Review: Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom (Sony PS3)

Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Game Republic
Genre: Action
Release Date: 11/23/2010

I want to get something out of the way.

This game is not like Ico. I don’t care what you’ve read or heard. The people who’ve compared Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom to Ico are making a grave error. Comparing this game to Ico simply because you have an AI partner is like saying Contra and House of the Dead are similar because you shoot things. In Ico, the princess was nothing but a weighted companion cube. Sure, you were attached to the thing, but all it did was slow you down. Here in this game, you are nothing without the Majin, and he is almost nothing without you.

Seriously, If I come across one more review that claims Majin is Namco’s take on the Ico formula, I’m going to snap. It’s like these reviewers don’t play the games they’re reviewing! Oh….wait…

Anyways, I played the demo for this game when it was released on PSN. I don’t know what inspired me to download it, but I gave it a go. I was intrigued to say the least. This was a game in which you got your own giant Muppet and could command him to breathe fire on your enemies! Throw in some light platforming, exploration, and a heavy emphasis on puzzles and this was a game to watch. It had a decidedly old school feel to it, and as Roddy Piper says, “Old school is cool!” I made it my business to see that I was the one to review the game, whether we got a free copy or not.

So, is this one very non-Ico-like game any good?

Story

Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is like a fairy tale you’d find in a children’s book. It involves a once prosperous kingdom that was overtaken by darkness in the most literal sense. Once imbued with this tar like aberration, men become twisted monsters that seemingly live only to extinguish all life. By the time the game starts, this plague has existed for one hundred years and is spreading. The main character is a young thief named Tepeu who was apparently raised by woodland creatures and is entering the royal palace in an attempt to waken the Majin, who was the kingdom’s guardian all those years ago. His goal is to team up with the Majin in order to defeat the darkness and ultimately save his forest home.

Once you meet up with the Majin, the story really begins. Turns out the legendary Majin is a big oaf who has a ton of power, but counterbalances that with utter stupidity. For starters, he speaks like a toddler, often cutting out words from his sentences. He says, “I hungry.” for example. Also, he has the rather annoying tendency to trip and fall flat on his face. It isn’t nearly as endearing as the developers would have hoped. The meat of the tale is the relationship between Tepeu and the Majin. They become fast friends and Tepeu works to help him get his memory back. (Because this just wouldn’t be a video game without an amnesia storyline. Ugh)

Ultimately, the story is forgettable mostly due to a lack of it. The few cut scenes in the game are brief and don’t do the job of getting you into the characters. There’s a certain attachment you get to the Majin, but that is because of gameplay reasons alone. Chances are you won’t be charmed by his silliness and instead find the whole thing a bit annoying.

The fairy tale premise had some promise, but a lack of follow through makes this one story not worth trekking through.

Graphics

There are a few interesting things going on in the visual department. The Majin looks like a giant Muppet, which is cool. As Tepeu becomes more and more damaged, he gets covered in darkness, which gets left behind on his footsteps like sticky ink. Some of the visual effects look OK as well, especially the lighting attack the Majin uses.

Beyond that, the game is a visual dud.

The backgrounds and textures are the biggest culprit. Every area is pretty much either a hallway (even outdoors) or a big open square. Even with different themed areas, there is a lot of repetition. I wonder how anyone ever gets around in this kingdom when it seems to be located in the largest rock canyon in the universe. Seriously, everywhere you turn you’re staring up a large rock face or a stone wall. There are some variants, including a crystal mine, a derelict warship in the middle of desert, and a spooking ruin or two, but they don’t do enough. The textures are often bland and ugly, making it easy to ignore your surroundings.

Things don’t get much better on the technical side of things either. Animations are often stiff or fake looking. The frame rate dips on several occasions. Worst of all is the persistent pop ins that happen with every step. The game seemingly has a draw distance of ten in game feet. It can be distracting to say the least.

Oh yeah, the enemies look derivative as hell. Even though they are supposed to be various humans and animals covered in darkness, they somehow end up looking suspiciously like the mechs from Enslaved and Dark Void. Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed.

