Currently scheduled for release in North America in October, Magical Starsign is the Nintendo DS-exclusive sequel to 2001's Magical Vacation--a role-playing game for the Game Boy Advance that was never released outside of Japan. Like its predecessor, Magical Starsign will give you the role of a student at the Will O'Wisp magical academy who must travel to a number of different destinations to rescue missing classmates. We recently got our hands on a Japanese retail version of the game and, although it's quite text-heavy in places, we've really enjoyed playing through the first couple of hours in order to share our first impressions with you.
The first thing that you'll need to do when starting out in Magical Starsign is to create a character for yourself. There aren't many customization options, but you can choose which gender you want to be and decide whether to specialize in light or dark magic. You can then rename your character in Japanese or in English, along with the five classmates who you'll be rescuing and fighting alongside as your adventure progresses. Each of the classmates specializes in a different school of elemental magic, and although we're not certain of the exact translations, they appear to be fire, water, wind, tree, and earth.
Once you're through customizing your party, you'll join them in the halls of Will O'Wisp, where you'll find that you can control your movement using the directional pad, the four face buttons, or the stylus. After experimenting with all three, we opted for the stylus, and we were pleased to find that it seems possible to play the entire game without ever using any of the buttons. As we explored the halls and classrooms of the magical academy, we made incomprehensible small talk with the other students we encountered and met a teacher who, via a handful of easy-to-follow tutorials, showed us how to use the icon-driven, turn-based combat system. The options available to your characters when it's their turn in a battle will include melee and magic attacks, adopting a defensive stance, consuming potions, and rearranging your party's formation. Those options seem quite limited, but we've already encountered plenty of enemies against which only certain attacks are effective, and it's conceivable that the characters will learn additional skills and techniques as the game progresses and they level up.
Although we're still uncertain about the particulars of Magical Starsign's storyline, we can tell you that our time at the Will O'Wisp academy came to quite an abrupt end shortly after we discovered a room housing several space rockets and decided to climb inside one of them. Moments later, we were treated to a cutscene that showed us flying through space alongside one of our classmates, and when the gameplay resumed, the two of us were stranded on a barren and quite obviously hostile planet. After using our classmate's wind magic to overcome an obstacle that was hindering our progress, we were thrown into our first boss fight, against a giant scorpion. None of the four or five bosses that we've encountered thus far have presented a significant challenge, but they've hit us with some interesting attacks, and all of them look really great.
In boss battles, the DS's upper screen--which is mostly used to display area maps and character info in the game--becomes an extension of the touch screen so that very large enemies can be accommodated. Magical Starsign's colorful 2D visuals are a real treat for the most part, with characters and environments that are as varied as they are detailed. Things get a little pixelated when the camera zooms in for a better look at some of the magical attacks, but the effect is still quite pleasing in what could otherwise be a very static-looking fight sequence.
To say much more about our adventure thus far would be to risk spoiling the game for those of you who are either planning to import it or waiting for the North American release. We can report that the game is intuitive enough to be played with little or no knowledge of the Japanese language, but it's difficult to do so without feeling you're missing out on an intriguing storyline. We'll bring you more information on Magical Starsign as soon as it becomes available.