Innovation isn't necessarily the hallmark of a great game. There are plenty of examples of games built around unique concepts that failed in their implementation. There are also games that don't innovate at all, but are so well executed, they're still outstanding titles. Unfortunately, Magna Carta 2, a Japanese-style RPG from Korean developers Softmax, falls into neither category.
- Enjoyable combat system
- Attractive visual presentation
- Tongue-in-cheek attitude
- Utterly clichéd plotline
- Terrible dialogue
- Shallow and repetitive gameplay
Innovation isn’t necessarily the hallmark of a great game. There are plenty of examples of games built around unique concepts that failed in their implementation. There are also games that don’t innovate at all but are so well executed, they’re still outstanding titles. Unfortunately, Magna Carta 2, a Japanese-style RPG from Korean developers Softmax, falls into neither category. Instead, it’s a collection of decently-implemented JRPG clichés built around a boring and generic plotline and characters so tedious that not even their hyper-sexualized and borderline illegal looks manage to make them interesting. Only the modestly enjoyable combat system and level design keep this game from being utterly disposable.
(Insert clichéd headline about story here)
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. There’s a young man with amnesia (in this story he’s named Juto) who’s unwillingly pulled into a civil war that’s tearing apart a land of beauty and magic. He’s in love with a beautiful and spunky princess who whines a lot and frequently gets kidnapped. There’s lots of combat with enemies in costumes that border on the ridiculous, and a little more than halfway through the story he gets nailed with a couple of plot twists and betrayals that wouldn’t fool Jar-Jar Binks but seem to take everyone in the game completely by surprise. It’s basic “JRPG Plot 101” and Magna Carta 2 doesn’t miss a beat from the big, burly non-human guy with an axe to the hot-headed fire mage. There isn’t a character arc or plot point you won’t see coming from a mile away even if you haven’t played the earlier JRPG it’s been lifted from.
The only thing that saves the game’s long, tedious cut scenes filled with overdeveloped teens emoting like there’s no tomorrow is the sneaking suspicion that the developers understand that they’re dealing in well-worn clichés and are playing it up for laughs. Some of the voice-over artists certainly seemed to understand that, as their over-the-top readings of really bad dialogue brought out a couple of chuckles. Others just didn’t seem to get it, though, and their deadpan performances suck the life out of what might have otherwise been a really enjoyable tongue-in-cheek romp through the world of JRPG standards.
(Insert clichéd headline about combat here)
The best thing about Magna Carta 2 is its well–implemented and very enjoyable combat system. Combat is performed in real time rather than switching over to a traditional turn-based RPG style. For all that, this is no button-masher. Instead, characters build up a stamina gauge every time they hit something until they reach “overdrive” mode where they do greatly increased damage. Do too much of the wrong thing in overdrive mode, though, and a character will overheat, causing the player to lose control of him or her for a few seconds. Fortunately the player can switch between any of the three party members at any time on-the-fly, allowing the fairly decent AI to take control of the others.
Combat thus becomes about the challenge of timing the switch between characters in order to build up long chains of attacks without burning a character out and getting them nailed by an opponent during their few moments of exhaustion. As players level up, they’ll acquire new weapons, powers and special abilities that can be mixed and matched to create all kinds of interesting power and skill combinations. This process is a lot of fun and makes even low-level fights an enjoyable challenge - at least in the beginning. Magna Carta 2 seems to suffer from a whole lot of cloned creatures and even a lot of palette-swapped boss battles. Once you figure out a good chain or combination of skills to defeat an enemy, it makes facing them a lot less interesting for the rest of the game.
Your party’s AI doesn’t help very much. It’s not awful when it comes to power selection and, when left to themselves, your party members will do a decent job in battle. Unfortunately, movement AI isn’t as polished, and, without constant micromanagement of their position, your artificial pals will often stand in the midst of status effect areas that get them nailed by poisons or other environmental hazards. They also have issues with obstructions and frequently get stuck on any sort of barrier. It’s not a fatal flaw since the frequency of character switching means that you’ll eventually get skilled enough to move your party out of harm’s way as it becomes a rote combat chore, but it doesn’t feel like something the player should need to handle.
(Insert clichéd headline about graphics and world design here)
From an art-design perspective, the world of Magna Carta 2 offers plenty of eye candy for the discerning JRPG fan. While not particularly original, the various zones that players will battle through are well-designed and aesthetically pleasing. Monsters and bosses are beautifully drawn and strange. They seem to have been created with that same tongue-in-cheek mentality that drives the main characters. The standout artistry in this game goes to the costume design, though. While JRPGs traditionally garb their characters in costumes designed more for visual impact than any sort of practicality, the outfits worn by the characters in Magna Carta 2 are stunning. We particularly enjoyed General Elgar’s wraparound flame glasses and the “slutty-tightrope-walker-with-fishnets” number worn by Claire Setilan.
The only real false note is in the transition from Korean artist Hyung-Tae Kim’s 2D drawings to the game’s 3D models. Kim tends to draw his characters in an overtly sexualized manner with anatomically impossible breasts, ridiculously narrow waists, big chunky thighs and smooth faces with big eyes that make the characters look really, really young. The 3D versions of these characters thus tend to be really difficult to animate well. In combat they’re fine, but when they’re trying to emote in cut scenes, their unrealistic proportions and doll-like features create characters that feel plastic, doll-like, creepy and unreal. Even if the dialogue and storyline rose above its clichés, Magna Carta 2’s cast of 3D models falls deep into the uncanny valley and never comes out.
(Insert clichéd conclusion here)
In the end, the worst thing about Magna Carta 2 is how utterly generic it is. It would be easy to dismiss if it was a genuinely terrible game, but it’s not. The combat system is fun as far as it goes, but the lack of variety in enemies eventually sucks the joy out of fighting. It’s graphically appealing but filled with characters that feel utterly artificial and uninteresting. It’s a collection of boring and predictable JRPG clichés strung together in a modestly competent manner. It’s not good enough to be interesting and not bad enough to make some good cheese. Ultimately Magna Carta 2 is just forgettable, and that’s the saddest thing of all.