Magna Carta: Tears of Blood (Second Opinion)
PlayStation 2
Reviewed: 11/04/2006

Magna Carta: Tears of Blood had everything going for it; it featured the art of Hyung-Tae Kim, a renowned artist, it had extraordinary production values, and it featured many seemingly innovative gameplay elements. This mass of talent and potential caused the game to be hyped by many as the next blockbuster RPG. Unfortunately, Magna Carta: Tears of Blood fails to fully cash in on its extraordinary ideas and talent.

The story puts players in the shoes of Calintz, the leader of the Tears of Blood, a mercenary group working for the Human Alliance, or, more specifically, General Agreian. The game starts by sending Calintz and his band off to defend a group of mages who plan to summon “Forbidden Magic” to destroy the Yason- the rival race. The story continues onward with a highly political conflict between the two races. The story is easily the high point of the game, but unfortunately suffers from some cliché all the same. The standard hero (or in this case, heroine) with lost memories appears, and she also happens to fill in the clichéd fetch-the-girl type quest during a few points throughout the game. It is highly annoying to see a story that has such an epic scope get bogged down by generic age-old RPG cliché. The story does manage to bring up some topics that games generally stay away from, and is overall an excellent experience, it just is merely marred by slight flaws.

The characters, on the other hand, are lame at the very best. The fact that their voices are so godawful doesn’t help, but more on that later. Each and every character seems to strive to annoy the player as much as possible by staying exactly within their stereotypical role. There’s the hero, Calintz, who is detached and unemotional, the heroine, Reith, who as mentioned before, has lost memories and wanders off/is captured, the youngster, Azel, who idolizes the hero, the tough guy, Haren, who doesn’t speak much, the womanizing scoundrel, Chris, and the girl, Eonis, who sticks to her guns when it comes to moral arguments. The characters have lots of interaction, but never, ever back out of their roles. It is infuriating at some points, considering how predictable the dialogue is; for example, seemingly every time Eonis suggests something about her morals, Haren is bound and determined to prove her wrong, or at least play off the tough guy act as much as possible. The interaction is sometimes so predictable its laughable, and that is something nearly inexcusable for an RPG.

Screen Shot
All those gymnastics lesssons finally paid off.

The gameplay mechanics in Magna Carta: Tears of Blood seem to stay as far from standard RPG elements as possible. What this does for the player’s enjoyment of the game is easily debated. Certainly, many of the new elements are extremely innovative, and it would be hard to say that the game is anything but unique. On the other hand, many of the innovations are flawed or unexplained. In fact, some of the innovations essentially eliminate the need for others, or make the game so entirely simple that it is unbearable. The battle system is a real-time system that gives players the ability to move anywhere on the battle screen, much like Star Ocean. Unlike that game, however, only one character will move or act at a time. That’s right, as the player moves the character they are controlling around the screen, the other characters stand still and open to attack, they don’t act, and they are generally worthless. This means that in order to heal a character after he or she has just attacked, the player must wait an entire turn again, switch characters to the one that can heal, move the healer towards the character that just attacked, and perform a healing move. It is an overly complicated and complex process that would have been made much easier if AI had simply been assigned to the other characters.

Attacks are also a complicated matter, as players must move their character within range of the enemy, wait for a turn to occur, and then perform a series of three button presses in order to attack. The buttons that are used are shown in a triangle shape that spins as the player hits each one in turn. This can be an entertaining aspect, as it adds time-based button presses to an already interesting system, but it also manages to come off as an aggravation, as if the player misses even one of the three presses, the entire attack is cancelled, and it will also deplete the Trinity Drive. The Trinity Drive is a percentage that fills up as players get “Great” scores on their button presses when attacking, and it allows players to perform an attack that does phenomenally more damage than usual, depending how high the percent is. The Trinity Drive can be accessed by pressing the square button on the controller. Furthermore, before the battle even begins, there is a massive amount of things the player must consider. There are two movement modes in the field in Magna Carta: Tears of Blood: the Detect and Dash modes. Players can choose to remain in the default Dash mode, allowing them to move quickly, but this will also decrease their detection radius, and allow enemies the advantage when battle begins. Players can instead choose to press the R1 button and go into detect mode, which radically slows walking speed, but allows characters to see enemies and treasure at a much greater distance. It also allows players the chance to strike the enemy on screen with Calintz’s sword before combat begins in order to get a “First Attack” which lets players hammer the enemy for a few turns before true combat begins.

