The biggest crime Magical Starsign commits is the endless, relentless, incessant, infuriatingly pointless random battles.
Multimedia: Magical Starsign
Platforms: Nintendo DS
Number of players: 1-6
ESRB rating: Everyone
Developer: Brownie Brown
US release date: 2006-10-23
There ain't nothing magical about this.
"Good things come to those who wait" -- an age old saying that's been around longer than I have. In some instances, it's true. I, however, waited ages for Magical Starsign; I woke up early every morning anticipating a parcel at my door, and each day I was left disappointed. Then it arrived, I ripped open the packaging quicker than Homer Simpson would a box of donuts, and 20 hours later, I was left wishing the game was thrown off the plane and left to drown in the Atlantic Ocean.
With so much effort on my behalf to finish the game, I at the very least expected some effort on developer Brownie Brown's part. Instead, what we're left with is one of the most unambitious and lacklustre games of the year.
Why do JRPG's even bother with stories? They're all the same and usually involve some spiky haired teenagers saving the world from an evil magician/wizard/god etc. Here we have a high school teacher, Miss Madeline, who shoots off to some distant planet on her headmasters wishing to do...well, to do something important.
Of course, her class of rag doll misfits/freaks can't let the woman be and sneak off into rockets themselves in hopes of finding their MIA teacher. Each of the six characters in your team gets stranded on a different planet and it's your job to find them all, rescue Miss Madeline, thwart a diabolical plan by space pirates/evil wizards and get your math homework done in time. Yes, homework, which is an apt way to describe the level of excitement I felt whilst playing Magical Starsign.
At the start, you're given the chance to choose between a male or female lead and either light or dark magic as your primary weapon. I chose the guy and light magic, though in all honesty it doesn't really make that much of a difference. Magic is your main source of defense and attack in battles that are played out in an orthodox turn-based format. There are no axes, whips, swords or spears to speak of, just a few melee attacks in the form of kicks and punches.
Here, though, the problems really begin. To say the combat system is simple is an understatement -- at times it plays like a beginner's guide to RPGs. All you do is click on the magic icon and sit back and watch as your band of merry dweebs releases its oh-so-unspectacular attacks on various intellectually challenged opponents, over and over and over again. You do learn new spells as you level up, but these are so few and far between that you just end up using the same tricks you started with.
The lack of options in terms of attack and defense kill any requirement for tactical thinking, but to rub salt in the wounds, the team-based attacks are so pointless that you really have to wonder why the developers even bothered. The fights also last too long for a portable title, not to mention that 90% of the time the battles are too easy and it's only really when you're faced with a boss fight that you come up against any real challenge.
A welcome complexity is the astrology alignment tactic; each character has a planet-specific element assigned to it such as water, fire, earth, wind etc. Aligning your planet with its corresponding colour in the solar system increases the impact of your spells; the same also applies to your opponents. This adds some much needed depth, as you can reserve your magic on enemies that don't have their planets aligned, saving your more powerful attacks for enemies with increased magic power, while guarding the weaker members of your team and reserving their power to heal your allies for the battles ahead. Unfortunately, for seasoned RPG fans, this won't be enough to test the grey matter.
Celestial Swap, a spell that allows you to move the planets in your favour comes in handy during the boss encounters, but later on even these become tests of endurance rather than skill, as the difficulty suddenly takes a steep turn. You have no choice but to grind and grind to increase your stats, for no reason other than to artificially extend the length of your quest.
It seems that even Brownie Brown realised that outside of the fighting there's nothing really to do, no mini games, side quests or even towns that are worth exploring, so towards the end you're bombarded with drab cutscene after cutscene, with dialogue so unbelievably poor, that it makes Metal Gear Solid look like Shakespeare.
But the biggest crime Magical Starsign commits is the endless, relentless, incessant, infuriatingly pointless random battles. What's worse is that throughout your adventure there are points when the battles aren't random and you can actually see your foes -- why they couldn't apply this to the rest of the game is truly baffling. Every seven or eight steps you'll find yourself warped into battle; this leaves you disoriented, confused, lost (in part due to worthless world map) and unprepared as you use items and magic power when you wanted to reserve them for the fights ahead. To take what little freedom you have away from you is bad enough but to persist with an idea that has no reason to exist is unforgivable.
This, though, is the underlying theme of Magical Starsign, as there's clearly been no effort or even an attempt at something new. The features of the DS are underutilized (when you can't even do the map on the top screen properly, you know you're in trouble). The artwork and characterization may be the most generic and bland ever seen in a Nintendo title. While graphically and in terms of the score this clearly has GBA written all over it, even when played on a DS Lite. After the recent, visually stunning RPGs by Square Enix and Namco Bandai for the DS, this just looks amateurish.
Magical Starsign's lack of imagination results in the failure to evoke any feeling of excitement or wonderment, and the sci-fi setting, while a welcome scenery change from the usual medieval world, is criminally underused. There is no sense of awe or amazement -- I wanted to immerse myself in the game world and its inhabitants and be surprised by what I encountered. With no attempt to push any boundaries in terms of narrative, gameplay or characters there's simply nothing here to enjoy or recommend.