Go go Harem Rangers
It’s a miracle that Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven even exists. The project was unceremoniously halted after Rune Factory developer Neverland declared bankruptcy, and publisher Marvelous actually re-assembled part of the team to finish the game. I mean, talk about dedication!
The actual finished product doesn’t mirror that amazing underdog story, but it’s a fun little distraction, and a nice enough swan song for Neverland.
Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven (3DS)
Publisher: Marvelous (JP), XSEED (EU, US)
Released: October 2, 2014 (JP) / June 2, 2015 (US) / June 4, 2015 (EU)
Magna puts you in the shoes of a humble innkeeper (whose name can be customized at the start), who made a promise to his father to always keep his doors open and be the best proprietor he can be. One day on a standard trip to a cave to gather crystals (a precious resource in this world), he encounters a group of monsters. Fearing death, he retreats to a corner hosting a giant crystal, and summons a magical Spirit Girl named Charlotte (an “Artemis”) who saves the day, and pledges her loyalty to him. It gets really goofy from here, in a good way.
Maiden Heaven quite literally lays the last bit of its moniker on thick, as Charlotte has six other sisters who end up joining the fray over the course of the game. The narrative is framed as a shonen journey at its core, and the tone and even the presentation remind me of Lunar: The Silver Star, all the way up to and including the short, voiced anime cutscenes that intro new characters — which is definitely a compliment. It’s technically a harem anime setup, but the sexual tension is very light outside of a few scenes (most of which are optional and involve a bathhouse that buffs your party). Plus, you can readily fast-forward any story scene in the game if you wish.
As you progress through the game, you’ll start to realize that the story is tertiary to your interaction with the Artemis sisters. Think “Social Links” from Persona but much less detailed, and you’ll have an idea of what to expect. By talking to characters at hub zones you’ll be able to embark upon sidequests, which allow you to increase your affinity towards certain characters, and thus, power up your combat synergy with them. It’s an interesting system, mostly because you cannot schmooze everyone in the game. You have to choose between them somewhat, as a handful of these quests will automatically cause the core story to continue.
Magna has a really cool animation style that hosts chibi character models but is also insanely detailed, and for the most part, it works. Backgrounds are fairly stunning on the 3DS even without the 3D effect, and individual moving parts like a random Newton’s cradle on a desk look great.
The big problem with Magna though is that there is little to no exploration involved. It almost feels like at one point there were going to be massive hubs (you can see a few during quests), but they were cut for time. Instead, cutscenes are the only real way you’re going to see Magna‘s sprawling kingdoms, and even the world map is a boring series of cutscenes. Speaking of cut for time, the English voice acting cast is great, but actual voicework is sparse, and mostly for combat actions and the first few bits of dialogue within a scene. It’s unfortunate.
Combat, on the other hand, is always a joy to play, and doesn’t feel rushed in the slightest. It’s a turn-based top-down strategic affair, but it’s also grid-less, similar to Valkyria Chronicles. Instead, individual characters have a certain speed rating to determine their turn, and a movement radius. You can traverse anywhere within said radius, and then either defend, attack, or use an item. It’s standard stuff, but the way combat actually plays out is just as over-the-top as its cast.
The main goal with Magna‘s battles is to topple as many enemies as possible. Most baddies are grouped up in a formation, with a leader surrounded by tons of minions — the former of which can summon more as long as he remains alive. For the most part, you’ll want to run into these groups and hit an outside member to smash them into others, who fall over like bowling pins. 10-hit combos will grant you extra turns, so it’s in your best interest to smash up piles of enemies in rapid succession. It’s not the deepest system but it never gets old.
Thankfully, individual scenarios have a decent amount of variety to them thanks to random items scattered about the battlefield, like explosive bombs and health potions. It might be turn-based but it doesn’t really feel that way if you act quickly, and once you start acquiring more party members you’ll have quite a bit of firepower to work with. The standard difficulty setting is spot-on, offering a decent enough challenge right out of the gate. You can also adjust the difficulty on the fly if you want. If you fail a level you can reform your party instantly and buy items before the battle, which is a really cool feature.
Lord of Magna has seven endings in all, one for each sister. It’s not an extremely lengthy JRPG though, as most of the replay value and extra content is hidden behind this gimmick. Since you can’t see all of them in one playthrough it encourages you to do it all over again, but I’m not so sure a lot of folks out there will do that. Personally, I was happy enough with one completion, but years down the line I can see coming back for more.
I enjoyed my time with Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven, despite the fact that it felt a tad unfinished at times. The combat system is fast-paced, the cast is likable, and the animation style looks excellent on Nintendo’s newest portable. If you curb your expectations a bit, strategy-oriented JRPG fans will find a charming little flawed adventure in Magna.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]