Take every cliche from every RPG from the 80s and 90s then throw them in the Unreal Engine. This is what you end up with
Unfortunately, we haven't had anything equivalent to these events on the current crop of systems.
Sure, we've had a Star Ocean sequel which turned out good and a brand new series by the name of Valkyria Chronicles steal the spotlight away from the big names, but other than that this generation has mostly been a disappointment for JRPG fans. Less-then-stellar Japanese RPGs like Infinite Undiscovery, Enchanted Arms, Eternal Sonata, and Blue Dragon have been the norm...and are so bland and unoriginal that they make "average" JRPGs like Tales of Vesperia and Lost Odyssey seem incredible by comparison.
Such has been the fate of the JRPG in this console generation. Magna Carta 2 was suppose to change that. Early reports (and player impressions) seemed to indicate that Korean developer Softmax had finally learned from the mistakes of their ill-received Playstation 2 Magna Carta game and had created a sequel worthy of our time. These Korean developers were said to finally have made a "Japanese style" RPG that would make people forget about the first game altogether. The question you need to ask yourself before believing it is this: Can you tolerate stereotypes?
Magna Carta 2 seems to want to try new things, but its story betrays that desire. Like nearly a hundred JRPGs before it, Magna Carta 2 decides to base the plot around an amnesiac country boy who is quiet and often afraid to fight but discovers magical powers that far surpass mortal humans. Before you gasp in awe of such an extraordinarily original basis for a story, you should also know that he ends up having an inter-party feud with a hot headed flame-magic user (Like the main character and "Heat" from 2005's Digital Devil Saga) and falls in love with a princess whom he swears to protect with his life. He also befriends a giant beast man that reminded me of Mareg from Grandia 2 that wields two handed axes and rarely talks except to blurt out strict orders about where to go next. Stop me if you've heard any of this before.
Further adding to the unbelievably unoriginal plot is the inclusion of an incredibly large breasted woman who is not only unfathomably stupid, but talks in a voice so high that I think it may have cracked the windows in my living room. To make matters worse, this scantily clad Dolly Parton-esque piece of fan service spends nearly the entire game seducing the beast man in the party to the point where I began to wonder if the developers were going to come on screen and tell me it was all a big joke and they were just messing with me. It was simply unbelievable, in a very bad way. Her inclusion in this game was obviously the result of some very sick and lonely designers whose experience with women is probably limited to Japanese anime or the occasional cosplay convention.
The motive for moving forward isn't very original either. Your main character, Juto, finds his island home attacked by the northern army and witnesses his friend murdered by one of their generals. After discovering a secret and all-powerful ability locked deep within him, he joins their adversaries, the Southern Army, and devotes his life to gaining revenge. Along the way he encounters betrayal, political upheaval, and all the usual plot twists you'd expect to find in a 1990's era 16 bit JRPG storyline.
It really is that bad.
Though the story is forgettable, a bad narrative can often be offset with an enjoyable combat system. A good example of this was Grandia Extreme, a game I couldn't stand to read but simply adored "playing". After all, if Magna Carta 2's story was so unimaginative, maybe it meant Softmax just spent more time crafting an elegant and addictive battle system.
Combat is real-time, but is subtly made turn based by giving each player a meter that slowly fills up with each attack made. If you fill up the meter, you go into "overheat" and are unable to move or attack. This isn't totally bad since if timed correctly you can chain your attacks by filling up the meter and then quickly switching to another character and performing team attacks that do increased damage. It's a simple system that is easy to understand but shallow and prone to a feeling of repetitiveness.
One of the worst things you can do when making an RPG is to set it up in such a way so that every fight's strategy is identical to the rest. When a fight against a boss is won the same way as a fight against a regular enemy, it doesn't take long until you grow tired of the combat altogether and look to it as a hindrance rather than a welcomed challenge. This is what Magna Carta 2 boils down to, a fighting system where you just pick two characters and do chain attacks until something dies. Even as far as to the end of the first disc, my battle strategies never changed and my desire to engage creatures in melee combat kept decreasing with each fight.
