Majin And The Forsaken Kingdom is a third person action adventure game that was developed in Japan by Game Republic (Genji series, Folklore, Knights Contract). Majin also features a lot of puzzles and a team based single player experience in which players control Tepeu and, via a command system, the Majin (the giant, cute beast in the box art). Featuring a very good, although fairly familiar story, cool gameplay elements, and a solid thirteen to fifteen hour campaign, and priced aggressively at just $40, Majin should be on every gamers' holiday wish list.
The Darkness And The Guardian
The opening cutscene explains that a long peaceful and prosperous kingdom was suddenly shrouded by ever increasing amounts of Darkness, leaving humans and wildlife struggling to survive. The Majin, a beast of the Gods, was for reasons explained throughout the campaign in similar cutscenes, unable to stop the darkness from spreading. He's been imprisoned and the darkness has overtaken the kingdom for 100 years, but one day a young agile thief with no name manages to stumble out from the wilderness and into the kingdom.
Tepeu, as the Majin would eventually come to call him, was raised by the animals and he has the ability to communicate with them. Various birds and rodents give Tepeu information about upcoming areas and tidbits about the kingdom and the story throughout the game. These optional interactions are instigated by the player simply pressing B as prompted when near one of these visually apparent creatures.
Anyway, Tepeu understands quickly that he must free the guardian who is the only hope to undo the terrible things done by the darkness. The first hour of the game introduces you to some of the mechanics, including sneaking and combat. The control scheme is easy to pick up and works very well. Most aspects of the scheme are typical, but it's worth pointing out that players evade with Y (there is no block function) and crouch or sneak with LT. Used together, players can quietly roll and sneak up on soldiers of the darkness. Sneaking up on the darkness is wise because for most enemies, it allows you to score a one hit kill, simply by pressing B when prompted.
In nearly every situation, you get to decide if you want to tackle an area or room with brute force or try sneaking around. Add to this the ability to have the Majin use the environment (by pushing over a stone wall for example), and combat in Majin is pretty interesting. A good number of times -- more than just 'some times' but less than 'most times' -- Tepeu will have to face several enemies alone, in an area that is outside of the reach of the big Majin. While you do level up Tepeu, the Majin, and their combined combat skills throughout the game, you never want to get yourself in too deep of a situation with Tepeu as he is always going to be considerably weaker than the forces of darkness. At the same time, while the Majin is powerful and has a lot of HP, he too can get in over his head quickly if you leave him to fight too many enemies, or a certain few types of enemies, alone. I really thought Game Republic did a great job with balancing the combat in that both Tepeu and the Majin really have to rely on each other for every fight.
Controlling the Majin is an important aspect of the experience once you free him from his imprisonment. For the next thirteen or so hours, the big fella is yours to control to help you fight the darkness, reach new areas, and solve puzzles. Game Republic kept controlling the Majin simple and very reliable. Commands for the Majin include wait, crouch (so that you can hop on his back and jump to higher places), follow, attack, feed, and act. The Majin also earns four special powers during the course of the game that are used in both combat and in puzzle solving and exploration. These powers commands are used by pressing RB and a face button, while the other commands are performed with RT and a face button. At times, I accidentally would press RT and B instead of RB and B, which meant that I gave the Majin a precious healing fruit rather than giving him the command to use his fire breathing power. That's
really the only "problem" I had with the control scheme which is ultimately no problem at all because those mistakes were my goof.
Very few times during the course of my play-through did I experience any trouble with the Majin's AI. If you leave him waiting and then go ahead a ways and then command him to follow, he'll found a route to you if there is one, for example. I really never had to do any baby-sitting on his part, the AI was competent and worked very nicely. That's not to say the Majin's actions are perfect, but they're close enough. One nag is that he tends to step in the puddles of darkness that are spread out in the latter
third of the game. When you or the Majin step in these, you cannot command or attack or really do anything but move very slowly for several seconds. The Majin seemed to always step in these puddles, sometimes at moments when I really wish he didn't, if you get my meaning. Nevertheless, that minor issue aside, the AI of the Majin is very good and ultimately didn't detract from the experience at all (but boosted it instead).
