Magna Carta 2 makes the erroneous assumption that the above two elements make the battles more challenging, when they don’t, they simply make the battles more tedious.

There are some other minor flaws that hurt the game a bit and diminish the experience somewhat. Though the one hundred quests in the game are great for improving your characters and earning cool stuff, they’re repetitive. The quests boil down to “go here, kill this” or “go here, get this” or “go here, get this, kill that”, and the vast majority require you to then turn the quest in with someone far away, making them akin to fetch quests. A few here and there might be fine, but there are ONE HUNDRED in the game, and about eighty percent of them are like this, which is, frankly, tedious. It also bears mentioning that the Kan system is kind of off-putting at times. That your physical damage characters can retain their Kan until needed is fabulous, and combined with something that reduces Kan costs for abilities this can allow you to, say, abuse your insanely powerful Skills with little effort. However, elemental Kan users cannot store Kan in any meaningful way, meaning that items which reduce Kan costs are pretty much vital to ones survival. In simple terms, having to wait until Zephie has attacked a few times before she can heal you is an annoying pain, and if Zephie spends all of the available Kan before you’re sufficiently cured, you HAVE TO switch to item usage, no exceptions, until she beats on enough enemies to go back to healing. This makes spell casters significantly less useful than they, by all rights, SHOULD be, and the fact that unless the game forced me to do otherwise I blew through the whole thing with Juto, Argo and whatever healer was less useless at the time pretty much punctuates that sentiment. Further, between the lack of a New Game Plus option and the lack of any sort of multiple endings, there’s absolutely no reason to play through the game more than once unless you HAVE to see everything and somehow miss something the first time around.

On one hand, Magna Carta 2 is a solid, well designed J-RPG that’s generally engaging in all of the ways that count. The story is acceptable at first and enjoyable once you get to the second disc, the visuals and audio are rather nice, and the game is fairly simple to play and understand. The combat is in-depth and involving, and between the large number of quests, different weapon types, different Skills to learn and numerous Kamonds to equip to your weapons you’ll have a lot to keep you busy for the thirty to forty hours the game lasts. However, the story can be a little bland and clichéd at first, which might not keep your interesting going until it picks up, and the combat becomes more involved around the later portions of the game, turning basic battles into five minute affairs. Between the slow-to-pick-up story in the beginning and the complex combat-heavy end, the pacing can be off-putting at times. Further, the quests are repetitive, the Kan system is awkward at times and can make battles harder than they need to be, and there’s no reason to play the game more than once. If you’re willing to forgive the awkwardness of the pacing and combat, as neither is game-breaking, there’s plenty to like about Magna Carta 2, but impatient gamers may find the game off-putting and after playing it once you most likely won’t be back. Fans of the genre will find plenty to like, but casual fans may want to rent it first.

The Scores:
Story: ABOVE AVERAGE
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: CLASSIC
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: POOR
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: GOOD
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Magna Carta 2 doesn’t quite compare to Namco Bandai’s previous J-RPG efforts on the 360, but it’s a solid outing that’s worth checking out if you like J-RPG’s, though it’s not for everyone. The story starts off decently enough and turns out to be quite good at the end, the visual and aural presentation are both artistically pleasant and well designed, and the game is simple enough to pick up and learn but complex enough to keep your interest going for a while. The combat is surprisingly in-depth and diverse, and between that, the numerous quests you can undertake, the various Skills you can learn across two different weapon types per character, and the different Kamonds you can use to build your party of killing machines to their apex, those who want some depth to their gameplay will be right at home here. However, the game is paced oddly, between a slow start storyline-wise and an overabundance of lengthy combat sequences in the endgame, which can hurt the experience. Further, the quests are often repetitive, the Kan system in its present state can be frustrating and cumbersome at times, and there’s no reason to return to the game once you’ve completed it. Magna Carta 2 is still an enjoyable game and a worthwhile purchase if you’re a fan of the J-RPG genre, but it’s not without its flaws, and more casual players may want to rent it before they buy it to see if they can accept what things the game does that may not be for everyone.

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