Audio

One of the biggest aspect of the game in terms of audio is the voice acting. Apart from the main character, who I believe is voiced by the same guy who played Welkin in Valkyria Chronicles, the voices go from annoying to Playstation age survival horror bad. The Majin sounds as stupid as he is. The voice is kind of endearing at first, but because of his constant mumblings during battle, you’ll grow tired of it in a hurry. The worst offenders are the woodland creatures that aid you along the way. With no exceptions, they were are awful and made the game a joke at times. I wished they just couldn’t speak.

Musically, the game fares much better. There are plenty of nifty tunes in the game, and the music is mostly used to good effect. For example, when you’re near an unaware enemy, the game ratchets up the tension with some dark music. The battle theme, though repetitive, is also fitting. My only real complaint against the music is the tune that plays during the final area. It just doesn’t fit and sounds awful. Combined with an increase in voice acting, the last section of the game is aurally the worst.

Overall, the music can’t save this game from being hard on the ears. Were I not playing this game for review purposes, I seriously would have considered turning the sound off all together.

Gameplay

You directly control Tepeu. The analog sticks control movement and the camera, while you have basic actions such as jumping and attacking. Combat is extremely limited in that you can only swing you spike in a three hit combo and perform a thrusting attack. The forces of darkness are nigh on invincible. Even fully powered up, enemies will take forever to put down unless you can sneak up behind them for a stealth kill. Even then, they will regenerate after a while unless the Majin is nearby.

Fortunately, you do have the Majin. You can’t directly control him, but using the shoulder buttons in conjunction with the face buttons, you can give him orders. These orders are pretty basic, such as attack, wait, follow, and crouch. When he gets magic attacks, you can expend energy to launch them at enemies. This will usually put them down long enough for you to beat on them a bit. Those same enemies that Tepeu can’t kill in less than twenty hits, the Majin can bring down in just a few. This basically relegates you to a supporting role. You’ll spend most of battles picking on downed opponents, making sure that annoying monkey creature doesn’t jump on his back, and trying to stay out of the way.

There is some cohesion between the two. When an enemy has had a sufficient amount of damage done to it and is prone, a couple of strikes fills up a meter that allows you to perform combination attacks. If you land one of these, chances are the bad guy is going to bit the dust. If you continue to perform combination attacks in succession, you’ll eventually be able to use a finishing combo. This will guarantee a kill no matter what. You can also perform these combos faster by attacking an enemy who has been incapacitated with magic.

While there is plenty of combat, the game is mostly about the puzzles. Most locations feature a locked door, a deactivated lever, or some other obstacle that you’ll need to get by in order to progress. Often times, you’ll need to separate from the Majin in order to reach places he can’t get. For example, only Tepeu can climb ladders, fit through small holes, and shimmy along ledges. As such, there are many puzzles where the goal is simply to figure out how to get the Majin to where you are. Some of these puzzles are quite interesting, such as one where you need to create a procession of conductors in order to use the Majin’s electric attack to jumpstart a generator, or use a catapult to break down a barrier. Without fail, these puzzles are the highlight of the game. They take advantage of the Majin’s abilities, make you use your brain, and actually make use of Tepeu’s talents.

Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is structured very much like a Zelda game. You travel from area to area seeking out dungeons that hold new powers which you need to progress. Then, you fight a boss that without fail requires your most recent power to beat. These bosses had a chance to be a highlight, but end up being disappointing due to their ease. There are also plenty of treasure chests to ferret out, and these usually grant you bonus experience or a new costume piece. Experience grants you new levels, which gives you more health and strength. Costumes also grant you bonus stats, such as taking less damage from certain enemy types or being more effective with certain attacks. You can mix and match these pieces to get a desired result.

Overall, the game does a lot of things right in theory. The problem is that Tepeu ends up being a very uninteresting character to play. Outside of a few sections in the beginning of the game, you constantly play second fiddle to the Majin. There are frequent bits of platforming, but the controls aren’t tight enough to make them enjoyable. Also, the game falls prey to a classic trap. Once you get a new power, you almost never use the older ones. I get that the game wants you to try out your new toy, but it makes the old one seem worthless. These problems chip away at the game’s base and as such, it ends up being less than it could have been.

