Originally posted: Thursday, July 17, 2008 on Blogger

Basic Information:


Platform: Nintendo DS
Genre: RPG
Difficulty: Easy
Developer: Brownie Brown
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Oct. 2006
Rating: E for everyone
Retail Price: $ 29.99 US ($ 34.99 CAN)


What It’s About:

You play as a student from a magical academy, whose teacher has recently gone missing. One of your classmates gets it into her head that you need to go searching for your teacher, so you follow after her on your own one-person space ships and crash land on another planet. As you go from planet to planet, you happen upon your other classmates who also followed after you and the other student.

Gameplay:

Decent is the best word for the gameplay in Magical Starsign. It mixes up the typical RPG gameplay a bit, but its nothingTwo screen battle in magical starsign revolutionary. The extra magic boost based on the movement of the planets is a nice touch and adds an extra layer of strategy. While tapping on a character at the right time to perform a critical hit, keeps me focused on the game during parts I would normally not pay too much attention towards. The magic centered combat is also an unexpected twist that gives the gameplay a more unique feel, setting it apart from other RPGs. Other then these few twists, Magical Starsign stays true to the classic RPG formula for better or for worse, with turn based battles and random encounters. I for one, do not think this is a bad thing, since it was one of the first RPGs available on the DS and I really do enjoy classic RPG gameplay, especially if it spices things up a bit like Magical Starsign did.

Another unique aspect of the gameplay was traveling between different planets, and often times coming back later to a previous planet to explore a newly unlocked area. Many people complained about the back tracking, but I for one enjoyed revisiting the older areas, mainly because the planets themselves were relatively tiny when compared to console RPGs and their areas, so back tracking was not as painful as it could have been. The warp points on the planets also alleviate much of the pain involved with backtracking, and are generally a nice helping hand to players new to RPGs.

The game is almost exclusively played using the touch screen, and sadly, this isn’t a good thing. At first its new and exciting, but it gets old soon, and I was eventually frustrated that I couldn’t use the buttons for NPC interactions and battles. The only interactive part in battles is tapping characters to pull off critical hits, the rest could have easily been done with the control pad and buttons. The touch screen controls feel rigid and pushed on the player. It would have been better if the option to use either the touch screen or the buttons were given to the player.

Story & Characters:

Unlike gameplay, I don’t like old reused stories, mainly because older stories were all about saving princesses (think NES and early SNES era). For an RPG, the story is one of its most important aspects, especially if the gameplay isn’t something incredibility addicting or revolutionary. The story can literary make or break a solid RPG, and in the case of Magical Starsign, it ruins the experience. That is not to say the story is bad, rather it is shallow; the whole story is about saving your teacher and the solar system from an evil wizard, and nothing more. It’s bland and even the character interactions that try to develop the character’s personalities are terrible. I remember very well that the Water user, Sorbet I believe her name was, had an especially melodramatic take on her problems, and instead of feeling sympathy for her, I just wanted her to grow up. Also, the game’s attempt at off the wall craziness is also a hit and miss situation and with which I have mixed feelings. I admit, some things are just plain weird, like the gummy eating robots, but certain things like the funky and corrupt space police are pretty entertaining. The story and characters of Magical Starsign are definitely the game’s weakest area, and its bizarre settings, enemies and NPCs cannot undo the lack of a more engaging story and set of characters.

Art & Graphics:

Overworld on the Earth Elemental Planet

The graphics are nice, but not superb; bright and vibrant, they will easily catch your attention. The top screen’s world map is especially lovely and detailed. The lower screen’s overworld isn’t as detailed, but it is still vibrant and pretty. Some worlds fair better graphically then others, the Wood world in particular was very vibrant and lush. The overworld sprites have a squished look to them, but are charming nonetheless, and fit the feel of the game well. Furthermore, each world is very unique and has its own set of inhabitants. For example, the Water Planet features not only humans but also humanoid beavers. While the Fire Planet features talking pots, yes you heard me, talking pots! There are also a varied set of character sprites and portraits for each species, a very nice touch.