Another mechanic players must acknowledge in Magna Carta: Tears of Blood is the chi system. Possibly the most complicated nuance of the game, the Chi system is an elemental status that can increase or decrease depending on how much of it is used in battle. Players can use a variety of elements to tilt Chi into their favor, such as using a talisman to change a lantern to a Chi element that more favors the players fighting style, but overall the system is so overly complicated it is hard to tell what is going on. In fact, the entire system can easily be ignored for the entire game as long as the player does not mind not doing full damage all the time.

There are several other innovations in the game that can add up to be a very confusing experience indeed. Players can get individual characters’ fortunes told in order to increase or decrease luck, and then proceed to undo the fortune if it is bad. Blacksmiths open up individual quests that players can go on to open up further buying options and discounts. Dojos allow players to train characters in various fighting styles. Combining talismans can lead to some incredibly useful items. Characters can be given gifts to increase trust in the main character, and therefore decrease the wait time between actions in battles, along with other elements that are unspecified in the game. The sheer amount of systems all overlaying together in one game is staggering, and, at times, frustrating. There are so many different things to monitor on screen in battle that it can be difficult to actually carry out attacks. Players will have a hard time following all the various quests from blacksmiths until they are finished with them, as they can only complete one at a time. It is almost as if the designers of the game came up with a huge amount of ideas for gameplay mechanics, and then simply decided to throw them all in for good measure. Certainly the different options allow for a wide range of actions available to players, but the vast majority of these features can easily be ignored for the entire game. The fact that only one character is movable in combat, for example, makes it simple to only use the main character exclusively. It is a testimony to the ease of the game when despite the fact that three characters are in combat, players need only control one for the entirety of the game in order to succeed. Another annoyance worth mentioning is the fact that the game spends a ridiculous amount of time loading, it seems with every transition there is a good 10-15 second pause as the game struggles to discover what area truly is next. Players lacking patience should already be wary of the game’s extreme complexity; add that to the huge load times, and there should be warning enough to stay away.

Screen Shot
It can be hard to even see the characters on screen.

One area the game truly excels in is visuals. The game is simply lush with detail. The graphics arer easily some of the best seen in an RPG to date, and the CG sequences are amazing. The artistic values are also upheld, and Hyung-Tae Kim’s art really shows through in the character designs. Battle animations are simply beautiful, with detail bursting forth. The different styles of combat always bring about new, gorgeous animations. There is really nothing at all to complain about in the graphics department, the game is easily on par with any other on the PlayStation 2.

The soundtrack of Magna Carta: Tears of Blood is a mixed bag… of lackluster tunes and distinctly terrible ones. The introduction song is awful, and that is a good indicator of things to come. The sound effects are suitable, and none are truly annoying. What does really grate on the nerves, however, is the absolutely terrible voice acting. None of the characters are voiced well at all, and the majority sound truly awful. It is disappointing to see a game with such high production values falter in this department.

It would be easy to dismiss Magna Carta: Tears of Blood as another failed attempt in the pages of RPG history, but that wouldn’t be doing it justice. The sheer amount of innovations and ideas brought to the table with this game make it deserving of a place on gamers’ shelves, as long as they don’t mind the tedious load times, extreme learning curve, and at times sub-par gameplay. The more players delve into Magna Carta, the more they will find to enjoy. It is a game that truly shines despite a massive amount of flaws. The impact the game has remains to be seen, but it can be hoped for that other developers will follow the lead of Softmax and continue to innovate on RPGs. The overall experience Magna Carta gives is a good one, but players truly need to dig and play a large portion of the game before they manage to get to the true meat of it all.

-Joseph Wartick

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Average
Story Good
Graphics Great
Sound/Music Horrible
Replay Value Horrible
The Verdict: 5