Monday, November 23, 2015

Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven; Final Thoughts

 After three weeks of playing this game, I've finally come to what I suppose we could call "The end."
It's not what I would call a very good ending, nor what I would call a conclusion, but the credits were rolling and at the end it said "Fin" so I'd go ahead and say that that's the conclusion of the game. I might not like the end, but I like that I'm done with the game.
I went into Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven hoping that I'd enjoy the experience. While I didn't care for the plot at first, I started out having some fun with the combat, but over time it just got tedious. The smaller technical issues with the game just piled up over-time, and all enjoyment I had at the start of the game just fizzled out towards the end.
You know what? That pretty much describes the entire plot of the game, except for the fact that it the plot started out bland, and proceeded to dig a bunch of plot-holes.
Over the course of the game between what we covered two weeks ago and what we're covering now, they introduced a member of the party whose only purpose in the story is to provide exposition, they revealed that the weird sinister figure we fought earlier in the game was actually a hero, and had a more interesting background than the bloody main-character, who's only revealed to be more bland as the game goes on. Not to mention more proof that the main plot of the game should have been about Luch's ancestor who worked for Kaiser.
Let's sum up the plot in its entirety, shall we? I know I covered it a bit in the last part of the review, but I'm going to discuss it in more detail so I can pick apart the various failings of the story.
The main characters name is Luchs, he runs an inn out in the middle of nowhere, and he never gets any visitors except for his buddy Bart, who minds the inn while Luchs goes out hunting for crystals, which he then sells. While he's out, he finds a girl trapped in a massive crystal formation. Then, an earthquake happens and a bunch of monsters appear blocking his way out of the cave. One of them gives him a concussion, and a voice starts talking to him, asking him what he wants. He wishes to not die right then, and then the girl bursts out of the crystal and kills the monsters. Please note that this whole sequence takes about twenty minutes, and is entirely unplayable.
After that, the girl passes out, and Luchs has to haul her back to the inn. Bart then dresses her up in a maids outfit, and it's at that point we notice the hidden pun in the title. The girl's name is Charlotte, and she has amnesia, as I mentioned in the previous part of the review.
Something that bugs me that I didn't bring up during the first impressions review is the fact that the story gets kicked off by a massive coincidence. Luchs just happens to get up at the right time to meet up with Bart, who just happens to convince him to go out and collect crystals, and Luchs just happens to pick the crystal cave where the girl was in, and he just happens to get attacked by monsters. I've never been one to accept "destiny" as a decent excuse for why things happen in a game. Sure, happenstance can be a good way to kick off some stories, but this game tries to pass it off as some kind of grand destiny of the main character, since it's later revealed that he's descended from the guy who created the magical girls that flock to him. If he was just some kid who'd found the girls and the Lachryma (The bracelet that links them together) by total accident, that'd be better. That's a tale of a hero from humble origins, this is just contrivance.
Luchs and Charlotte go to the local farm to get some vegetables, and they find the girl who runs the farm under attack by the same kinda enemies they fought earlier. Keep in mind, this is over an hour into the game, and this is the first time you're actually allowed to participate in the tactical combat of this tactical RPG. This is why I spent so much time harping on about the pacing of this game in the first impressions review, because this game spent about twenty minutes before you got to anything remotely interactive, and then it took almost an hour to get to the actual combat. You'd think that this is the kind of thing that they'd only do once, but it's not. They actually did it around five times, and that's just counting the long stretches of exposition bookended by opportunities to save. It's probably more times if you manage to count all the times they bookend the exposition with a little bit of combat. The final battle alone has fairly massive cutscenes before and after it.
Later on, they run into the second girl on the list, Beatrix, who (surprise) also has amnesia, but the kind that starts breaking down when she meets her sisters. They sort of explain this, but it doesn't make a lot of sense from my perspective, and it just seems like a massive contrivance so they can not explain the plot all at once, which I suppose I should be thankful for, since it keeps them from spending five straight hours on exposition.