Making this even worse is the fact that enemies are level scaled. Long the bane of every RPG'er, Softmax decided to try and put challenge back into the game by way of auto leveling every adversary up to your own level. No matter how much you go back and "Grind", you'll never out level a boss or the enemies guarding the pathway to him. They will always scale upwards, resulting in long, tedious, unimaginative battles where you deliberately overheat your character while having your little angelic healer princess "Zephie" spam healing items and spells.
Character's skills are generic and lifeless, much like the on screen effects that accompany them. Compounding matters are the battle animations which are just as dull and help bring the combat down even further. Battles are not only repetitive but also lacking any of the visual flair or excitement that Japanese RPGs are usually known for. Granted, the game was made by a Korean developer, but the familiar Asian style they were obviously going for came not from modern JRPGs like Persona or Suikoden, but from the archaic titles of yesteryear that have no place in the modern version of our hobby.
Overall, the combat system feels as if it could have been done on the Playstation 2, or perhaps even the original Playstation. The slow laborious movement, the long cool down times, the one-dimensional combat strategy...nothing about the system Softmax created for the game's fighting says "Next Gen". It doesn't even say "Last Gen", it just simply says nothing and I'm left to wonder who in their company thought this was enjoyable.
Ok, so we established that the combat is pure tedium...but what about the visuals? Having licensed the famous Unreal Engine used in both Bioshock and Mass Effect as well as commissioning Korean artist Hyung-Tae Kim to design the main characters it has to look great, right?
Not at all.
I've never particularly cared for the Unreal Engine. On the Xbox version of Bioshock and Mass Effect, you can see the horrendously low draw rate and horrible pop-in of textures in nearly every level of the game. Even in Borderlands the Unreal Engine creaks along like a doddering old man who just lost his walking cane and left his glasses at home. It's therefore always been a habit of mine to buy the PC version of any Unreal Engine game so as to avoid these slow-loading textures and visual anomalies...but sadly (or perhaps fortunately) Magna Carta 2 has no windows-based counterpart.
Magna Carta 2 is, like the aforementioned games, plagued with an immense amount of texture pop-in. This is mostly noticeable outside of the cities for some reason, presumably where the large zones take too long for the Xbox DVD drive to load. Installing the game to the Hard Drive doesn't seem to remove this problem, so don't make the mistake I did by thinking it would. Instead, you'll have to deal with the all too familiar shortcomings of Epic's heavily used graphics engine and accept flat, lifeless textures that fail to load as a normal part of the Magna Carta 2 experience. To be fair, even Square's Last Remnant had the same problem, so it wasn't lack of programming ability that is to blame here. It's merely Epic's under-performing console-crippled engine.
A lot of talk has been made recently about the death of the Japanese RPG and how the stagnancy in the genre has contributed to its current sorry state. Even Square has noted this and has stated that Final Fantasy 13 would, quote, "Be the last game of its type we make". I think this speaks volumes about the course the market has taken in the past few years. JRPGs have never grown up the way western RPGs did. From Baldur's Gate to Morrowind to Dragon Age, JRPG's Western counterparts have changed and adapted with technology and ever more discerning player tastes. As gamers became older and more sophisticated, western RPGs matured along with its player base. Stories became darker, NPC interaction became more complex and combat was much more entertaining than ever before. While some Japanese RPGs have adopted this mindset and changed accordingly (Atlus' wildly popular Persona series comes to mind) the vast majority have not. Magna Carta is a perfect example of a game whose time has long since come and gone.
In closing, let me say that Magna Carta is the kind of "Japanese Style" RPG that we should be avoiding. It's crude, repetitive, and seems to wallow in its archaic design rather than be ashamed of it. It harkens back to the dark ages of console RPGs when nearly every game had awkward male-female relationships, evil empires, megalomaniac villians, amnesiac heroes, effeminate male fighters and cliched party members. Back then we looked past those sort of things because most of us were in our teens and getting a new JRPG in America was about as difficult as pulling teeth from an alligator. We were merely happy for what little scraps we could grab and looked past all of their obvious faults. Nowadays our choices are broader and our tastes more refined. Cliched story lines involving large breasted women and effeminate boys with skinny sword arms fighting very clearly defined evil empires in a black v.s. white storyline are considered child's stories. We demand, and expect better.
Magna Carta 2 is a dinosaur. If there was a tar pit to throw the game into, I would gladly do so.