Who wants to do some fantasy bowling? No, I am not talking about that zany/morbid elf bowling Flash game that shows up every year around Christmas, but in fact am referring to the rather unusual but still entertaining combat system found in the recently released Lords of Magna: Maiden Heaven. The game feels rushed at times, but the end result is still a good deal of fun.
The story, the characters and even the chibi art just exudes a certain kind charm. Anime styled character art, colorful scenery and the aforementioned battle system (more on that below) all lend themselves to a relatively lighthearted, enjoyable game. There are small bits of fan service (most notable in the bathing mini-game), but they never push the boundaries in terms of language or sexual content in the same fashion as plenty of other games on the market. Some people might be disappointed by this, while others will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief that this is a game they can play on a bus without worrying what might show up on screen to the person next to you.
Things start off simply enough as our main character ventures into a cavern so he can collect some crystals that are quite the valuable resource apparently. While doing so, monsters surprise our intrepid gatherer, and just before he meets an untimely demise, one of the crystals unlocks an entity called Charlotte. She will be the first of several you encounter throughout the game, and starts the proper story forward into motion.
Charlotte and her sister spirit girls have a nice system in place that allows you to build relationships with them. Similar to Persona 4 Arena’s system, though not nearly as interesting, you can only accomplish so much in your allotted time. Eventually the work you do with one girl might close out opportunities to complete quests for others, because the storyline begins to advance again. It makes you pick and choose whom you are most invested in, as the sisters you have the greatest relationships with will generally fare better in combat with you later.
These relationships are important, because they each tie to the different ending. Lords of Magna is not a terribly long game, and the different endings are entertaining to go after (I beat it twice in fairly short succession, seeing two of them. I will probably try a third in a few weeks or so as time allows).
As for the amusing and thoroughly entertaining combat system, you essentially bowl over enemies that are aligned in certain patterns. Striking one or two enemies can cause a chain reaction of tumbles that causes others to fall over, and the on-field items scattered about add a certain degree of random uncertainty to each battle. If this sounds simple, that is because it rather is. If the basics sound familiar, I would say they most resemble the combat found in Valkyria Chronicles. It is still entertaining and rather well-balanced, but this is not the deepest of combat systems out there.
I touched on the rather short game duration, and that is probably the biggest weakness in Lords of Magna. For an RPG, there is precious little exploration to be had. The game and its events look like they wanted to be larger than they are, but in the end the storyline is relatively linear. I can appreciate a game not being artificially padded, but when I think back to all of the frustration from gamers over the linearity of Final Fantasy XIII when it released, I can see some of those same complaints surfacing here.
I mentioned that some of the zones feel like they could have been bigger, but there are other places where it feels as though some corners were cut as well. Voice acting is almost uniformly good to excellent, but it does not get leveraged very often. Cutscenes feel somewhat sparse as well. Combined with the somewhat limited scope of exploration, and I suspect that we are seeing the result of some of the woes from the developmental hiccups. Neverland is best known for their Lufia and Rune Factory games. Lords of Magna was well along in its development when the company filed for bankruptcy and development was briefly stunted. Marvelous retained enough key staff to finish the project, and I am glad that it saw the light of day, but there are moments where things feel slightly rushed along the way.
Lords of Magna: Maiden Heaven makes for a satisfactory, if light and somewhat short RPG experience. The combat scores high marks for being unique, and the visual and audio presentation is excellent. While the story is decent if unspectacular, there is enough going for the game to merit a look if you are a fan of anime-style RPG with simulation aspects.
Review by Nick