MagnaCarta 2 Xbox 360
Published by: Namco Bandai
Developed by: Softmax
Unless you are a hardcore RPG player, the chances are that you might have missed out on Magna Carta when it was released on the PlayStation 2 back in 2006. That's not to say it was a bad game, in fact it was actually quite an enjoyable RPG with a very intriguing battle system, but the PlayStation 2 was awash with top quality RPG's and in truth it was hard to keep up with all of them. In some respects that was a shame as the game was one of the more unusual RPG's on the system. It would probably have escaped my attention had I not had the good fortune to review the game. Having enjoyed the game I've been looking forward to the sequel and in many respects it doesn't disappoint.
In MagnaCarta 2 you'll play as Juto, a young man suffering from amnesia. Remembering virtually nothing, except for the fact that he can't bring himself to use any other weapon than a wooden sword, Juto has been looked after by a young girl called Melissa on Highwind Island in the Lanzheim kingdom. All is not well in the kingdom however and a civil war is raging. Things soon take a horrible turn for the worse as the Northern Army brings the battle to the peaceful Highwind Island. The attack is brutal and Juto has to flee the island with the defending Southern Army who are being led by Princess Rzephillda (thankfully referred to as Zephie by almost everyone). Juto wants to exact his revenge on the Northern Army, particularly one of their generals, the murderous Elgar the Slayer but he's in no position to do so by himself. Eventually he decides to become a member of the Counter-Sentinel Unit (a section of the Southern Army) which is under the direct control of Zephie.
Like a lot of other RPG's in the last few years, MagnaCarta 2 is a slow starter. For the first couple of hours the pace of the game is mind-numbingly slow and the dialogue between the amnesiac Juto and the residents of Highwind Island is far from being riveting. The menial tasks you have to perform in this very early phase of the game also do nothing to get you excited. Fortunately the game does shake off this early slumber and the pace of the game picks up, becoming more engaging in the process. The story isn't highly original and some aspects of it will seem similar to what you may have experienced in other RPG's (I wonder how many amnesiac RPG characters you can have) but it's not without its share of twists that help to keep things interesting.
The real star of MagnaCarta 2 is the combat system which as you would expect includes a mix of ranged, melee and magic based attacks. The battles are played out in real time and in the same environment that you explore so you don't have to endure a two or three second (or longer in some cases) transition to a battle screen. As a result the pace of the game doesn't feel like it's being needlessly bogged down. Juto has access to a normal attack, a signature move (you have to wait for the B button icon to appear to use a signature move) and skills. You are automatically locked on to an enemy and you can switch between multiple enemies with the LB and RB buttons. Normal attacks will consume stamina and should you fill the stamina gauge, your character will go into an overdrive state. When in overdrive, attack and skill power are raised but attacking in this state will cause your character to enter overheat state meaning that your character will not be able to attack until their stamina has been recovered.
During a battle only three party members can engage in combat, one leader and two AI controlled support characters (incidentally the AI does a solid job of controlling the characters). You can have a couple of behaviour choices for each of the AI controlled characters so you do have some degree of control in how they perform. Party members who fight get 100% of the experience whilst those on standby will only earn 70%. However when experience is given as a quest reward then 100% is given to all party members. MagnaCarta 2 isn't the first game to give experience to those party members who are not involved in the battles but nevertheless it's still a worthwhile feature and does mean that no characters should ever become too weak and not worthwhile using later in the game.
During a battle the character you'll have control over is known as the leader and the leader is the key character during the course of a battle for a variety of reasons. Only the leader can use items so switching leaders is something you're going to have to do in order to maintain the condition of your party members during the course of a battle. What's impressive however is how the process of changing leaders has been turned into a sound tactical option. When a character has overheated you can switch the leader and the new leader's strength will be temporarily boosted (x1.5) in what's known as a chain. You can even gain a further boost by using up all of your new leader's stamina whilst in the chain state to then increase the boost to x2. The temporary boost will end either when you've finished attacking or when the previous leader's overheat state has ended. It's a short boost then but it's certainly a useful one, particularly as your characters become more powerful.
The quality of the quests in MagnaCarta 2 can be a real mixed bag. Whilst there are some decent ones there are far too many simple and uninteresting quests which are tedious. They are the usual kill a certain number of enemy types, escort a character to a specific location, gather a specific amount of a certain type of plant etc. Thankfully you can avoid the bulk of these quests as most are optional side quests. You're given either special items, money, experience or a mixture of the three for completing a quest and on occasions the rewards will certainly be worth the effort.
Visually speaking, MagnaCarta 2 is a little disappointing. The character designs are actually quite good (with the exception of Elgar who looks both hideous and ambiguous) and it makes a change not to have bobble-headed characters even if in other respects they look like typical Japanese RPG characters (even though this is a Korean RPG). The game's environments are not quite so easy on the eyes however. The textures are on the bland side, particularly in the open air environments. You'll also notice a fair amount of graphical pop-up when you're in these environments and it's rather unsightly. The frame rate could also have been a little better. It never fluctuates too wildly but dips are noticeable and that's disappointing. At least the load times are quite short even without having installed the game to the hard disk.
MagnaCarta 2 is subtitled and you'll be able to follow the game's storyline without any real problems. All of the game's important dialogues show large character models and display the speaker's names above the text (which is displayed on a darkened overlay for maximum clarity). The only exception to this are the thoughts of Juto which don't have any character portraits or names. During the less important dialogues you'll see the text displayed in speech balloons (which are also darkened to help make the text easy to read). All of this text can be read at your own pace as you'll need to press the A button to progress the dialogue. All of the game's tutorial information is delivered via text and can recalled at any time. Quest information is shown in text and can be recalled at any time. When collecting quests from NPC's you'll notice exclamation mark icons above their heads. These are colour-coded to let you know which quests are optional (green exclamation mark) and which are obligatory (red exclamation mark).
MagnaCarta 2 is guilty of having a slow start, could have looked better and in truth doesn't have many features that you won't have seen before if you are an avid fan of console RPG's. That said, there's no denying that it's an enjoyable RPG and once the storyline gets going it will keep you coming back for more. A lot of the side quests in the game could have been more imaginative and not so mundane and straightforward but you can avoid a large portion of these so it's not that big a problem. The combat system is definitely the highlight of the game and whilst it's not wildly different from what you may have experienced before, it does have some original aspects and the solid AI controlled companions help the system to work well. MagnaCarta 2 is one of the better RPG's on the 360 and fans of the genre will definitely enjoy what it has to offer.