aka Magna Carta: Crimson Stigmata in Japan.
Released back in November of 2004 Magna Carta faced the great challenge of standing up to RPG giants like Dragon Quest VIII. Even though it might have been released at an awkward time, gamers gave the Korean based RPG a chance. Now a year later Magna Carta is set for a US release thanks to Atlus. Ironically, the game is facing up against Dragon Quest VII again. Here are some reasons why you should give the game a chance.
Most people look at the game and notice the art style. Hyung Tae Kim, the main artist, goes for a more natural setting. The world of Magna Carta isn’t walled in a dystrophic sci-fi city, but outdoors in nature. The scenery reflects this with earthly tones, plenty of trees and reflective water. Even the character design fits with this style. The main character Calintz doesn’t look like a hardened warrior with his poofy hairdo, in fact he isn’t even wearing armor. Like most RPGs Magna Carta opts in full motion video scenes, that look superb. The opening video looks phenomenal it is fluid and the perfect kick off to start the game. Later FMVs are equally amazing. Softmax manages to create emotional facial expressions during dramatic sequences. While the cinematic scenes are a good helping of eye candy, Magna Carta doesn’t over use them. You’ll actually play the game and not just watch the story.
The gameplay is broken up into two parts combat and field. While you’re on the field you move to the next area, encounter monsters and seek out treasure. At the core it sounds like a typical RPG, but Softmax a little twist. Instead of just running around aimlessly you can choose which mode to be in. If you want to race to the next area you can set yourself in dash move, where Calintz can move much faster. However, if you’re in dash mode your range of vision is severely lowered. You can still see the whole screen, but monsters outside of your tiny yellow circle will be invisible. You’re likely to miss chests that are out in the open and if a monster spots you get ready for a surprise attack. If you want to get the jump on your foes switch to detect mode. In detect mode your sight radius will increase greatly. This allows players to hit on screen enemies to get a first strike. Being in detect mode comes at the price of moving slower. Actually, make that slower than a turtle slow. The system might sound unbalanced, but it is a good replacement for random battles. Plus it is amusing to run face first into a blast worm.
Combat in Magna Carta differs from other RPGs. It’s a blend of turn based strategy and the free motion system from Star Ocean 3. Battles are governed by two things leadership and chi. The leadership meter is kind of like a shared turn meter for the entire party. You can see the enemy’s leadership and your leadership in the top right hand corner of the screen. Chi is displayed in the top left, with each letter representing a different kind of chi. Each attack has a chi element attributed towards it and when you use an attack you use up some of the chi. So if you use an ice spell too often you’ll drain the chi unnecessarily fast and your spell will do less damage. If you keep using up ice chi, there won’t be anymore ice chi to use and you won’t be able to use any ice attacks. Since enemies and the fighting party both drain the same chi new strategies open up such as wasting earth chi before a powerful earthquake move can be cast on your fighting team. As time passes chi does regenerate. You will be able to use your celestial sword attack again, just not three times in a row.
Often you can balance out what chi you exhaust by rotating between your three party members. It is easy to forget that they’re around because you can only control one person at a time. You can start out by running up to an enemy. If they’re inside your circle you can deal an attack at the expense of some leadership. The amount of leadership used is determined by how many enemies are on screen and how much affection you have towards Calintz. You can’t rotate through a menu of possible techniques or spells. Instead you can switch between one of your equipped styles. Styles are a group of moves strung together. Fuget is one of Calintz’s sword styles and Renmai is one of Reith’s ice spells. When you start using a style you start off by using the weakest move. If you keep using a style you’ll learn up to three new moves for the style. However, each time you’re in battle you will always use the weakest move first. If you use the same style for your next turn you will use the next level attack and so forth. For instance with Calintz’s first sword style he starts off with a double slash, then the next move has a triple strike where the final move has four strikes plush an air slash. The moves get progressively cooler to watch and give more damage as you move up the chain.