The Kingdom, The Bad Stuff, Etc
Tepeu and the Majin will traverse the entire kingdom, in their journey. Locations include the power plant, shipyard, royal gardens, the mines, and a number of other locales. Eventually you will unlock five transporter rooms to help you get around quickly, but even when you walk from area to area, there are no load times. The story requires that you revisit areas fairly regularly and it's not a bad idea to revisit anyway to use new Majin powers to access previously blocked secret areas (small areas, but still). The game also has a day/night timer that runs constantly. At night, little yellow orbs pop up around the kingdom (thirty-five total). These orbs are actually memory shards and act as one of the collectibles available in Majin.
Players can also try to find all of the treasure chests (which contain either Life Stones for leveling up Tepeu or alternate costumes), most of which are out of normal reach but are usually very easy to get to. I thought the addition of extra costumes was a good touch; at the outset, Tepeu looks a whole lot like a prince out of a Prince of Persia game, but by the time I was done I had collected several different helmet, arm and chest pieces to change up my appearance.
Costumes and leveling up are a significant part of the experience but I thought they could have been detailed a bit better. I leveled up Tepeu over twenty-times, each time increasing his strength and stamina, but I could never really tell by how much, exactly. It may not be all that important though, especially when you take into consideration that the enemies and situations grow increasingly tougher throughout the story to approximately match the level of Tepeu and the Majin. This actually works out nicely though, because at no time did I ever really feel completely dominate nor completely vulnerable. Even during the boss fights, while all ultimately easy (relative to other games in the genre), I never felt completely comfortable. That's a tough balance to achieve; giving the player a good challenge without making it too easy or too hard, but I think Game Republic did a great job with that.
There are a few things about Majin I didn't like though. For one, during combat, the camera can get disorienting. Usually it's an issue with the camera zooming in too close and you lose track of your character and well, just about everything. You can reset the camera with a right stick click, which helps sometimes, but generally in combat you're going to be evading a lot. By evading, you're not only going to save your skin, but also create the separation necessary to get the camera back properly.
A second issue I had with the game was some of the level or area design was kind of drab and 'rigid.' Most of the game is very appealing to the eyes and ears and the layout and flow of the areas are good. But some areas felt too 'boxed in' or rigidly designed. I wish I wrote down the name of the two or three locations I had in mind for this point, but suffice it to say that some areas have a so-so design whereas most are great.
Third, the puzzles often rely on Tepeu finding a way to get up to lever or a valve. I've said this before with God of War reviews and others, but I really think the use of simple "pull the lever" moments in games is way overused and needs to go away. It's like when FPS games stopped using an 'end of level' button or doorway -- third person games need to stop using levers or valves in puzzle solving!
While thinking of those list of negative things, I actually thought of a couple more positive ones, so here we go. First, I like that there are no friendly fire or blocking issues with the Majin. In combat, you do not have to worry about the Majin hurting you or vice versa. In fact, if you are caught in the area of one of his power attacks, that actually temporarily powers up your weapon so you can do more damage. Also, whether in combat or in just exploring, the Majin never got in my way or got me stuck; while that used to happen a lot more in gaming than it does today, I think it's still worth mentioning.
Heading towards the summary, a few words about the presentation. Majin reminded me a lot of Folklore, one of my favorite games of this generation. The wonderful color palette is captivating and really easy on the eyes. I think Folklore may still have a slight visual edge overall, but Majin is gorgeous. I liked how Game Republic mixed mechanical themes with nature, and brightly lit, colorful areas with underground dark and dreary ones. The animations are very good too, as are the cutscenes. The visual experience is supported by an outstanding audio package as well. The instrumental music was great, with my only complaint being the standard action music that abruptly kicks in and out at times as you get detected and then get away. Other than that, the score is excellent. I liked the voice overs, too. Plus, I really liked the specific aural cues that let you know trouble is near. Similarly, there is a neat chime that plays whenever you solve a puzzle (expect to hear that a lot). Other effects are also great and the voice overs are as well.
With that, let's get to the summary...