bitparade: Magna Carta: Tears of Blood (PlayStation 2)

With the Final Fantasy series taking a little bit of a break, well we’re not going to see FFXII on these shores till at least the end of the year, other companies have decided to try and grab the RPG torch to highlight games that would otherwise get ignored for Square Enix’s popular series. In the years between the release of FFX and the coming release of FFXII we’ve seen series’ like Shadow Hearts and Shin Megami Tensei released in an attempt to put their own unique style to the genre. That is exactly what Magna Carta is here to attempt, and for the most part it does just that, with a compelling story, fairly interesting characters and a unique, complicated, yet fun battle system

Magna Carta: Tears of Blood takes place in a world called Efferia, a land where two different races, humans and Yason, are locked into a bitter battle for control of their land. The two species are pretty much the same, aside from the Yason having strange looking ears and are more in touch with the nature around them. During the game you control Calintz, a hot headed, permanently sarcastic teenage lad, who is the captain of a mercenary group known as the Tears of Blood. The game throws you into the story just as the humans launch a massive attack on the Yason in an attempt to end the war once and for all. The attack is foiled, the Tears of Blood retreat, Calintz is attacked and knocked out and then meets a strange girl with an enormous set of breasts known as Reith.

Unsurprisingly the two form an awkward romance that remains through out the story while you try to figure out who Reith is, where her powers came from, and how she help bring peace to Efferia (she too received a knock to the head and cant remember a thing). The story is full of mysteries and unexplained coincidences, but there are a lot of political points during the game too. The game features a bizarre yet interesting and well developed cast of characters that you will grow to love.

As is normal with a lot of RPG’s everything starts a little slow, despite you being thrown into the action for the first hour or so of game play, but thankfully there’s plenty going on throughout the game to hold your interest until the final credits roll, interestingly, the story doesn’t back off at all, with it taking on stronger subjects such as death and betrayal while throwing plenty of twists in your direction to keep you permanently interested.

At times the game feels very linear and restrictive, there’s not a lot of opportunity to stray off the path the developer has weaved into the story, there are a few side quests, but for the most part you’ll be walking along a narrow path to each destination that the story wishes you to visit. This is the games main downfall, as it feels like your being directed through the game but an unseen hand rather than embarking on a epic quest to bring peace to a war torn land.

A lot of the quests are basic RPG fare. Quite a few of them require you to travel to a town to gather information, only for you tog et there and discover the information you need is actually in another town. As is normal in RPG’s on your journey you will run into plenty of monsters that you can fight to earn experience points and level up your team, and like with the Grandia games, the creatures you get to fight appear on the map, allowing you to either avoid them, sneak up on them or let them attack you first. The battles aren’t random, which is one complaint permanently thrown at the genre despite a few titles not featuring random battles, and the creatures are set out at specific points, so if you return to an area, chances are, the same creature will be at that point, this however makes it difficult to power level your squad to make the game easier later on.

What’s interesting about the battles though is that the game uses a mechanic similar to the judgement wheel in Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Your allowed a party of three characters in a battle, but you only control one character at a time, if you want to line up other moves, you need to switch characters manually. To attack an enemy, you simply have to run up to an enemy until a Trinity Circle appears, taking you into a rhythm action style piece of game play to execute a move. If you hit the correct button at the right time you’ll receive the obligatory “good” or “great” rating. Do this with all 3 buttons and you will be able to attack. Miss the timing of any of the buttons and you’ll miss your attack,, miss your turn and will be forced to have to wait for another round. Getting “Great” on all three button presses will increase your trinity drive gauge, which is basically like a limit break or overdrive that boosts your attack. Also by achieving Great on the Trinity Wheel you can perceive new attacks for your characters to use. Only the X and Circle buttons are used during this technique however, so the combo’s are never too complex, and after a few goes, its extremely easy to get the timing down perfect so you always receive a Great rating.

The leadership gauge allows you to have the advantage in battles, the gauge is constantly filling up during battle while you stand still, once it reaches a certain point you can attack. This gauge is affected by how many enemies are in the battle, their overall strength and how much the members of your party trust you. If your controlling a character that doesn’t trust you for example, you’ll need a lot of leadership points just for them to attack. Obviously, this can mean a lot in battle, so its important to keep an eye on the gauge and your relationships with the other characters, as this one particular mechanic can be the difference between victory and defeat in battle. If you play your cards right, you can often get two or three attacks for every one the enemy gets to perform. To gain the trust of your allies, you simply have to talk to them and say things that gain their trust and friendship, or give them gifts, although material possessions only raise their trust in you for a short while, its very much like one of those dating sims that are so popular in Japan.

The battle modes attacks revolve around something called chi, there are eight different types of elemental chi, which you can replenish by using talismans. Every battlefield you fight in has specific elemental properties that you really need to pay attention to, because if the area your in doesn’t have a specific type of chi, you wont be able to use certain attacks. there are multiple fighting styles with different chi associations, allowing you to switch between different styles depending on the levels of chi in the area your in. A lot there is a problem with the Chi system, and that is in the fact the icons used to represent each element aren’t very intuitive. It takes a while to memorize what each letter stands for.

During the whole time your in Efferia you’ll be treated to plenty of nice sights. At first glance, you could quite easily mistake this for a Final Fantasy title, as the visual style is very similar to that in Final Fantasy X. The lush vegetation and structures all share the same look, although there’s a bit of a quick change that suddenly happens when switching between new areas, as movement between different areas takes place on a map rather than in the world created for you. The characters are all highly detailed and the battle animations look great. What is fun to note is that a lot of the men have that feminine look that is apparent in a lot of Eastern RPGs while the women all look a bit like Porn stars. The only visual problem with the game is in its fixed camera angles, sometimes during battle you can’t even see your own characters.

Unfortunately, the sound in Magna Carta doesn’t live up to the standards set by the rest of the game, the voice overs are delivered without any feeling behind them, leaving the characters seeming a little wooden and lifeless. The games title song is awful, sounding like a B-Side from one of Celine Dion’s backup singers. The sound effects throughout the game don’t have the solid, polished execution that we’ve all come to expect from RPGs. The only thing going for the sound within the game is the music (not including the title theme) is fairly well done, there’s plenty of orchestral themes and choral chants thrown in to give the experience a little sound based depth.

If your looking for an RPG to fill the gap until the next Final Fantasy game comes out, the Magna Carta: Tears of Blood isn’t a bad choice, its probably not the best to go for, but thanks to some really nice visuals, a intriguing plot and some interesting characters, its easy to lose yourself to the game. The story is definitely the games strong point, although it would of been nice if Efferia had of been fleshed out a bit more.

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