Atlus is a company that is known for its quirky and off-beat role-playing games.  While several of them have been of the strategy RPG genre, others have been standard console RPG fare, like the Digital Devil Saga series.  Now after being available in Japan for over a year, Atlus is expanding their catalog with a new RPG series, Magna Carta: Tears of Blood.


In Magna Carta, you follow the sarcastic and effeminate Calintz Jerevinan.  As a boy, he was the only survivor in the razing of his village.  After being saved by a mysterious stranger, he learns how to fight from the stranger and grows to become the leader of the Tears of Blood.  The Tears of Blood are an elite fighting group bound to save their country, fighting because of a great loss in their life because of the war.  The war is going against them, and they attempt to protect the Great Mages to release the Forbidden Magic.  When the Forbidden Magic fails, their only hope is the Magna Carta.

Magna Carta won’t wow you with the graphics, but they aren’t bad either.  The CGI-rendered movies at the beginning of the game are spectacular.  They effectively convey the feeling of the scene, whether it is calm or terror.


Running around in the environments are nice, but they feel a bit lifeless.  While lanterns glow with nice particle effects, the surrounding area is still and motionless.  Enemies do walk around so that you can see them before engaging in combat.  Everything looks very blocky as well.


The character design is consistent, but you wonder about some of the design choices.  The females all have large chests, which isn’t exactly atypical of this type of RPG.  The male characters look very similar to females though.  Often times you won’t be able to tell the difference unless you hear the character or the character has their shirt off.  There were a couple of times when a character would appear and then I was shocked to hear the deep voice of a male.


While in combat, your party shows up on the field and they all look nicely done.  Their animations are mostly smooth.  Before making an attack or casting a spell, the particle effects from gathering Chi for the actions are simplistic, but it is a nice touch.  The enemies you fight don’t have as much detail as the main characters.  Some models are better than others, but you wish it was a little better.

The music of MC has a very majestic feel to it.  During slow parts the music is soft with strings gently playing.  When battle occurs, the drums beat loud and proud with trumpets roaring.  The contrast really helps to separate the slow times from the combat.  However, the choice for the intro music is rather…odd.  It’s a power ballad set to the background of war.


A large number of lines are spoken in cutscenes, and the voices are appropriate for the characters they represent.  The delivery could be a bit better though.  It seems like the “…” from the talking bubbles in other RPG’s are found here after each line.  The delivery almost feels like it came from The William Shatner School of Speech Delivery.

While control is done well for the game, there are some issues that hamper it.  Movement on the map is simple by using the left analog stick.  Hitting X interacts with objects and Triangle opens up the game menu.  Hitting Square goes into Rest Mode which recovers hit points.  Hitting R1 switches between Dash Mode, which makes you go faster, and Detect Mode, which gives you a wider circle of vision but makes you move slower.  Running to a specific area is fine, but if the camera switches on you, it can become very disorienting.


While in battle, movement is handled with the left analog stick, and you switch characters with the L1 and R1 buttons.  The character you attack can be selected using the L2 and R2 buttons.  If there is more than one enemy in range, you can be aiming at one, and then have the game automatically select the other enemy.  This can be frustrating in the heat of battle.


A major part of combat is handled with the X and Circle buttons.  Because of this, timing is important.  There weren’t any timing issues with the buttons.

Magna Carta’s story has some distinct similarities to RPG’s, but there are some differences.  600 years ago a strange disease starting turning people to stone.  A war started, but a small group of people set sail to escape the fighting and find a new home.  They landed on the continent of Efferia and began building a new home.  The Yason, the natives of the people, noticed the humans but kept their distance.  As time went on they mingled, but the human population grew exponentially to the point where the Yason declared war on them.  During this war, The Eight Heroes sealed The Tree of Life to prevent the Yason from absorbing Chi.  A disease spread over the Yason, but when it seemed like the Yason were about to be defeated a new genetic mutation caused Yason to evolve into Blast Worms.  These Blast Worms could absorb Chi directly from nature and shifted the tide of the war.  In a final attempt to win the war, the humans attacked the Yason base.


You follow the story of Calintz Jerevinan, the young leader of the Tears of Blood.  The Tears of Blood are a group of mercenaries that fight because of deep losses in their lives.  As a young boy, Calintz’s village was destroyed by the Yason, but he was rescued by a mysterious stranger.  Calintz learned how to fight from this stranger so that he could exact revenge on those that destroyed his village several years ago.