Replayability

The game will take you about twelve hours to complete the first time. However, there are two different endings to the game. The ending you get depends on how many of the collectables you collected. Basically, the ending you get will suck unless you spend a significant amount of time digging around for every last trinket. At the very least, the game has a decent map system that displays how many treasures are in a general area. You won’t have to waste time looking in places where there isn’t anything else to find.

As far as playing them game after you’ve beaten it is concerned, there isn’t a reason. You can get the good ending on the same save file as you got the bad one. On subsequent playthroughs, you’ll experience will be the same. You’ll gain the same abilities in the same order and solve the same puzzles in the same way. Basically, unless you really like the game, you probably won’t get more than one playthrough that takes you roughly twenty hours if you want the good ending.

Balance

One of the things that makes the game a bit on the easy side is the ability that both you and the Majin have to heal each other. Throughout the game, you’ll collect special flowers that you can toss the big guy in order to restore his health. You can carry a bunch of these and they’re more abundant than you need. In addition, any time the Majin is ordered to follow Tepeu, he’ll heal him when they stop moving. Heck, you can do this during boss fights, as they’re loathe to chase after you or stop you from getting away.

That’s not to say you can’t lose in the game. If the Majin is swamped, he won’t be able to heal you. In these cases, you’d best not get yourself killed. The Majin can revive you, but he has limited time and like as not won’t be able to reach you with all of the enemies taking chunks out of his health. This happened to me two or three times in the game, and it was mostly the result of me charging head first into a battle when I should have snuck around a bit first.

Originality

Well it’s no secret that the game borrows heavily from Zelda. Heck, that was a huge part of the appeal for me. Not enough games take a lesson from Nintendo’s classic franchise if you ask me. As such, it is pretty hard to give this game a high score for originality.

However, the team aspect of the game is unlike any other action adventure I’ve ever played. (And I swear, if you even think about making an Ico comparison, I’m going to scream.) It doesn’t make for the best gameplay experience, as you often feel like a spectator during combat, but it is rather original.

Basically, the game is rather nice take on a classic gameplay style.

Addictiveness

Due to the recurring problem of boring combat, the game is pretty easy to put down. Save points are plentiful, meaning you can usually take a break every fifteen to twenty minutes. Honestly, I fell prey to that urge more often than not. Towards the end, I forced myself to keep going so I could finish the game sooner rather than later. It wasn’t that I hated the game or anything, it just didn’t suck me in.

Appeal Factor

For fans of action adventure titles, this game might initially hold some appeal. On paper it seems like a guaranteed good time. Sadly, the gameplay just doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain. The puzzles are pretty great, but the combat and exploration don’t hold up nearly as well. If this were a full price game, it would the kind of game you pick up only after it ends up in the bargain bin.

However, this isn’t a full priced game. Perhaps sensing poor sales, Namco lowered the price to forty dollars. This makes the game much easier to recommend. At two thirds the price of your normal next gen game, fans of the genre will more than likely get there monies worth out of this.

Miscellaneous

I’ve been a bit harsh to this game, and it wasn’t intentional. Perhaps this stems from my own disappointment. I know this game could have been truly special, but it ends up being much less than it could have been. The big culprit is the Majin himself. In trying to create a character you grew to depend on and care about, Game Republic made the main character too weak to stand on his own. As such, he isn’t very interesting to control. If there’s one problem with the game, it’s that you end up wanting to play as the Majin. It is just too bad you can’t.

One of my biggest complaints concerning the game is that it insists on hand holding you throughout the game. The game always displays what button does what, including basic combat and movement controls. If I didn’t know how to perform a thrust attack by the end of the game, I don’t deserve to be playing games anymore, let alone reviewing them.

The Scores
Story: Poor
Graphics: Poor
Audio: Below Average
Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Below Average
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
Final Score: Below Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

I can’t help but be disappointed by Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom. It was shaping up to be a great action adventure title and a sleeper hit in 2010. However, it goes off course after the first couple of hours. The main character starts to feel like an afterthought, the story doesn’t go anywhere, and the combat never evolves past being boring. I’m glad I got to play this game, but at the same time it is a sad reminder that no one can do the Zelda style of games even remotely as good as Nintendo.

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