By Katie . July 14, 2006 . 12:20pm
It’s every school-age kid’s dream come true – at magic school Will O’ Wisp, a group of friends eavesdrops on their teacher to find out why she’s never on time, thinking her a mere slouch. They discover, however, that the most obvious explanation isn’t always the correct one – she’s preparing for a space mission to the Planet of Wind, Cotton, one of several elemental planets in the TakoTako solar system. They find out where she got the rocket – right in their own, apparently too-cool school! – and that there’re five more left, one for each in their motley crew to go after her in pursuit should the need arise. Three months go by without her return, and while the others, having nothing to do, take a nap, one reckless type starts the ignition sequence, and so each one hops aboard to destinations unknown and, also unbeknownst to them, to great adventure.
When you think of ditching school for interstellar space travel, it does sound like some sort of Magical Vacation, (also known as Magical Starsign outside of Japan) doesn’t it? Seems Brownie Brown thought so too, having released the first title on GBA and now, the long-anticipated DS follow-up, Magical Vacation: 5-tsu no Hoshi Ganarabutoki for Nintendo DS. It’s a shame that Nintendo is going to give it the Squaresoft renumbering treatment in bringing it overseas under the moniker Magical Starsign, which more than likely means curtains for any English port of the first game… but being that this installment has a separate story from the first, it’s a fairly innocuous move. The RPG from the makers of Sword of Mana, despite having been thus far a text-intensive, Japanese-only one, has gained considerable fandom here, and in October the general portable-playing public will get to find out why. (Keep reading if you want to find out sooner!)
One touted feature of the game is that you can (and, minus the movement, you must) play the ENTIRE thing sans-buttons. This is a natural move for a menu-based RPG, and the result is a comfortable, simplified play. Though the touch screen-driven movement and battles offer more than the usual bare minimum interactivity for the genre, you’ll still find yourself idly tap-tap-tapping your way towards most of the turn-based victories. Selecting icons is still selecting icons, after all, and further to the other two, undocumented uses – timed tapping of the active character for either a damage multiplier while casting magic or last-minute guarding when being walloped- it would have been nice if Brownie Brown had adapted other Super Mario RPG-isms to the stylus, like drawing swirling patterns to control magic or directing your character in a tackle attack, for instance. There’s a modicum of strategy to battling where party placement is concerned, since back-row characters can’t inflict (or receive) physical damage and get all-range magic instead, but more screen sensitivity might have made me tap-tap-tappy hap-hap-happy.
As for getting around, motioning to a far-off spot on the touch screen will guide the party there in a single step, which makes getting from point A to point B easy, fast, and nearly hands-free. It doesn’t leave a lot to do for those of us who can’t yet digest the story, mind you. Along the way, there’s the odd chest, ladder, or item to poke, but it just feels a little fleshless to my carnivorous, screen-tenderizing appetites.
For the eyes that have long tired of drinking in the CG-bred perfect people of modern-day RPGs, there’s thirst-quenching refreshment in Magical Vacation 2, where the art takes a near-gothic, but still primeval, bent. The colors are somewhat dark and brooding, but not lacking in tone; yet still, it would have been a welcome treat if the battle backgrounds and most battle sprites were not quite so static, and if the worlds themselves had more activity. Don’t get me wrong – the dual-screen display of giant boss sprites in battle, menacing your tiny party as they cast scaling magic attacks on them, takes the artists’ talents to task, as do the original map and character designs and dual-screen FMV, but technically speaking, the DS could be doing my taxes and still run the game for the most part without a hitch.
On the positive side of the visuals is the day/night treatment, which swaps every map and battle background with the passing of time. Time of day also brings to bear on battle outcomes, since your party leader will either draw upon the darkness (a harder game difficulty), or bask in the sunlight (the easier version) depending on your start-up settings. It should be mentioned at this juncture that your character choice can reflect your gender, as well. GiRL pOwER!
Nothing sets the mood like a game’s soundtrack. Again we find Magical Vacation 2 to be out of the ordinary, with the goofy instruments forming the backbone of the semi-bare, bouncy, harmonies. Mildly generic, but mostly pleasing, the sound department can be expunged of any wrongdoing.
Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 4
You won’t be abjectly stranded without a translation near you, but sometimes it’s a lot better not to have to guess what little digging, dinosaur-like cave people are talking about. This is definitely one of those times.
Nintendo is releasing Magical Vacation under the name Magical Starsign on October 23rd.
+ Pros: Seeking a colorful, upbeat fantasy RPG, with improbable plot devices and self-directed galactic exploration, but wondering whether they exist anymore? The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’! The answer to ‘Well, what is it?!’ is ‘Magical Vacation 2’!
- Cons: Though not much to gripe about, BB could have sought out a more active combat system, and produced mini-games or at least scenarios with more to do than move, talk, and tap once in a while. I’m thinking real-time ship-flying between planets. There also exists lots of untapped potential for rune-drawing with the elemental symbols…
Overall: I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: reader beware, this game is an import in the truest sense of the word, and as such, absolutely frothing with unreadable text. Go forth, and be amazed – and enjoy Magical Vacation 2, a fine offering for the DS RPG library.
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