I took a liking to Trixie, and since this game has a relationship system, I went ahead and decided to shoot for a relationship with her. So after Luchs met her, they went on a date in the city, where they met the third girl in the game, a German girl named Elfriede, also suffering from that convenient version of amnesia. She's a tinkerer, and generally one of the best characters in the game, since her primary attack has a rather large area of effect and a damn good damage count. This is where I think they ran out of ideas for unique character mechanics, since the first three girls are the best in combat, while the other four range from utterly useless to annoying, to actually being fairly useful. As for character traits, I'm not impressed. The only ones that seem to be decently characterized are the first three girls, with characterization getting a lot lighter as they're introduced. The last girl pretty much only serves as Addy Exposition, telling Luchs about the back-story of the other girls. Granted, I wasn't able to put any major time into relationships outside of like two, but that's more the games fault than mine. In Fire Emblem Awakening, you built relationships between units by pairing them together in combat. In this game, you build relationships at random points in the story by talking to one of the girls with a heart over their head. This also builds up their powers. You can see the problem here. Tying the characters attacks to their relationship with the main character isn't really a bad thing, per se. But since you're not allowed to build relationships with the girls outside of when the game lets you, this handicaps your party. And since you're only really allowed to go all the way with one girl per playthrough, this prevents you from unlocking all of the girls powers at once. So you might as well just stick with the girls you like in combat and just leave the others to the side until you want to play the game again. Yeah, like that's gonna happen.
From about the time the fourth girl is introduced onwards (With a little before falling into that spot), the writing just seems like it was slapped together on the fly, without much care for consistency. For one thing, check out the screenshot to the left. What Gewalt says there makes literally no sense in light of things we find out later on in the game. You see, he's actually the son of the main villain, who we don't actually meet until about the halfway point of the game. Waaaaay back in the past, the king, Kaiser, waged a war using the girls as his main weapons. They were being mind-controlled by Kaiser, but Gewalt acts like they were willing participants in the fight. It wasn't their fault, and Gewalt knows that, so what was he babbling about?
That's not the only thing which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The war the girls were involved in? Nobody remembers it happening. But Kaiser, the guy behind it all and the main villain of the game, looks exactly the same now as he did back then, and the reason why isn't actually explained until almost the end of the game. Gewalt looks pretty young as well, and he's been around for hundreds of years too. They say that's because of the false Lachryma that Kaiser wears, but that doesn't explain how Gewalt is still alive, and they didn't really establish the Lachryma as something which prolongs life. Not to mention the false Lachryma is the excuse they give for why Kaiser doesn't just die one of the four times he's killed. But if the false one is keeping him alive, why didn't the real Lachryma keep Luch's ancestor, Edhuard alive when Kaiser killed him? Plus, they state that the true Lachryma is supposed to override the false one, and yet Kaiser was able to order the girls to kill Edhuard. That's just... Weird.
And they suggest that Kaiser survives his many deaths through just sheer force of will, when I'm pretty sure that's not how it works. I should know, I've dedicated most of my life towards studying human anatomy. I might not have a degree, but I think I know enough about the human body to say that getting shot with a magical crossbow, stabbed and slashed with a giant sword, shot some more with a Gatling gun, punched with metal gloves, blown up with grenades, dive-kicked and beaten up until you collapse isn't something you walk away from. Unless you're Deadpool, or Wolverine. But at least they've got the healing-factor going for them, whereas Kaiser just has the fact that he's the villain backing him up.
Kaiser seems to fall into the category of villains who show up late to the party, showing up for one vague scene and then barely being mentioned for about half the game. He also falls into the category of villains who don't really have a good reason to be doing what they're doing.
Kaiser's wife, Sarine died during childbirth, and his best-friend, Edhuard refuses to bring her back using his god-like powers. He gives some weak reason for why he's not doing it, but he just comes off as a bit of a dick. However, Kaiser's reaction to this is to kill Edhuard and try to take the power of the true Lachryma for himself. That sounds like a bit of a massive overreaction if you ask me, but he then one-ups himself by waging a freaking war against the world that seems largely unconnected to the dead queen storyline. And he doesn't react immediately once the Lachryma resurfaces, he takes a while to do anything. And even then, he doesn't do anything sensible. Nobody remembers the war Kaiser waged, not even the girls who were the main weapons of that war, and yet he keeps trying to kill Luchs. Luchs is a nice guy, Kaiser could just walk up to his house and ask him to bring back his wife! As obsessed as Luchs is with doing good deeds, he'd probably jump at the opportunity to help out a person in need. And this might just be me, but I've never really saw any problem with using any means necessary to bring back a dead loved-one or friend. You know, unless that's making a deal with literal a literal devil that also breaks up your marriage. And yes, I am still bitter about Spider Man: One More Day.
