What’s in a name?
In 1215, a document called the Magna Carta (or “Great Charter” for those not fluent in Latin) required King John of England to give the free people of his kingdom certain rights such as allowing appeal to unlawful imprisonment. As “riveting” as this sounds (quotations added for sarcastic effect), the games of the same name have absolutely nothing to do with habeas corpus (in the game industry, “due process” is more of a QA thing I guess).
[image1]In 2005, Magna Carta: Tears of Blood came to North America and garnered mediocre reviews and a very small audience. It had problems aplenty, both technical and artistic. The combat was awkward and overly complicated, the camera flat-out sucked, and the story took hours to get, well, nowhere. Most of these problems have been alleviated, if not solved altogether, in Magna Carta 2.
Magna Carta 2 has about as much to do with the previous game in the series as the that game did with the actual Magna Carta (which is pretty much just the name, for those of you keeping score). The art style, the combat, the story - these are all head and shoulders above its predecessor. It has its flaws, but this is still a great game.
The story is pretty standard and most of the usual JRPG set pieces are here: Amnesiac protagonist? Check. Dethroned/wayfaring princess from a kingdom that needs saving? Check. Wise-cracking sidekicks? Check. Evil empire? Check. Obnoxious girl with bunny, elf, or cat ears? Check. Entire party being connected to each other as well as said empire by very contrived means? Check, check, and check.
While none of this is new to the genre, it’s the way MC2 presents itself that makes it so good. The characters are all interesting and you’ll quickly get attached to them. The overall plot is nothing to scream about, but it's the interactions between the characters that really kept me coming back. It doesn’t get going until about hour ten or so, but once it gets going, odds are you’ll lose sleep playing.
[image2]One bad thing about the game, however, is the names. Characters and most locations have perfectly fine monikers, but there are still places like “Naveblue Marsh” and items called “Hotty Hot”. This kind of blasphemous naming might have flown back in the 8-bit era, but today it’s just sad. These ridiculous names only come occur half of the time, so it’s never too much, but it is silly - though given the title, it’s to be expected.
The art style is drastically toned down from the last game. In Tears of Blood the only way to determine gender was breast size. Small boobies? Dude. Giant, back-breaking mams? Woman. The cast is still mostly malnourished androgenes, but the dudes look like dudes and the women look like women. MC2 is developed using the Unreal Engine which sounds great on paper, but really it just means everything looks like crap for the first few minutes and eventually (but not always) sorts itself out and looks great (see also: Mass Effect).
The combat is action-based and is like a cross between any Tales game and Final Fantasy XII. As you perform combos and special attacks, your stamina depletes. When this happens, you can link combos by switching characters, and doing so fully recharges both characters’ stamina, but the tutorial for this makes it out to be way more complicated than it actually is.
In fact, all the tutorials make simple things like equipping new weapons and armor out to be as complicated as heart surgery. You’ll be getting tutorials well into the seventh hour of gameplay and there’s no way to skip them, so pray your power doesn’t go out during one of the more lengthy ones.
[image3]Once you get past the tutorials, the combat is addicting. The A.I. for your party isn’t the most intuitive, but in combat, they’re about as good as you can expect (healers heal, attacker attack, etc.). Just be sure they have a clear path to wherever you’re going. More than a few times, I made it halfway through a field to find out someone had been caught behind by a fence or small rock and was running in place like a jackass. This is easily fixed, but this shouldn't happen in the first place.
Each character has two distinct styles of fighting with equipment to match. The melee fighters have a choice of either a balance of attack and defense or sacrificing defense for higher attack. The more powerful attacks aren’t any slower and don’t have any drawbacks other than the lack of defense, so it kind of comes down to what you think looks cooler. It’s slightly more complicated with your healers. You can sacrifice all their attack power for either healing or attack spells. It’s a fairly well-rounded system that can be either ignored by the less ambitious players or well-utilized by gaming go-getters.
One of the major drawbacks is the repetition. You basically go on the same fetch quest in the same damn field about 50 million-billion times with very few alterations. Most of your experience will come from finishing these quests, but other than extra money and experience, there isn’t much that you can’t find or eventually buy, so you can skip the quests and grind if you want.
Monsters are almost always the same level as the highest level character in your party, so you can skip both quests and grinding if you just want to get to the story. If so, you may want to invest in the DLC, which not only gives you three Achievements for watching totally irrelevant cut-scenes, but also gives you ridiculously overpowered weapons for your entire party. The weapons from the DLC are stronger than anything you’ll find in the game and you have access to them straight away.
Despite its flaws, there’s nothing Magna Carta 2 does bad enough to keep me from playing. If you want to see what a JRPG from the olden days would be like if you gave it a modern overhaul, MC2 will form your responsum.