No one I know is talking about this game at all, but being a traditional JRPG whore I decided to take one for the team and pick this up in a Best Buy sale a few weeks ago. Technically, this game comes out of Korea, which generally means "like a JRPG, but less polished". MagnaCarta 2 (or Magna Carta 2, or MagnaCarta2 depending on who you speak with) fits this in some ways, and breaks out of it in others. If you're interested, read on.
MG2 is a real-time party-based classical RPG. Since that may or may not already have your hackles up, we might as well flesh out the story now. Pretty much all of your stereotypical JRPG tropes are here. (Allegedly) Young male protagonist with amnesia? Check. Magic-wielding teenage princess, deposed by an evil prime minister eyeing the throne? Check. Country torn apart by civil war? Check. Nothing here is going to ignite anyone's toes with passion. The story does redeem itself somewhat on the second disc, with some moderately interesting twists; but nothing bizarre on the level of, say, Baten Kaitos. I will give it props for attempting a gray-area look at humanity, though; while you're clearly supposed to side with the player characters, the game eventually sets it up so that you empathize with the villains, and shows that for the most part, everyone's pursuing what they think is right for the world. No one is perfect in this game, which is a nice touch. It's no The Witcher, but considering what you usually get in JRPG story line, it's a far sight better.
MG2 runs on the Unreal 3 engine, and as such looks more or less like most U3 games. Character models are nice and detailed, as are enemies for the most part. However, as in most U3 games, there is (in my opinion) an over-reliance on light bloom, kind of like this, although not nearly as bad as in some games — I'm looking at you, Fable II. In addition, pop-in gets pretty bad at times.
Cut-scenes are actually very sparse in this game, at least in the traditional sense. All cut-scenes are rendered in-game, and are pretty brief (maybe 90 seconds max). The majority of the dialogue takes place in text boxes between two rendered characters. The characters are animated while talking, so it isn't like a DS game here, but it isn't full-motion, either. Once I got used to this relatively unusual way of presenting dialogue, I kind of enjoyed it. You still get facial expressions and voices, but it feels more old-school, integrated, and...how to put it...more like a game, as opposed to the Final Fantasy feel of "battles are only something that must be slogged through to get to the next movie" viewpoint. At any rate, I've seen far worse looking games, but this one won't be winning any awards.
The soundtrack is serviceable. A bit more variety would have been fine, but it stayed in the background and I like that. Because of the battle system, there is no "battle music" for basic encounters, which is wonderful. I know probably everyone reading this can start humming Nobuo Uematsu's battle theme off the tops of their heads, but for me, personally, I get really sick of hearing the same damn song (or likely, the first 30-60 seconds of the same damn song) upwards of 1000 times in a single play-through. Because the music has a jarring transition, it's something you notice, and therefore repetition becomes unbearable. Because the transition in and out of battle in MG2 is so fluid, they never break from their "overworld" music theme, and I like that a lot.
Voiceovers, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. Some of the characters are surprisingly strong (like Crocell), whereas others fall short. The somewhat breathless, emo main character voice is here, although in conjunction with the story line he blossoms out of that, somewhat. There is also the stereotypical high-pitched enthusiastic character — though in this case, for some reason, it fit the character and therefore worked for me. But it's there. (Speaking of, said character is a 12-year-old with an enormous rack and ludicrous waist-to-hip ratio — makes sense within the confines of the story, but still a little weird.)
This is really what it's all about, isn't it? I mean, we don't spend hours slogging through dungeons just to see a few minutes of cut-scene that we could simply look up on YouTube, right? Right?
Well, I'm happy to report that MG2 has one of the more enjoyable combat systems I've played in a J(K)RPG in recent memory. As mentioned earlier, the whole thing is very fluid and seamless. Enemies are always visible on the field, and all you have to do to switch from movement mode to combat mode is hit the left trigger. It's not quite an action-RPG, since you don't run around with your weapon out, but it's relatively close. Battle is team-based, with three characters on-field at a time, although you change characters with a simple press of the d-pad and can swap out any time you like (including swapping dead characters for living ones). Combat is, for the most part, basic, with a single attack button, a timed "counter move" button (this is character-specific), and a special move button. Special moves are triggered by storing up "Kan", which is gathered in a couple different ways. For the physical attack characters, it is created by connecting blows, and can be stored for use later (say, in boss battles). For elemental characters (4 of the 6), it is made the same way, but it is also inherent in the environment. The marsh, for instance, produces a lot of water kan, so the water magic user can basically spam special moves should she desire, whereas the fire user doesn't have any kan to pull from. As mentioned, the fire user can still create kan in this instance by attacking, but unlike the physical attackers it evaporates quickly in such an environment.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the attack system is the implementation of stamina, overdrive, and chain breaks. Each character has both a stamina and stamina recovery stat. Every attack/spell/etc. uses stamina. If you go over the limit, you enter "overdrive", at which point you gain a very sizeable damage bonus — even over 100%, depending on how many moves are in your combo. The problem with this? Once you've finished the combo, you've overheated. Which means you're just standing there, motionless, a sitting duck for enemies to wail on you. The workaround (and, really, what makes battle interesting) is the chain break. If you finish off a combo in overdrive with a special move (the special move can even be what puts you into overdrive), then once you finish the combo and enter overheat mode, your stamina bar will say "chain ready". At this point, if you switch to another character and perform a combo that puts them into overdrive and finish it with a special move, you will have performed a "chain break" and both characters will have their stamina bars completely emptied. This sequence of events is absolutely crucial to success in this game; luckily it's easier to pick up in-game than through a text explanation like I've given here. I should note that enemies are beholden to the same rules, so if you do hit overheat they can't just attack you repeatedly; they have their own stamina to worry about. Since it is a little hack-and-slash, there's a possibility that it could become repetitive, but it didn't get that way for me in the 35 or so hours it took to complete.
As far as characters go, I'm happy to report that there isn't a throwaway in the bunch. This was a very pleasant surprise to me, as typically there is at least one or two characters in this type of game that just sucks to play with, but not in MG2. I think this is due in large part to weapon specialties. Each character has two types of weapons that they can use. The differences vary from relatively minor — Juto can use either a 1-handed or two-handed sword, granting higher defense and higher attack, respectively — to pretty major, even going so far as to make a distance healer into a melee fighter. It keeps things interesting, to say the least. Your tanks are strong, but your highest-DPS character will be your lightning user specced melee; although she's fragile, she's incredibly powerful, and has extremely high agility so she'll dodge more attacks than actually land on her. Her timed "counter" move is even an instant-kill attack which can wipe out huge health bars that otherwise would have taken a couple combos to whittle down. The AI is pretty competent at handling each character, although I found it handled distance-based magic users better than melee fighters. Of particular note are the healers; by and large the AI does a very good job of healing people. Note that they won't use items, though; it's up to you to do that.
I could go on more about stat trees, enhancements (you can pull the gems back out without destroying either them or the weapons!!!!WHOOPEE!!!), and the like, but I doubt anyone is still reading by this point. So I'll just sum up.
If I had to describe MagnaCarta 2 in a single phrase, I'd use "flawed, but fun". It misses the mark in some places, and at times very much feels like a budget title. But a strong, variable combat system and interesting leveling and enhancement decisions keep the game fun. In addition, unlike most games of this ilk, you can 100% this one in under 40 hours time, which is pretty noteworthy, I think. No "grind to this level" or "play for x hours" achievements here. Maybe not worth $60 unless you really like the JRPG style, but a fairly strong buy at $40 or $30, I think.
2.5 xenophobic podcasters out of 4.