Over time, the story just falls apart as the plot-holes begin to intersect. For instance, two of the girls almost literally fall into your lap out of bloody nowhere, and while it starts to get a little stronger after you launch a rescue mission for the final girl, it rather quickly falls apart. The amnesia plot gets dropped fairly soon after Addy shows up, even though the girls don't really get all their memories back, and the game starts ripping off The Heroes Journey in the laziest way possible, since the girls leave Luchs in the middle of the night, and he's not even forced to deal with their absence during any relevant scenario. The girls leave him during the middle of a cutscene, and then rejoin him at the end of that same cutscene, and it's at that point you start to wonder if Addy might be a bad influence on the girls, not that you can actually do anything about that. What do you think this is, a role-playing game? Oh wait.
During the rescue-mission,  Luchs dies and comes back to life, after going through some judgement from the girls, and a little flashback sequence involving the character Sarine, showing him why she exists and why Kaiser is a villain, as shown above. It's rather heavily implied that Sarine helps bring Luchs back from the dead (somehow) and that she's going to be an ally from there on out, but just wait, the inconsistency of the game is about to strike yet again.
After all that's over with, you storm Kaiser's castle and try to kill him. Take a look at the screenshot to the left, and look at the battleground. The flowerbeds are the outer-limits of the battlefield, with invisible walls hampering movement outside of that area. That makes the whole battle a lot less fun, since this is a tiny freaking place for combat, especially with the amount of enemies that spawn on screen at once. Plus, even though Sarine is set up as an ally of Luchs and the girls, she actually aids Kaiser in combat in this section. Luchs and his team succeed in killing Kaiser, but he comes back, and his son (Who he apparently loathes for killing his queen, which doesn't make a whole load of sense.) Gewalt has to destroy his fathers false Lachryma and kill Kaiser before dying himself. And you'd think this would be the end of it, and it should have been, but you'd be wrong. Before we get to that, let's address Kaiser's hatred of his son, both of which have been around for centuries. This much is confirmed towards the end of the game by Gewalt, but if that's true, why haven't they buried the hatchet by now? I refuse to believe that these two human beings, who have been around for hundreds of years wouldn't possibly have gotten tired of all this fighting. And why is Kaiser still apparently in charge of the country? You'd think that someone would notice that the country has an immortal king eventually.
So, Luchs and Trix go to the party the town is throwing for them for saving the world, and Luchs gets beaten up by the revived Kaiser. This is the point where what's left of the story starts falling apart, since this entire last section of the game doesn't need to exist from a storytelling perspective.
However, I will give the game this. The fight with Kaiser right before the final showdown is a good idea, since you're forced to work without using Luchs or whichever of the girls you wound up choosing to be with, which forces you to rely on tactics and units that you wouldn't normally use in combat. It's pretty cool, and I actually liked it from a gameplay perspective. However, from a story perspective, it still doesn't make sense.
After you defeat him a third time, Kaiser spawns a whole bunch of Sarines and absorbs them into himself. After that, his skin turns black and he transforms into a giant robot. No, I'm not kidding. And no, this is never explained.
Check out the gif on the left, this is the final boss, and it might have been a decent fight if not for the fact that the free-roaming combat system is broken when it comes to larger units. The last couple hours of the game are where Lord of Magna's largest failings become glaringly obvious. You've got the bad AI, the tendency of mobs of enemies to restrict their own allies movement, and a new bug that I found where if you pin Frenzied Kaiser between two enemies or even a single enemy and stay just outside his reach, you can just take pot-shots at him until his health reaches zero, and I found this out on the second attempt. I wasn't even trying to find any exploits when I was playing this game, they just showed up.
The Frenzy fight is just bland. Frenzied Kaiser has way too much health, and he's way too hard to beat legitimately, which is why I wound up exploiting his lack of movement. Up until that point, however, it was an okay fight. At least until he pulled out his ultimate finishing move five times in a freaking row! He only used it once in the first fight, but the second fight was downright unfair in the last half, for him and for me.
And after you kill Kaiser again, he still doesn't die! He comes back from the brink of death, again, and isn't going to stop, so Trix steps in and starts to stop him, possibly at the cost of her own life.
This is at the point where it super doesn't make any sense for him to still be alive, because he's been killed four separate times, and has pretty much used-up his entire life-force on massive attacks and spawning little helper enemies who don't actually help him out. This is the kinda situation that's utterly nonsensical, from both a gameplay perspective and from a storytelling perspective, since, by all rights, Kaiser should be dead at least four times over, not counting the amount of times that he should have died over the several centuries he's been alive.
The only way you can truly defeat Kaiser is by embracing Luch's god-powers. But once you do that, the game just ends. Cut to black, roll credits and start showing off sepia-toned screenshots from the game. Then they sort of try to explain why the game just stopped, but it's so incredibly weak that I can't take it seriously. Luchs just disappears and everyone's forgotten he exists except for his girlfriend. You're sort-of tricked into thinking there's any kind of legitimate post-game content, but it's really just a pointless trick that wastes the players time. Talk to everyone in the inn and then the credits keep rolling. Then the credits start pausing every now and again for dialogue.