Magna Carta doesn’t let you just select a move from the window to attack. Instead of a pop up circle with a combination of circles and Xs appear when you attack. This is part of the trinity system. Three buttons will rotate on screen and the player needs to hit them at the right time. It is sort of like a mini rhythm game in every battle, in every move even when using a healing spell. If you miss one buttons, the attack will cancel and you’ll still lose the leadership you spent to initiate the attack. The trinity system is punishing at first and later on it becomes more of an annoyance. It makes the already long encounters even longer. Where the system does work is when you perform a long winded combo attack. Combo attacks are the equivalent of super moves. Instead of being a last desperate stand after taking too much damage, combos can be done at anytime. When you select combo the usual trinity circle shows up, but instead of having to hit three press in a row you’re going to have to hit fifteen or twenty. It’s a challenge to master the rhythm, but the reward is a sleek looking, massively damaging attack. If you actually pull a combo off, Magna Carta truly rewards you.
Remember how all of the actions take up leadership? There’s actually a whole other system set up to increase the amount of leadership Calintz has. While camping or resting at an inn you’re given the chance to talk to each of your party members. Let’s say you speak to Azel, Calintz’s loyal follower. He might ask you a question and if you answer the “right” way the friendliness between the two will increase. This improves the leadership meter for Azel and he’ll be able to attack using less leadership. Of course things can turn sour if you scold Azel and then actions might cost more leadership. You also have the option to give gifts to any member of the Tears of Blood in the hope of increasing friendship. It’s easy to pick out items that the mage Eonis will like, but for other characters like the battle worn Haren things aren’t so clear. Early on the item system is a bit misleading. You don’t know your characters really well and therefore you probably won’t select the right items to present as gifts. At least you can save first, so you can restart if you make an incorrect choice.
Up to this point we haven’t really discussed much about the story of Magna Carta. Mainly because you’re going to have to plunk down a couple of hours into the game before it gets interesting. The game starts out with a flashback from Calitnz’s childhood. His family was slain by the Yason. It might sound like the Yason are an evil force on the continent of Efferia, but it is actually the humans who landed into the Yason’s land. Years before Calitnz was born humans migrated to Efferia to escape a mysterious disease. At first there was peace between the two races, but as the human population expanded the Yason’s welcome turned to hatred. Now both races are trapped in an endless war. Scarred from the past, Calitnz grows up as a warrior with bitterness for the Yason. He’s the leader of the Tears of Blood, an elite mercenary group. During a mission Calitnz splits from his comrades to find Reith, a priestess with amnesia. Since Reith can’t remember the fighting she shows peace towards all creatures that are living, including the Yason. As an introduction the story sounds fairly good, but it takes a dungeon or two before any of the story’s themes are pulled out.
Atlus normally does a great job of localizing incredibly complex titles for an American audience. Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne retained its Japanese heritage and Digital Devil Saga kept all of the themes towards Eastern religion intact. When it comes to Magna Carta the localization is pretty good, but not great. Originally, the Tears of Blood were known as the Crimson Stigmata, which sounds much better. It’s easy to reason why Atlus changed the name of the group, but to Tears of Blood? Here’s another interesting localization choice, calling the mutated Yason Blast Worms. It sounds so awkward because the Blast Worms look nothing like worms, they look like Yason which look like humans. These are minor nitpicks, it’s really the voice acting that needed work. Calintz always speaks in a lifeless flat voice. Haren, who’s designed to be the tough guy, sounds forced and he has an unnecessary amount of grunts. Worse of all the mouth movements don’t match the speech. On the other hand this is far from the worse voice acting ever, but it is also a far reach from other Atlus games which usually have excellent quality
At first I wasn’t crazy about Magna Carta. The story didn’t draw me in and the voice acting was bothersome. However, I liked the new ideas introduced by Softmax in combat and on the field. Patience does pay off, after ten hours I got hooked. While it might not be the best RPG this year, Magna Carta should be checked out by RPG gamers.
Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 0 / 5
Aside from the voice acting, Atlus has done an excellent job localizing Magna Carta for a US audience.
Magna Carta is set for release on November 15, 2005.
+ Pros: The novel ideas implemented for walking around in the field and combat set Magna Carta in its own class.
– Cons: Battles, the story and even walking is set at a slow pace. Then there’s the voice acting, which isn’t nearly as good as Atlus’ other endeavors.
Overall: Magna Carta is a gorgeous game with enough creativity in its story and gameplay to distinguish outside the genre. However, to really appreciate this game be prepared to put in fifteen hours into it because it probably won’t suck you in at the very beginning.
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