Monday, January 11, 2010

MagnaCarta 2 Review

I am trying so hard to be manly.
Years ago, with the release of the XB360 and the advent of high definition console gaming, I thought that all I wanted was more of the same at a higher resolution. For a few years, that's all there was, but being greedy I have come to expect more from games that demand thirty to forty hours of my life. JRPG's, as a sub-genre now completely separate from western RPG's, have stagnated to the point where my initial naive desires are all that actualy get produced. Eternal Sonata had cookie cutter combat with a moderately interesting story. Lost Odyssey, as much as I liked it, offered nothing new beyond almost making me cry on the first disk. Now there is MagnaCarta 2, a sequel to a mediocre PS2 game, which is just as shiny as any other game whose producers had the extra cash to spend on the unreal engine. There is nothing awful here, but there is nothing inspiring or interesting either, and simply being unoffensive is a not a great way to keep up interest for thirty plus hours. It is exactly more of the same only better looking, which I have found will only carry a game, or a genre, so far.

Using the unreal engine is not a flat out guarantee of visual excellence, but it comes close, and for the most part MagnaCarta 2 puts it to good use. On one hand environments are large and well detailed, but on the other there is very noticible pop in and most of the them are revisted several more times than they should have been. The initial hub city is used for almost half of the game, and as good as it looked I grew tired of it and wanted a new city to explore. The same is true for most monsters: after their initial introduction the good looks wear thin and I was looking for new ones to fight; they never came. Characters escape this for a while, but aside from the the main protagonist, Juto, they all wear the same thing the entire length of the game. Apparently body odor is just not an issue when you can summon fire from the sky or wield a gigantic axe.

This attack takes five minutes. Go get a sandwich.
Boss's are, unsuprisingly, the best looking things in MagnaCarta 2 (putting aside certain female characters' assets, which are thankfuly less pronounced then they were in the first game). They are varied and nonsencicly shaped, and some of them even manage to be a little intimidating, but most of them literly drop out of the sky with no introduction or reason for them being there other than to cap off a section with a climax. There are a few big bads that taunt the main character throughout the game, but these are easily the least impressive of any of the battles. A good antagonist creates tension in both story and combat, and the lack of any NPC that you just really want to kill allows boardom to set in much more quickly than it should. There is really nothing wrong with the combat itself. On the contrary the mix of real time combat and jumping between party members for big attacks works very well. Overheating a character to the point where he or she cannot attack is a quick way for them to die off, so button mashing doesn't work. Later boss battles require planning and some rather advaced party and item management, I just wish I felt one way or the other about who I was trying to kill, and that I could skip the ultimate attack animations. I thought we got past that after Final Fantasy VII.

It takes quite a while for the obvious plot twist to occur, and once it does the player is beaten over the head with it until it has lost all emotional impact and just becomes annoying. Even so, the idea that what is right and what most people want are not always the same thing could have led to tough choices for the player, if there were any choices to be had, that is. True to its sub-genre, the only choice the player is given is what order to do meaningless sub-quests in; nothing will effect the main story and the direction it takes. This will work if the story is good enough, but MagnaCarta 2 misses several oppourtunities at poiniancy in favor of warm fuzzies. Lost Odyssey proved that painfully sad moments work just as well if not better than anything else to move along a story and MagnaCarta 2 is simply missing this. When there finally is a tragedy late in the game it is predictable and uninteresting; even the party glosses over it in favor of the next fight. At least the character that dies was never in my party to begin with and doesn't steal my best armor in the process of deserting (I'm looking at you, Alistair).


Recent, less traditional western RPG's have proven that giving the player partial control of a games outcome does not necessarily make the story less interesting. As much as I loved/hated Dragon Age, the story was never boring, mostly because I felt that it really was my story. MagnaCarta 2, just like all the other games before it, just doesn't offer that feeling of ownership to the player. I am not saying that playing a forty hour movie is a bad thing, it just has to be a good movie in the first place. By the time the last dungeon came around I was just waiting for the game to be done, and when even the ending waffled on what could have been an excellent example of sacrafice for a higher cause I knew that it had not been worth my time. There is no love or hate here, only ambivilance, and to not feel anything at all at the end of a game is worse than having hated it the entire time.

1 comment:

  1. Chamberlain... did you vote for game of the decade yet? I'd love to see you talk about that on your blog (which has been pretty good so far). If you ever get a PS3 or I replace my 360 we should fight in the streets sometime.