Magna Carta II Xbox 360 review

A Japanese role playing gaming gets a UK release on Xbox 360? Blimey. Andrew reviews Magna Carta II...

To westerners, Japanese roleplaying games can seem like an odd proposition. While our biggest console hitters in the UK these days are games that can generally be finished off in just a handful of hours, like Call Of Duty and Bioshock, JRPGs are renowned time sinks. Often quite capable of sucking-up all your free time for months on end, you’ve got to assume that there‘s a designer with a big ego involved somewhere along the line. It’s like he’s saying, ‘My game will be your life, and you’ll like it, because I say so.’

Well thankfully, Magna Carta II doesn’t subscribe to this soul-draining practice. It’s long, sure, but with 20 to 30 hours of gameplay on your average run through, it’s not going to spark off any obsessive-compulsive ticks lying dormant in you or your loved ones.

In other senses, though, Magna Carta II bears a great many of the dubious hallmarks of the genre. Each of the female characters looks like an ageless porcelain doll – even supposedly fearsome female warriors tend to look like pubescent teenagers assaulted with an inch or two of foundation. And the men? Well, they look much like the women, apart from the lack of breasts on show. Some of the outfits they wear might manage to convince you they’re smuggling a pair down there, mind.

Still, these curious aesthetics are a fairly minor hurdle to get over. After a while you can be very nearly certain that you’re assuming genders correctly, by which point real-life blokes will look like grizzly bears in comparison.

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This initial characterisation stumbling block isn’t helped by the fact that Magna Carta II is packed with as many characters as The Bible and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy combined, all mixed together and made into a confusingly multi-coloured cake.

Within the game’s story – which tells of a civil war, betrayal, memory loss and other such recognisable roleplaying tropes – having so many characters does make a curious sort of sense, but we found the only way to deal with it successfully was to let the sea of names wash over you and hope the important bits stick. And they actually did – after a handful of hours.

Magna Carta II‘s aim is clearly towards the epic, and many of the ingredients are, indeed, in place. You’ve got your far-away threat in the form of the opposing army, fortresses that hang in the sky and a graphics engine that copes fairly well with making backdrops look suitably distant and blurry. However, it’s sadly tripped up by the fact that the actual telling of the story is downright amateurish.

Exposition is clumsy, with characters literally asking each other to explain things they themselves clearly ‘should’ know masquerading as a seamless narrative. The thing is, being told directly how things are in a videogame is no crime, so it ends up feeling like Magna Carta II has got the wrong end of the stick in storytelling terms. It’s as if the game if trying to pull the wool over our eyes, to get us to suspend our disbelief, by pelting us with cotton buds.

It labours the point too, making you listen to endless conversations of badly written – or at least badly translated – dialogue. Thankfully, you can button mash to get through the more tedious bits. There’s certainly an at least half-interesting story under the surface, though.

Perhaps even more crucially flawed is its approach to explaining the game dynamics. Each time you come across a new game feature or battle technique, you’re given a lengthy, talky lecture by one of the game’s characters, littered with unnecessary gameworld jargon that’ll either go right over your head or just plain bore you. Then, to compound the dazed effect, after having been whacked over the head with all this, you then get an overly-long text description to boot, like a dessert of cracker fragments you have to swallow whole.

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Here’s the strange part, though. When you actually try out the newly learned techniques for yourself, they invariably slot into place without any problems whatsoever, leaving you to wonder what all the overblown fuss was about. This is the strange contradiction posed by Magna Carta II.  It’d be a darn sight more accessible if it didn’t try so hard to ease you into the game mechanics with such impenetrable descriptions.

Combat in Magna Carta II, which most of these tutorial passages relate to, is played-out in real-time, making it more action-packed than many a role playing game. You’ll generally be controlling a group of characters and can switch between them with a press of the D-pad. Actually fighting with a character is quite a button-bashing affair, even though you have a number of different moves at your disposal.  However, Magna Carta II has a very active approach to what might be called stamina management.

Attacking fills up your stamina bar. When this is full, you go into overdrive mode, making your attacks do more damage. This doesn’t last forever, though, and once it’s done you go into overheat mode, where you can’t attack at all. Switch between characters after executing a special move in overdrive mode and you’ll start a chain combo. Fire off another special move with this new character and both characters’ stamina meters will be reset. So, each battle becomes a juggling match as you switch between characters. This kinetic approach to battling gives Magna Carta II something of a brawler vibe, which is no bad thing.

It’s this decent battle system that sustains the game through its many fairly pedestrian side missions. With something approaching the sensibilities of an MMORPG, you’re free to roam around your current environment and can pick up quests from many non-player characters, marked clearly on your mini-map. These quests will generally involve killing X number of Y creatures for inconsequential story motive Z. The game’s not shy about showing you how much experience you’ll get from these quests, making it transparent at least.

Considering the previous complaints about precisely the opposite, it’s Magna Carta II‘s more ‘direct’ characteristics that are its strongest points. If you see an enemy creature, you can literally go up and start whacking away at it. There are no overblown battle cinematics or breaks, and you can even just move away mid-battle. Compared to many other JRPGs, Eternal Sonata, for instance, with its mini-fanfare blasted off at each little battle, Magna Carta II‘s combat is refreshing, and not lacking in the visual drama of these rivals either. It’s this fuss-free approach to the actual mechanics of questing and fighting that makes the game – in spite of all its bad points – fun.

What does this hotch-potch of good and bad amount to, though? Well, if you’re the kind of gamer that bought and enjoyed Lost Odyssey and Eternal Sonata – the sort of roleplaying games not generally thought of as must-buys by those not particularly enamoured with the genre – then Magna Carta II is worth picking up. You’ll probably be used to the sort of dodgy scripting and questionable character design here anyway. The rest of you are better off at least waiting until Magna Carta II skips down to the cheaper shelves of the preowned shelf, if you pick it up at all. 

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Magna Carta II is out now.


3 out of 5