Modern Tactical RPG Musings Part One: Lord of Magna

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I managed to cut a couple of hours out of my time with The Witcher 3 to look at Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven which came out for the 3DS back in June. I obviously can’t give anything close to a definitive opinion on the game itself but it’s got me thinking about recent trends in Japanese RPGs in general, kinda like my experience with Lost Dimension.

Magna is a rare instance where I went in pretty much totally blind. I saw it on GameFly and thought it looked just interesting enough to glance at for a few hours. I only read up on it a bit after my play session. Overall I think it’s a pretty interesting combination of already popular RPG systems that has potential weren’t they stymied by this game’s troubled development.

The question I gotta ask coming out of all this is, are strategy RPGs (the western equivalent being tactical RPGs) the new trend? Did Nippin Ichi start something with Disgaea back in the PS2 era and I just missed it? In my blog about Lost Dimension I mentioned I’m starting to realize strategy RPGs might be my favorite type of turn-based game, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover Magna is also one. Actually I’ve been wondering for a while where all the SRPGs on today’s handheld systems were — there were so many on the DS and PSP. I was waiting for some 3DS equivalent to Final Fantasy Tactics Advance that never came, and always thought a game like it or Jeanne d’Arc would be the perfect fit for the Vita. Mostly what I’ve been seeing on the 3DS and Vita have been dungeon RPGs.

Like DimensionMagna does the Valkyria Chronicles thing and is gridless. You just move freely within a circular limit upon each turn. I wonder if Valkyria really did change the game when it comes to 3D SRPGs, popularizing a way to make them feel more active and dynamic. Magna is more of an isometric take on the idea, but the other weird thing about it is most of the enemies are one-hit mooks generated by stronger commanders which to me kinda makes it feel like a turn-based Musou game. Whatever. It’s cool. Glad to see the 3D SRPG style become a trend.

Magna’s graphics and art direction are arguably the most skillfully-done thing about the game. At first glance it’s your typical isometric JRPG visual direction, but the way 2D art assets are placed in relation to the camera crates a nice “drawn-in” aspect to the 3D environments. The 3DS screen gives it extra pop. If you’ve seen anime that try to combine 2D animation with bits of 3D environments in certain shots, Magna kinda looks like that. Another cool thing is how the character models, which look mostly 2D to me, seem to be intentionally animated at around 15 frames per second to make them look more like anime drawings than video game characters.

What ultimately put me personally off Magna is how shamelessly it follows the modern otaku harem playbook. From the moment the male lead found a girl locked inside a crystal who immediately addressed him as “master” and put on a maid outfit, I knew where this was going. And then of course another girl showed up, and according to the instruction manual (you DO know every 3DS game comes with a digital one right?) you get seven in all. This was after The Childhood Friend showed up. There’s even an affection meter for each of them as they all work together running an inn in the same scenario that’s kept popping up since Tenchi Muyo! (or Ranma or whatever). That, and I’m just not down with most of today’s anime character designs.

That’s 100% personal preference though. I’m all over social links in Persona 4 because its characters almost immediately exude a degree of depth and their dialogue is well-written. That’s basically the quality a game like this needs to have if a significant part of its content is comprised of characters talking and slice-of-life hijinks. Even Witcher 3 understands this.

But if you want more SRPGs on today’s hardware, there you go. Maybe I really should check out Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor like everyone keeps telling me.

BULLETS:

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