I love pleasant surprises. Having not spent much time at all over the years with JRPGs, I expected a long, tough go with Magna Carta 2 (MC2) when it came in for review. At the same time, I was excited, because MC2 is a textbook JRPG and I was eager to dive into the genre. I'm happy to say that, twelve hours or so later, I'm still a long ways from completing this two disc, 40+ hour epic -- but I've been having a hell of a good time.
The Struggle Within Lanzheim
MC2 begins with an incredibly textbook (I may use that word several times in this article, fyi) opening cutscene with all of the JRPG cliches and poppy music that you could hope for. That's not to say it's bad, it's just so typical that I almost found it comical, but hey, I wasn't concerned at all for what lay ahead in the actual gameplay.
The game begins on Highwind Island, and finds our "hero," Juto, asleep in the village. Juto suffers from amnesia and very little is known about him. Melissa, the leader of the local Guard, finds Juto and urges him to quit slacking. She's a friend of Juto's and his been teaching him sword fighting in their spare time, but time is short as of late. The island is on edge as a civil war between the Northern and Southern Forces rages on. The civil war was sparked by Schuenzeit, a prime minister of Lanzheim who killed the queen and took her throne. He is surrounded by strong supporters who help him carry out his deeds. Currently, he seeks the Guardian, a mysterious, mythical entity that is
hidden. The Northern Forces that he leads are pushing the Southern Forces back, and more immediately, directly towards Highwind Island where the Guardian is said to be hidden.
The story is still being told before me as I continue to play through the lengthy campaign. No one likes spoilers anyways, so I'll refrain from saying anything else in that regard. Suffice it to say if you haven't already guessed, Juto, the young boy who dresses and just about looks like a girl, is in reality a powerful warrior, even if he doesn't remember that yet. Players control solely Juto for the first three or four hours before learning to control parties of characters. Other friendly characters include Argo, a powerful and faithful servant of the rightful heir to the throne, princess Zephie. His brute force combat tactics deal massive damage, but as a character, he is calm and calculated. Crocell, a wizard with a sharp tongue and the ability to control fire, also joins you. You'll meet many NPCs and several other characters that you can control throughout the story.
Control, Signature Attacks, And Other Aspects of Play
Controls are nicely done in MC2. I liked that going from exploration to combat mode was as simple as pressing the Left Trigger (LT). By default, your character isn't at arms and cannot enter battle (although you can take
damage from on screen foes). To enter battle, simply press LT, and you're set -- no load times, no dynamic music or on screen change, just instant switching between modes. In combat mode, your character will automatically lock on to a nearby enemy, although you can switch between enemies to target by tapping the left and right Bumpers. Players can dash up to their targeted foe to initiate an attack. Tapping A chains together some basic attacks, but it's the Signature moves and Counters that net the most damage.
Signature moves can only be done with the Group Leader, which is the character you currently have selected. Signature moves are available by pressing X when the HUD icon lights up. Signature moves reduce your stamina meter, just like regular attacks do. Signature attacks are cool looking and do a good amount of damage, but can push you over the edge in terms of stamina if not used properly.
During combat, a stamina meter appears at the bottom of the screen. Attacking reduces this meter (or fills it up, however you want to look at it), and within seconds your character enters Overdrive mode. During this period, the meter turns red and each attack deals more damage. However, Overdrive is dangerously close to another mode, Overheat, a state in which your character is exhausted and cannot attack or move for a few seconds, i.e., until the stamina meter cools off. Knowing how to balance Overheat and Overdrive, especially when controlling a party, is an important and cool gameplay mechanic.
When you combine the ideas of Overheat and Overdrive with other controllable characters, you get Chain Drives and Chain Breaks. By the way, if any of this sounds confusing, another aspect that MC2 does very well is tutorials and information. Any instructions given are well integrated into the game and also always accessible from the Pause Menu. Anyway, Chains are used in combat whenever you have more than one person in your party. To perform a chain, you simple attack with one character until a prompt appears indicating that a Chain is ready -- to chain, just
press down or up on the d-pad, depending on which character you want to hotswap to, and you can continue the offensive barrage. Successfully chaining combos and avoiding Overheats for your characters in the process takes a little bit of getting used to, but it's fun and a great way to force the player to do more than button mash.
Counters are less common, but simple involve pressing B when prompted. Timed correctly, a counter does a tremendous amount of damage to an attacking enemy.
Before getting into other aspects of MC2, I wanted to touch on the idea of Kan. Kan is basically just mana -- some characters, like Juto and Argo, use Strength Kan to do their Signature moves, while characters who rely on wizard abilities use Attribute Kan. Kan is earned by performing normal attacks, except in the case of Environmental Kan which wizards can draw from. Strength Kan is earned and kept until used, but wizards must use their (Attribute) Kan in the immediate area of where it was earned. I thought the Kan system was pretty cool and like the Overheat/Overdrive mechanic, it adds another dimension of strategy and depth to the experience.
Switching gears back to battle now, players can customize how their friendly AI behaves through a simple Battle Menu available at any time by pressing Y. When pressed, this concise interface allows you to see who the Party Leader is, what items you have available to use (healing items for individual or group, etc)., and what behavior the AI characters are in. You can choose to make your AI team members attack your target or attack other targets, which adds another bit of strategy to combat.
Knowing what items to use in your Battle Menu when afflicted with Vertigo, poison, or other ailments is important, but the game does a great job in explaining these to you up front and making the information accessible again at any time. As an example, to counter poison from poison worms, an antidote is needed, while to counteract the effects of Vertigo from a powerful wizard who controls wind requires lozenges. These items can be found, earned as reward for completing quests, and bought from from vendors with SID. SID, the currency in MC2, is usually earned
by defeating enemies.
Kamonds, on the other hand, are in my experience, not bought, but found or earned by defeating some of the Northern Forces' tougher enemies. Kamonds are objects that are full of Kan. They are used in a variety of ways, including upgrading character abilities or protecting them against ailments. Kamond Shops allow you to sell Kamonds and craft others. A recipe for a Kamond is needed, but if you have all of the ingredients, you can make yourself a very helpful Kamond.
While I haven't played all that many JRPGs, it was clear to me that the developers got a whole lot right with the gameplay in MC2. Yes, a lot of what's offered here is typical JRPG-fare, just as sure as alien invasions and rocket launchers are a part of nearly every FPS. But, that doesn't stop brand new FPS games from including these tried and true, and still loved, elements, so you simply can't fault MC2 for treading familiar ground. Instead, it's much more noteworthy that it does so very, very well.
And as far as presentation goes, this Unreal engine based third person title looks and sounds great. It's not the best looking third person game I've played this year, but it's a beautiful game nonetheless, and one that is free of any technical issues in my experience. Smooth textures, a wide color palette, great animations, and a large, intriguing world to explore are the graphical highlights, while excellent voice acting and a good soundtrack speak for themselves.
Let's get to the summary...