Magna Carta 2

Thomas Cross

This could have been the place to really explore issues surrounding the blind following of orders and the terrors of war. But this game plays it safe in every way possible.

Magna Carta 2

Publisher: Namco Bandai
Players: 1
Price: 56.99
Platform: XBox 360
ESRB Rating: Teen
Developer: Softmax
Release Date: 2009-10-13

Magna Carta 2 strikes a delicate balance between irrelevance, competency, and mediocrity. It does this from the midst of a slowly growing batch of semi-interesting games: XBox 360-exclusive Japanese RPGs. Still, it is dissimilar to many such titles in that it uses a real-time battle system. Aside from that, it plays and feels about as you expect it would.

Unfortunately, like so many recent JRPGs, it uses the Unreal 3 engine. There can be no doubt that this is a versatile, powerful engine, but in its RPG incarnations, it inspires nothing but unsurprised disappointment. The same pop-in, low-res textures, and lifeless, sterile environments appear in every part of the game whether they’re supposedly verdant fields or gray, uninteresting cities.

The lifeless characters and art design are mirrored by the story and acting that brings them to a sort of half-shambling unlife. The opening cut scene introduces us to a dastardly bureaucrat (you know he is no good because he supports a particularly convincing computer-generated beard) who overthrows a kingdom. The land has a longstanding history of death, civil war, and sorrow, and the sky itself often weeps purple tears thanks to an ages-old battle. The ensuing coup d’état and countless battles scar the land forever and cause drops of purple fire to rain down upon the survivors for years.

At the scene’s close, we see the (unsurprisingly) improbably dressed female heir to the throne murdered… or so we think. Years later, we come upon a prepubescent, vacant young man named Juto. He is childish, loud, and serves as an unspeakably annoying expositional tool. Whenever something needs to be explained at length, Juto will either ask what that thing is or mock it (necessitating a defense and/or explanation). This happens once every five or so minutes, so players had best get used to Juto’s awful voice acting and dialogue.

Luckily, the exposition and awful bickering between main characters soon gives way to combat and leveling. Magna Carta 2’s combat is vaguely similar to that seen in Final Fantasy XII, but it more closely resembles a mix of that and other, more real-time games like the Tales series. During combat you only ever control one character, the party leader. As you carry out different attacks, you build up stamina until you go into overdrive. Once there, you can carry out impressive, damaging attacks, but afterward, you overheat, losing control and entering cooldown mode. With three characters in your party, the strategy quickly turns into one of overheating and switching leaders. This creates a combat chain, which leads to even bigger bonuses.

The problem with Magna Carta 2 is that the battle system is the only possible reason anyone could ever have for playing this game. Whenever you finish a battle, you are treated to one of two kinds of dialogue and/or cut scene sequences. The more painful, protracted ones are the in-game cutscenes. Here, you are treated to the rough edges, murky grays, and inelegant character models of this game’s Unreal engine. These cut scenes last for quite a long time and will ham-fistedly inform you (after tens and tens of hours) of the dangers of war, the corrupting force of power, and the fact that people who fight in wars don’t always know what they are fighting for. I know, I know, it might take a few minutes to process that one.

If I sound bitter, it’s because (as is always the case with big, long-storied RPGs) this could have been the place to really explore issues surrounding the blind following of orders and the terrors of war. Luckily for all of us, this game plays it safe in every way possible. Even scenes that might pack a minimal emotional punch are softened and made laughable by the script’s wretched attempts at levity and humor. These moments always boil down to the immature Juto making bad jokes or being an ass, and this often allows his fellows to engage in equally childish bouts of ridicule and what is obviously supposed to pass for character development.

Worse than the full cut scenes are the conversations you often have to sit through. Someone decided that the best way to portray two or three characters speaking was to have the game pause and then bring up images of the two people facing each other. They then robotically spout lines, arguing about whose “powers” are stronger or who is at fault for which overblown tragedy. It is the least convincing, least entertaining method of conveying human interaction that I have ever seen in a game. Silent Snake’s own childish radio conversations seem like witty, intelligent, human exchanges compared to those found in Magna Carta 2.

Even the most overwrought, ineffectual stories can win over their audiences if there are enough attractions to keep people distracted along the way. Magna Carta 2’s battle system is interesting and relatively fun, but in a world that forgoes originality and vibrancy for plodding traditionalism and awful characters and stories, interesting and relatively fun don’t count for much. Magna Carta 2 is forgettable in most ways excepting the story and characters that it forces upon you: you are not likely to forget these horrors in the near future.

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