[Despite the fact that Magna Carta 2 is a Korean RPG (KRPG), it plays very much like a JRPG, so I'll be using that term for the entirety of my review.]
The JRPG genre just isn’t what it used to be. Not too long ago, Final Fantasy VII was “cool”, and JRPGs were selling by the truckload. But their success started to wane after console advancements left the era of menu based combat in the dust, and the genre was forced to adapt or face extinction.
Magna Carta 2 is one of those RPGs that took the challenge and includes an updated action-based combat system. But does it succeed in shaking off all the other negative JRPG tropes?
Well, Magna Carta 2‘s story is pretty cut and dry. Schuenzeit, a power hungry prime minister, initiates a coup d’état, killing the rightful queen, forcing the Princess into exile, and founding the Northern Empire. Count Alex, a powerful noble, takes in the Princess, and the war of the Northern Empire versus the Southern Forces begins.
The game opens up with the story of Juto, a reluctant, amnesiac hero in a small community named Highwind Island. For whatever reason, Juto is horrified every time he touches a sword, so he’s been reduced to wielding a wooden blade until he can muster up the courage to hold a real weapon. In stereotypical fashion, Juto is given a reason to fight, vows to destroy Schuenzeit’s reign, and joins the Southern Force’s cause.
Magna Carta 2‘s cliched story really isn’t anything new, and it doesn’t pick up until fairly later in the game. Despite this, the world itself is an incredible sight. Every location looks extremely detailed, unique, and jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The lore is also fairly well explained and lengthy. If you’re scared of the “2″ in the title, don’t be. Namco-Bandai themselves have even stated that Magna Carta 2 requires no prior knowledge for enjoyment, and you won’t be missing anything.
Sadly, the story is explained through a combination of cutscenes and portrait style conversations, with minimal character movement. The cutscenes are all well done, and any anime fan will feel right at home watching them, but the portraits leave much to be desired. They’re just so wooden, and it’s almost worse than watching codec call after codec call in Metal Gear Solid; it just feels like lazy storytelling.
It’s a shame, considering how great the voice acting is. The cast features industry greats such as Johnny Yong Bosch (Devil May Cry 4, Trigun), Steve Blum (Cowboy Bebop, MadWorld), Crispin Freeman (Hellsing), and many more. All conversations take place with every character in any given scene, which means there are no unique party formations, and you won’t be missing out on any secret scenes or dialogue; whether that’s good or bad is entirely up to you. In-game and in cutscenes, each character displays a completely different personality, and a unique way of carrying themselves (we can thank the beautiful artwork of Hyung-tae Kim and the Unreal Engine).
Traveling is a cinch. The world map exploration system found in so many JRPGs is abandoned in favor of a linear progression system. Luckily, the mini-map is incredibly easy to follow, and it always points you in the direction of your next quest. Don’t worry about missing side quests either, as they’re marked very clearly with a text bubble above NPCs’ heads. Despite the fact that this may seem too linear, the areas in which you are required to roam around are fairly large, and they also contain their fair share of nooks and crannies.
Speaking of travel, combat takes place right on the same battlefield, so you’re not going to get any old school pre-Final Fantasy XII style random battles. So what’s the gist of the battle system? Essentially, you have normal attacks, super attacks, and counter skills, the two former of which take up action points. By spending action points, a very clear horizontal bar will fill up, and if you go over, you’ll “overheat”.
Using that principle, your job is to do as much damage as possible without pushing the limit, unless you want to try for a chain attack. You can accomplish this by switching to another character after going over, and overheating that character with an ability; afterwards, both characters’ overheat will be canceled. Sound complicated? It really isn’t.
While counter skills can be used at certain times by pressing the “B” button when prompted, action skills need “Kan” (mana) to execute. Melee characters can store Kan after a battle, but casters need to generate it on their own in every battle (presumably to balance out the caster class). Combat doesn’t take that long to master; before long, you’ll become a pro at chain breaking, earn an abundance of Kan (mana), and learn to spam items. It all feels incredibly fluid, and switching characters is very easy.
But what JRPG would be complete without some sort of half-hearted, extra statistical mechanic? In addition to equipping your characters with weapons, armor, and accessories as normal, you’ll also get a skill tree and “materia-style” weapon socketing system. I can already hear the groans of many JRPG enthusiasts from here!
Rather than simply earning new abilities as you level up, Magna Carta 2 requires you to go into a menu (of a menu) to put points into them. But the problem lies within the fact that there aren’t that many skills to level up to begin with, and each of the two weapons a character can hold has a different tree. This means that if you put all of your points into one-handed swords for Juto, but find a really good two-hander, then you’re out of luck.
The materia (weapon socketing) system really isn’t that much better. Through a convoluted “recipe” system, you can hunt down various combinations of orbs to place into your weapons for various statistical bonuses. Most of them are fairly boring, such as “extra health” or “extra damage”, in addition to just being a plain old hassle. I’m a fairly large menu guru, given the fact that one of my favorite genres is Strategy RPGs, but having to go into a menu for the sake of going into a menu really isn’t needed. Items also have to be selected from a menu (and pause the battle); it would have been nice to get some sort of “quick use” shortcut.
Compared to other JRPGs, Magna Carta 2 is about average in length, clocking in at around 35 hours, excluding side quests. While it’s not short by any means, it would have been nice to get some sort of reward for completion, or some sort of extra gameplay element to tide you over for a bit. Despite the robust story mode, the game’s side quests are fairly mediocre, mostly consisting of fetch quests, and “kill this many of these monsters”.
When all’s said and done, Magna Carta 2 contains an updated battle system that nearly everyone will enjoy, but in other respects, it doesn’t succeed in ridding itself of some the same problems that have been plaguing the JRPG genre for years. But don’t let those flaws stop you if you’ve been aching for a solid JRPG, because this is it.
The static portrait storytelling really bogs the game down, and the story moves at a sluggish pace. It's a shame, really, because the world, character designs, and the characters themselves are all excellent.
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Combat is extremely fluid, but chain-breaking may feel repetitive after a while, and the skill tree system is fairly shallow.
Magna Carta 2 contains top notch voice acting from the best in the business, and the score is equally as impressive. The only thing holding it back is the lack of an optional Japanese/Korean track.
Magna Carta 2's main quest contains around 35 hours of content, with about 5-10 hours of boring side quests thrown in. The length is about average for a JRPG, but it doesn't go above and beyond, like the Persona series.
Magna Carta 2 boasts some extremely interesting characters, combat, and set pieces, but doesn't present any new ideas that will sway JRPG haters.