And for some reason, everyone's sticking around after Luchs disappears, even though having no memory of him would remove any emotional attachment they have to him or his inn. Then all of a sudden, right before the rest of the credits roll, Luchs just shows up at the inn straight out of nowhere with absolutely no explanation as to why, just like how there's no explanation as to why everyone except for his girlfriend lost their memories of Luchs. Not his two best friends, not any of the townspeople he was a hero to, not most of the girls that he treated like part of his family, nobody except for literally one person. Like I said, no reason, no explanation, nothing.
After I finished the game, I started looking for details, and I couldn't find that many. I read some GameStop and Amazon reviews, and I looked around various Wikia wikis trying to find out if I'd maybe missed anything, but there's not really any actual documentation of the plot of this game. Not that I blame anyone for that, it's an incredibly boring story. The most I know now is that there are seven god-damn endings to this game to go along with the new-game+ mode. Presumably, this leads into some kind of true ending, but I'm not going for that.
I've sometimes wondered about making a game that pulls a fast one on the player, where the game is posed as something boring and generic, or maybe extremely bad, and then is revealed to be excellent later on, and I thought for a bit that this might be what this game is trying to do. But then I realized that if you did do that, you'd need to pull it off in (at most) the first hour of the game. Ideally speaking, you'd pull it in the first twenty minutes of the game. So even if this game was trying to pull a fast-one with the story, it failed. Even if the game magically gets better on the seventh playthrough, I'd be more willing to attribute that to Stockholm Syndrome than it actually getting better. Maybe you could call that "Pulling a slow one"
It took me forty hours of play spread across three straight weeks to get the ending I got, and I've got other games that need reviewing. And even if I didn't, I wouldn't want to. Like I've said before, this game has such a boring story that I utterly despise the time I've been forced to spend on it. Rather cunningly, the game has a speed-up button for the dialogue, but even if I were to use that, the rest of the game gets real dull real fast. The fact that it doesn't let you outright skip a cutscene by pressing Start is just odd. Plus, something I liked about Fire Emblem: Awakening was that you could press the R button and bring up a dialogue archive, which was useful if you accidentally skipped past something. Unfortunately, this game doesn't have any equivalent of that, and instead maps the dialogue-skip button to R, which led to me skipping some dialogue accidentally. (not like it mattered) Thankfully, you can turn that off. But once you've turned it off, you can't turn it back on again until you're back into an interactive section. And if you've turned it on, and switched it on during a cutscene, it keeps going in the next cutscene you see, instead of just resetting like it logically should, which has led to more than one accidental skipping. Industry standard is the Start button, why would you do anything else?
Then we get to all the technical problems. As we've covered before, the AI is dumb as bricks, and the game tends to slow down and freeze for a second or two when the AI is making decisions. What I've noticed since then is that the game suffers from enemy pop-in when a whole bunch are on one screen. Look at the screenshot and tell me that's not massively distracting.
Again, I don't know what the game could possibly doing under the hood that it can't render a bunch of teddy-bears and diamonds on screen without having pop-in or slowdown, since I've seen other, more complex games on the 3DS that don't suffer from these same issues. Plus, the game actually straight-up crashed on me twice in the same day. I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out why that happened, but to no avail. It just crashed on me in the middle of combat and dialogue straight out of nowhere. That was last week, and it hasn't crashed on me since then. God only knows why it crashed, god only knows why it stopped crashing.
I know the slowdown wouldn't have been caused by the SD card I have the game installed on, since it's on a Class 10 card, not like it would do that anyways, media speed only affects the loading time of the game as far as I can tell, and all old3DS's are the same hardware-wise, so it's not like my CPU isn't fast enough or whatever. And I still don't have a New3DS to test it out on, not like that matters, since it's packaged and marketed as a game for the regular 3DS.
Over time, I noticed that they seemed to be married to the concept of the harem of magical maids being your combat party, because they're literally the only characters other than Luchs that you can use in combat, which stunts the game's potential to a rather large extent, since you can't just recruit other people to include in your combat team. If you could add Gewalt, Bart, Amelia, or literally anyone else to the party it'd liven up the combat a bit. Also, the limit of four party-members makes the game a little boring, since fights are an uphill battle unless you're massively leveled. I just prefer the tactical RPGs which allow you to have two massive armies going head-to-head.