The Tears of Blood were hired to protect the Great Mages during the final attack on the Yason base.  The Great Mages attempted to release the Forbidden Magic to destroy the Yason.  However, their plan backfired.  The humans realized that only one item could save them and win the war, the Magna Carta.


In typical RPG fashion, you run around a map and fight battles.  In a trend that is becoming more popular, you can see your enemies and try to sneak up on them in order to gain a first attack in battle.  You can move through the levels in either Dash Mode or Detect Mode.  While in Dash Mode you move through the area quickly, but your circle of vision is rather small and it’s easier to be attacked by surprise.  In Detect Mode you move slower, but you can see more of your surroundings.  One nice feature is the Kneel Mode.  While kneeling, you recover your hit points, so you don’t have to carry a large number of healing potions to use while in the world map.  You can still be attacked by enemies, but recovering hit points is quick and having this ability lets you worry about your hit points less.


Within Magna Carta, you not only must manage your items, you must also manage your relationships within the party.  When you are at a save point, you can talk to other members of your party.  The responses you give will increase or decrease their trust in you.  The amount of trust within the party affects your Leadership, which is important in combat.


The biggest draw in an RPG is often the combat.  The combat system is possibly one of the most complex systems found in a modern RPG.  While the best example to explain it might be to say it is a cross between the system in Grandia II and the original Shadow Hearts, even that explanation is simplistic.  Each of your party members shows up on the battlefield, but you are only able to move one of them at a time.  Each of the combatants has a range indicated by a circle.  To attack an enemy in that circle, your Leadership Bar must be full enough and there must be enough Chi replenished from the environment to make the attack.


The Leader Bar fills up depending on the leadership within your party.  When the Leader Bar fills up to a certain point, one party member can attack or perform an action.  Your Leader Bar fills up quicker when standing still than when moving around, so the strategy is to know when to move around to possibly avoid and attack and when to take a hit to fill your Leader Bar.  You can also use items and cast spells once the Leader Bar is filled.


When you can attack, a Trinity Ring shows up on the screen.  You need to hit the X or Circle button when that button is inside the top circle of the Trinity Ring.  If you make all three, then your attack will be completed successfully.  Several different styles exist for each character, and they can be switched on the fly.  These styles also change the effects of the Trinity Ring.  For example, if you use the Combo Style, after the initial three button presses, you need to complete several more button presses around the Trinity Ring to perform a devastating attack.  You can also use a Counter Style, where you must guess the button presses for your attacker’s combo.  If you are successful the enemy wastes their attack and you hit back with a counter-attack.


If you hit the buttons within the top Trinity Ring circle at exactly the right time for your attack, you power up your Trinity Drive.  Each perfect attack charges up the Trinity Drive by 5%.  Once the Trinity Drive is over 30%, you can hit the Square button and your next attack will become very powerful.  You can charge the Trinity Drive to 100%, but if you miss an attack, the Trinity Drive goes down to zero and you need to start over.


There are eight different kinds of Chi: Celestial, Air, Ice, Water, Mountain, Earth, Fire, and Lightning.  Certain areas will have more of a specific Chi than other areas.  However, Chi lanterns can be found throughout the world map.  By placing an item in that Chi lantern, it generates Chi of the type of item that you placed in the Chi lantern.  If your attack requires a certain amount of Chi, but there isn’t enough Chi for the attack, you must wait until the Chi from the environment regenerates.


The attack system is a bit confusing at first, and it does take a while to get used to.  It does get easier as it gets more familiar, but you can’t help but to wonder if the battle system is a bit too complicated.


The story is interesting, but at first there is a lot of combat.  Bits and pieces of the plot are slowly revealed, but impatient gamers might have a problem sticking with it.  Those that do are in for a treat though.


One more item needs to be mentioned.  The number of load screens you’ll see in the game is very high.  It seems like you’ll see one after every battle, and the loads take a bit longer than we really would hope to see, especially when initially loading up the game.

While Magna Carta isn’t as long as Dragon Quest VIII, it will hold your attention for quite a while.  With the complex battle system, there are always new strategies to try out, not to mention the skills to master.


Also, this is an Atlus game, so it will probably be difficult to find a copy on store shelves in the next couple of months.  The Atlus games do seem to hold their value well.

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