Magical Starsign

It’s time to use your Nintendo DS and trusty stylus to save the universe again in this RPG adventure follow-up to the Japanese release Magical Vacation. Professor Madeleine has disappeared from the Will-‘o-Wisp magic academy and it is up to you and some of your fellow students to travel across the galaxy and rescue her. Let the story begin…

Facts and Features:

  • LIGHTS! Each character shares an affinity with each a planet. When your planet enters its aura space in the heavens, the party member radiates with power and gets a stat boost that can turn the tide of a battle!
  • PLACES EVERYONE! Position yourself in the front row to focus your attack on one enemy or put yourself in the back row, where your attack will be spread to multiple enemies and you will be less prone to enemy attack!
  • ACTION! Timing elements get you involved in the battle. Tap your player at the right moment to boost the power of your spells and touch the defender right before the moment of impact to weaken the enemy attack!

The Stage is Set
As critics for such a unique game system, it’s easy to fall into the trap of judging a game based not on the play itself, but attributes of the hardware. Any game on the DS has a great portability and quick-play aesthetic thanks to its portable size, battery life, and sleep mode. All of these features for a RPG, that usually demands that you spend hours upon hours chipping away at a storyline, are a great way to alleviate the age-old problem of having to work around the game’s schedule instead of your own. The DS’s ingenious design makes any game better; therefore this part of the experience should not necessarily be factored into a game’s review. That said, it’s never as black and white as all that, and software can utilize and work in tandem with the features that a portable of this magnitude has to offer. This is where Magical Starsign comes in. Its RPG experience is adapted to meet the standards of what makes a DS game fun.

Stage Directions
The first thing that stands out about this game is its control. The touchscreen interface is fantastic. The player is controlled by simply tapping the screen at the spot you wish your party to move to or by tapping items, such as chests, people and doors to interact with. You also may tap the terrain to make your party walk or run and the party will continue to travel in that direction until you tap them or open the menu. This is much easier than holding a directional button down for hours, although using the buttons for play is still an option. The stylus gameplay is fun too. Attacks consist primarily of spell-casting, and if you tap the caster at the right moment during the attack, the impact on your foe is increased and tapping a party member who is being attacked right before the moment of impact boosts your defense and cuts down on damage. In addition, the battle menu is a circular group of icons that open a drop down list when tapped, one of which is a repeat-last-command option, and all of which are very user-friendly, plus the ability to save anywhere (warning: the game does not autosave after major events) and a moderate difficulty contributes to that famous DS instant gratification.

Stand By
Now on to the more traditional RPG functions: menus, stats, and strategy. The menus in the game for equipping, using items, checking stats, etc. are not designed in any new ingenious way, but they do make sense and the touchscreen interface makes their navigation simple. The main menu is opened by touching an icon conveniently located at the bottom left part of the screen and another button, in the upper right corner changes your top screen from a map to an astrolog (helpful for battle strategy) to a stat screen. The statistics are typical and although the game clues you in on how items affect each stat when equipping, during shopping the names and descriptions of items are more for amusement than helpful, and often you will be wondering what it is you’re buying or forced to assume that if it’s more expensive, it’s better. The strategy in the game relies on the position of your character on the battlefield and their planetary affinity. Characters can be positioned in the front row or back row. The front row means three things: you have an option to use skills not available in the back row, such as kicking or punching attacks; you will absorb more damage; and your spells will be focused on one enemy. The back row means that you are less prone to being attacked and your spells will spread and hit more enemies (or friends). Each party member, boss, and monster has a planetary affinity (like wood, fire and water), and for each affinity there is a planet. The universe is divided into auras that match these affinities and when your planet moves into its affinity aura you get a noticeable stat boost (there are also some characters that have a light or dark affinity which is controlled by the day and night cycles). Another effect of the affinities is the paper-rock-scissors strategy (i.e. earth beats water, water beats fire, fire beats wood, etc.), and utilizing this facet is a big part of the game.

The Script
Some people call the story the most important part of an RPG, but there is something more to a story than its plot. The music, sound effects, graphics, and dialogue must come together in order to create a mood that intrigues you and in the best cases, gets you emotionally involved in the characters. Unfortunately for a game of this genre, the music and sound effects are average and do not seem to be focused on creating a mood (with the exception of the battles) and the graphics and presentation are adequate but not spectacular. However, I do not believe this game was ever meant to be an epic life-changing event and like perception of film, art or music, tastes vary. Bottom line: taken with a grain of salt this adventure is very entertaining. I’ve had a blast!

There are a couple of things you need to know before making a purchase about the dialogue/cinema presentation, and multiplayer. As in any RPG, there is a lot of text to read and the game has no option to adjust text speed, display all dialogue instantly at the touch of a button, skip conversations, or skip cinemas. I thought this was standard in RPGs, and there were a few times that I accidentally started a conversation twice in a row and had no way to escape. The same thing happened when I had to reload a game and watch a couple of cinemas again with no way to bypass them. In the game’s defense however, the dialogue and cinemas seem to be short and to the point. Regarding multiplayer, an amigo mode allows 2 to 6 players to roam the same dungeon with the goal of winning the most points by defeating monsters and opening chests within a time limit and location set by the host. This is not a co-op experience, as you never actually see your friends in the dungeon, but there is a play-by-play text window on the top screen that tells you what the others are doing. Killing certain beasts can trigger chests to appear in everyone’s dungeon. The second multiplayer option is the tag mode in which the game looks for other players though its wifi function. If another system is tagged, an egg is collected that can grow, hatch and be added to your party. The egg however can only grow and hatch in steps by successfully connecting in tag mode. This means, unless you will be playing this game in the same room as a friend on a regular basis, you will most likely tag then disconnect over and over until the egg hatches, which is not the intent of the developer and down right tedious if requiring several connections (approximate time for my egg was four tags). Since there are no online features and both multiplayer modes require that everyone have their own copy of the game, the single player experience is the main draw here.

That’s a Wrap!
Many games are held back by their genres, and the RPG genre is one that infamously hangs onto old attributes at the expense of fun. On the other hand, there have been improvements in the mechanics of RPGs over the years that universally enhance the fun of the genre and should become standard. I know some people would be disappointed if RPGs started trimming away stats, but no one misses having to select “open” from a menu before you can walk though a door. For the fans that love RPGs for what they are, Magical Starsign is very good and definitely worth a purchase. The game is missing some of those basics we have become accustomed to, but delivers on the classic formula while adding some fantastic new ideas. For everyone else: take the time to learn the nuances of the affinities and equipment and the strategies of battle, and you will have a lot of fun at home or in line at the DMV.

— Blake Leftwich

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