Developer - Brownie Brown
Publisher - Nintendo
2 – 6 players Wireless
The style of Magical Starsign is very reminiscent of Super Nintendo or GameBoy Advance RPGs. The graphics are sprite-based and use a very bright contrasting colour palette giving the game a clean and vibrant look. The interface is also kept quite simple, but that is not a bad thing, as it makes options easy to decipher and select. While exploring an area, the interface is kept to two icons on the touch screen with a parchment style map showing your location on the top screen. While battling enemies, magical effects are accentuated with decent animated effects that do a good job of emphasizing the power of the magic they are using. The developers also took the time to create animated full-motion video clips which have been inserted throughout the quest. The videos are surprisingly high-quality and were rendered using a nice cel-shaded style, allowing it to blend in graphically with the vibrant two dimensional style of the game.
The sound in Magical Starsign is also reminiscent of the Super Nintendo era. The music is simple digitized midis, but is still effective in matching the action. If you are a fan of that style, then this game will suck you right in. As expected in the Super Nintendo sound style, you won’t find any voice acting either.
In a very common RPG element, you start the game as a student at a magical academy, in this case the Will-O-Wisp Academy in the Baklava system. You find out through some eavesdropping that your teacher is leaving on a mission to the planet Puffoon. Three months after your teacher left for her mission, your classmates start to worry about her and decide they must do something. Rumours abound of spaceships stored somewhere in the school so the hunt begins. The spaceships are found, but upon using them, you end up crashing on the wrong planet. Now you must find a way to get off the planet and get to the planet Puffoon to save your teacher.
Magical Starsign employs a standard RPG system. Start adventure, gather teammates, explore, fight enemies, and defeat bosses. Exploring is pretty standard as you talk to people or read signs to further the story, interact with objects to cause events to happen, and randomly enter battles when you step into the wrong spot. The battling is where this gameplay description will be focused.
The battle system in the game employs the team-based system wherein the whole team is in the same battle. During the beginning of the game, after the story has begun to unfold, your team will only consist of yourself and one other, but as you progress you will acquire more team members. You can only use up to six at a time in battle, so sometimes you may switch out certain members to others that are on your team. In battle your team members will be set up into two rows. Each row can have up to four members in it and you are able to control which members are in each row during or outside of battle. This row system becomes rather important as it alters how your members perform in battle. Certain enemies in the game can only be damaged physically, and others can only be damaged using magic, so this is something you have to take into effect when arranging your team in their rows. Keep in mind that all of the row traits apply to your enemies as well.
As stated in the graphics portion of this review, the interface is quite simple, but that allows it to be intuitive and easy to navigate. The menu-based system will also be familiar to anyone who has played standard two-dimensional RPGs during the last 20 years or so of their existence. The major difference now, is that instead of using a cumbersome d-pad or keyboard to navigate the menus, the process is streamlined utilizing direct access with the stylus.
Most of the time, as you explore, you will only have 2 icons on the touch screen. In the bottom left corner is a backpack that opens into a couple icons allowing you to enter the item and character management sections, and use the special elemental powers of the members in your team which can be used for some puzzles. In the top right corner you will find a star icon that when tapped will change the top screen. The default is the local map, showing you the layout of the general area you are in. That switches to the Astrolog which will show you planetary positioning and time of day. This is important during battle, which will be explained later. Thirdly it shows you your party configuration so you can see the status of your members at a glance. It is a nice quick way to see if anyone needs healing or other attention.
When battling however, the interface changes a bit. In the bottom left corner, you now have buttons to show you the Astrolog, and to show you the Affinity screen, outlining which magics are more powerful than others, akin to ‘rock-paper-scissors’. In the top right corner, now you will find the character’s action menu, which is a series of icons surrounding a portrait of their face so you know whom you are controlling at the time.
The one problem I did have with the controls of the game is the stylus control when moving. Walking can be a bit troublesome at times with the stylus as your character continues in that direction until they hit an obstacle instead of stopping when you pick up the stylus. Sometimes this would make it hard to get to a specific item, since your character may run into another obstacle on the way, or they wouldn’t stop where you want them to stop. One way to overcome this was to use the d-pad to control your character movement, but as a left-handed gamer it proved a nuisance for myself since I had the stylus in my hand.
As stated just above the battle interface is easy to navigate and allows you quick access to your commands. Selecting a Kick attack will cause your player to fly out towards an enemy and cause physical damage. Magic will do just the opposite, and you will stand in position and attack your enemies using you chosen power. Guard causes your player to step into a protective pose, so that if they are attacked, they take a reduced amount of damage. If you liked what you chose on your last turn, you can save yourself the hassle of navigating the menu again by just pressing Repeat, and it will perform the same action. Sometimes, you may notice that a certain team member would be better suited performing a different action so you can change which row they are in with the Change Row button, then you simply drag that member to their new location. If you notice that a certain member is running low on health or magic power, or just need to boost your attacks with a special potion or weapon, you can access the Item button, and that will give you access to you inventory, which you can use on the current player or another team member. However, if you notice the battle is going dangerously poor for your team, you also have the option to Flee, in order to try to get your team to safety so that you can heal them outside of danger. Fleeing may not always work, and is not an option during boss battles.
Utilizing the row system effectively is what will make all the difference in the success of your battles. Members in the front row are able to use the physical kick attacks, which are less powerful, but can attack those certain enemies that can only be damaged this way. Also, the magic they cast is directed full power against one enemy. Members in the back row cannot use physical attacks, but their magic spells attack multiple enemies in an area-of-effect style. This however causes their magic to be a bit weaker against each enemy. Back row members are also protected from physical attacks from enemies, as they are shielded by the front row members.
The other thing for you to keep in mind while engaging in battle is the usage of the planetary system and time of day. When choosing the main hero when you begin, you are given the choice between light and dark magic. Light characters are more powerful in the day and weaker at night, dark magic characters are the exact opposite. The time of day is not real-time and can be kept track of on the top screen in the Astrolog by paying attention to the sun and moon icons beside the hourglass. When the top of the hourglass is empty, it switches between night and day. Also, when looking at the Astrolog, pay attention to the positioning of the planets. If a planet resides in its native coloured zone, any of your team members whom wield that type of magic will also get a boost to their power. The other thing to watch out for is that bosses can also get boosts from the planetary positioning, so you may find yourself trying to just protect yourself in battle while that planet moves out of alignment. This system, while still pretty easy to navigate, allows you to control your characters utilizing their strengths in a pretty interesting way.
One thing I didn’t touch on is the multiplayer aspect of the game. Not knowing anyone else with this game, as the cartridge is required for everyone, stopped me from being able to enjoy the multiplayer Amigos mode, but being able to dungeon crawl with up to five of your friends could make this a game you want to highly recommend to a friend, or five. Another bonus is Tag mode which will incubate special eggs on your system unlocking special characters and items when they hatch. It is also a great addition for just connecting to other systems and something that I hope to be able to take advantage of one day.
While not the longest or most complex RPG out there, Magical Starsign does make a great excursion into the RPG realm. It keeps the basic formula that keeps 2D RPGs at the top if their class, but adds in some interesting elements as well. The ease of the touch screen also makes this game accessible to almost anyone.