When we checked out a Japanese-language version of Magical Starsign earlier this year, we enjoyed doing so but couldn't help feeling as if we were missing out on an intriguing storyline. Now, just a week ahead of its North American release, we've had an opportunity to spend some quality time with an English-language copy of the game, and we've learned a lot about its storyline and some interesting features in the process.
The first thing you'll need to do when you start playing Magical Starsign is to customize your character by renaming him or her and then deciding whether your character will employ light magic, which is mostly used for healing, or dark magic, which steals health points from enemies and purportedly makes the game a little more challenging. You can also rename the other five members of your party if you wish, each of whom specializes in a different element-based magic. There are seven different schools of magic in total, and, as you'd expect, they enjoy rochambeau-style relationships with each other. Water beats fire; fire beats wood; wood beats wind; wind beats earth; and earth beats water. The remaining two disciplines, light and dark, work against each other and offer no discernible advantages over any of the other elements.
Your Magical Starsign adventure will get under way in the Will O'Wisp magical academy, where your teacher will train you and five classmates on how to use the game's stylus-controlled combat system before she is sent into space on a dangerous mission. After three months pass and Miss Madeleine still hasn't returned, one of your classmates takes it upon herself to embark on a rescue mission, using one of the academy's secret rocket ships. What follows is a comedy of errors in which all six of the classmates launch into space with no idea about how to operate their respective crafts and, subsequently, end up stranded on different planets all over the Baklava solar system.
Each of the five planets in Baklava is themed after a different element (there are no light or dark planets that we're aware of), and one of the game's more intriguing features is the way that the planets' orbits have an impact on the effectiveness of your party's magic. The solar system (which you can view a map of at any time) is divided up into five colored quadrants, and when a planet's orbit takes it through the quadrant of the same color, characters who use the corresponding school of magic will become more powerful. For example, when the water planet of Cassia passes through the blue quadrant, all water-based spells do more damage. It's an interesting mechanic, and one that you can certainly use to your advantage if you time your encounters with your enemies correctly. Furthermore, users of light and dark magic become more powerful during the day and night, respectively. And, because time passes quite quickly in Magical Starsign, it's not uncommon for your main character to power up or power down in the middle of a fight.
Combat in Magical Starsign is turn-based and, at least early on when you have a small party of characters with very few spells at their disposal, pretty straightforward. When one of your characters gets a turn to act, you can have him or her perform a melee attack, cast a spell, use an item, adopt a defensive posture, attempt to flee, or move into a different position within your party's formation. The positioning of characters has a significant impact on gameplay because characters in the front row can target individual enemies and get involved in melee combat, while those in the back can only use magic, and their spells always affect multiple targets. We were told by a couple of very intelligent radishes in the game (don't ask) that it's possible to guard against attacks and make your own attacks more powerful simply by tapping your characters at exactly the right moment during a combat animation, but to date, we've enjoyed little success with this technique. Gameplay tips from radishes actually come up pretty frequently in Magical Starsign if you take the time to speak to them, and although the dialogue with the root vegetables isn't nearly as amusing as the idea of speaking to them in the first place, there's definitely plenty of humor to be found in the game.
We've visited only two planets in Magical Starsign so far, and although our progress through the game has been linear up to this point, it definitely looks like we'll soon be free to travel between the planets that we previously visited. Because a number of our classmates are still missing, we've been unable to use their abilities to access certain areas on the first two planets, so we'll certainly want to return to them once we've rescued our missing friends. We've also been told (by another radish--they really are very smart) that many of the treasure chests scattered on various planets are only visible at certain points during orbits, so it's conceivable that we've already missed out on some great items.
Because we've got only one copy of Magical Starsign right now, we unfortunately haven't been able to check out any of the game's multiplayer features. The one that we're most intrigued by (following a conversation with a robot on the subject) is collecting eggs by linking up with other players. Any eggs that you collect will be placed into your craft's incubation chamber where, provided you continue to link up with friends, they'll hatch and creatures will emerge that you can add to your party. The creatures will apparently use very powerful magic, but they won't always be able to control it. We look forward to bringing you more information on this feature and all other aspects of Magical Starsign in our upcoming review.