The freeform combat system is a little hard to grasp, since only the movement range of a unit is shown when you point your cursor at it, and not the full threat-range. And there's no way to bring up a map of all possible enemy threat-range like you can in Fire Emblem: Awakening.
Then there's the movement on its own. Some enemies can move through each other, and some can't, but you can't move through your own allies, which is a little odd as far as I'm concerned. That, and the fact that a lot of enemies have massive mob-attacks breaks the old DnD adage of "don't split the party" since there are very few circumstances under which keeping the party together is actually beneficial, even when healing comes into the game. All you have to do is just walk your units a few paces towards Luchs and his AOE healing spells take care of the rest. That's literally the first thing I do when I start up a new combat scenario, I spread all the characters across the map.
Then there are the one-way passages that you can sorta squeeze through one way, but not another. There are also times when the gap between two characters or enemies looks like it's big enough to walk through, but it's not, and also times when a gap looks too small to move through, but you somehow manage to squeeze through. I'm not sure how to react to that, since I can't figure out why that would even happen
The more I played this game, the more I began to believe my initial thoughts on the game were correct, that this was a tech-demo that was released as a full game, or at the very least an unfinished game.
Smarten up the AI a bit, polish the movement mechanics a bit more, and definitely fix up the story a whole freaking lot, and you'd have a good game. Hell, some of these glitches should have been fixed up in the international version. They list a debug team in the credits, but I can't possibly see how they managed to miss this much. Granted, the game and its release-date was announced in January of 2014 and saw an initial release in October of the same year in Japan, having been about half-done at the time of announcement. That's something you don't do. Bethesda and Valve have this down pat, you don't announce a game or its release date until it's finished, that way you're not rushing to meet the public deadline. That's not to say you don't need a deadline, you do. But you definitely don't announce a release-date before the game is about 80% finished.
The funny thing is that they list Japanese debug teams and American debug teams, when I can't see that they actually did anything. Or maybe they did, and the original version of the game was unplayable. You know, from what I've been able to see in a lot of Japanese games, the international version irons out a lot of bugs from the original version, but maybe the rather lukewarm sales of the game led to XSeed not putting in a whole lot of effort.
As the game is, I can't recommend it at the price it sells for new. This game is not worth forty bucks, at the most I'd say it's worth between ten and twenty. I'm sorry to say this, I really am. I don't go into any of these reviews looking to trash a game, or to ruin other peoples fun. Sometimes I just have to put my foot down and say "This game sucks"
However, I do have a few positive things to say about the game. For one thing, it's got a kick-ass soundtrack, despite it sounding more like it belongs in Perfect Dark than it does in a Japanese Fantasy game. I'd love to get the soundtrack for this game on CD. I wonder if I could convince XSeed to reuse the soundtrack in a better game than this.
Another good thing to mention is that the 2D art is very well-made and well-animated. They're out-of-place, but they're nice. This game almost feels like it would have been slightly better as a show, given how little it wants to involve the player in the actual story. Hell, they have dialogue choices that have only one option, for some reason.
Here's what I say you need to do to fix the story. Erase the character of Luchs and have us playing as Edhuard back in the time he was working with Kaiser. Then, instead of Kaiser killing Edhuard because his wife died and Edhuard wouldn't bring her back, maybe have Edhuard die in battle against some horrible foe. Then have Kaiser gradually go insane over decades of fighting off the horrible enemy until they finally manage to seal it away for a few more centuries, and have him erase the memories of the girls to keep them from suffering from PTSD. He then finds that he can't do that to himself because his powers prevent him from doing so. Then you skip a while and you play as Gewalt as the terrible enemy comes back later on in the game (Having Gewalt either being a descendant of Kaiser or Edhuard) and have him finding the girls, finding out about the previous events, and then have him confronting the avatar of the evil force, who will turn out to be Kaiser, having been corrupted over the centuries by the terrible thing. Maybe have Kaiser be visibly regretful about his role in this, to make him a tragic hero instead of a nonsensical villain.
But unfortunately, that's not the game we got. But hey, if XSeed wants to hire me on as a story-writer, you can consider the above paragraph my story pitch and audition.
All in all, I didn't have that good a time with Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven. It was dull, repetitive, generic, and a whole lot of other synonyms for "not good"
In the end, I think this is a 1.4* game at most. And you know what, I'm not going to apologize for that. I didn't like the game in the end, and I don't really know how I could have liked it without making some fairly massive changes to it.

Game provided for review by XSeed. Screenshots taken by me. Cover image provided by XSeed, and edited by me.