The battles are just as good visually as the overworld; with bright and vibrant enemies and spell effects. The perspective of the battles is also somewhat unique, having a somewhat slanted perspective; not fully behind the characters, but also not in front of them either; a 3/4 perspective, if I may so call it. The enemy designs are also very varied and wacky, which earns them much love from me. As I stated before, the spells are very bright and vibrant, often featuring neon colors. They are fairly complex, and nice to look at, just don’t expect Final Fantasy standards, they are nothing that complicated. The battles also utilize both screens with magical spells often taking up both screens when cast. Some bosses also extend to both screens, which is fairly cool (see the first screen shot to see what I mean). The only issue I have with the battle graphics is the zoom that usually takes place when an action is performed. Whenever someone takes an action involving a spell, the camera zooms in on them and it doesn’t look pretty. You can basically see the pixels, and the sprites and spells look a lot less sharper and less pretty then they do without the zoom.

Now the worst part of the graphics and art is most definitely the character portraits which look horrendous. Lassi in particular, has a really horrible portrait, which makes her look like a red eyed rabbit with rabies; yes it is that bad. The female heroine also fares pretty badly; in fact she looks down right strange, like a mutated human with glowing purple eyes. It’s not too much of a problem, but I wish the character designs were different, with a far more cuter approach that results in less deranged character portraits.

The game also features a 3D rocket sequence when you fly from one planet to another. It’s a nice addition, except that the 3D graphics look a bit grainy. Since this is one of the earliest attempts with 3D on the DS, I’m a little more understanding. But most importantly, it is not really that much of a problem since the 3D sequences are brief and only occur when you travel between planets.

Finally, the box art is also very nice, and it fits the feel of the game well. This cover is also one of the few that doesn’t pale in comparison with the original Japanese cover, both covers are nice.

Music & Sound:

There is nothing exceptional about the music or the sound in the game. There are a few nice tunes, but the majority are mediocre. The Wood Planet’s tune in particular is relatively nice, while the main menu’s tune is very plain and irritating. The sound fares a little better, with a few battle yells and grunts from the characters to liven up battles. Each planet has its own tune, which refreshes things, and fighting against certain enemies (which are not bosses) also changes the battle music and mixes things up some more. Likewise, certain bosses get their own special boss music! Bottom line: The music helps with the mood of the game, but you won’t be wanting to download any of its tracks and will most likely forget them right after you hear them. Here is a sample of the music from Magical Starsign: the Wood Planet’s theme. As you can tell by this song (which is one of the better ones), the music is rather plain.

–edit: Youtube has taken down the Wood Planet’s theme, but here’s another song I liked too called “Where the Stars Sleep”:

Multiplayer:

Magical Starsign supports Wi-Fi multiplayer, with two modes: Tag and Dungeon. The latter allows you to host or join a party and explore a dungeon from one of the planets in the game. You get a choice of three and you can set a time limit if you so wish. I am not sure what the former is about, since I haven’t tried the multiplayer. But based on the premise, it seems decent enough. However, I am not too thrilled that it only supports Wi-Fi and not wireless multiplayer, since finding online companions can prove to be difficult, especially with games that have been on the shelf for quite some time already (which is the case with Starsign). It would have been nice if the game supported single cart wireless play, since I don’t know anyone with this game, but this is asking a bit much from the genre, since RPGs are not the best genre for single cart wireless multiplayer options. The bottom line is, the multiplayer seems like a nice addition, but it should not be listed as a reason to purchase this game, rather it’s more like a nice bonus (that is if you can find someone to play with….)

My Thoughts and Recommendations:

It’s not a horrible game, but its not the best RPG on the system either. It does earns some brownie points (no pun intended) from me for giving the player the choice of both gender and magical alignment. Basically, at the beginning of the game you choose your magical alignment, either Light or Dark; Light having more supportive spells and Dark more offensive ones. You also choose the gender of your character, and their name. And as far as I know, there is no difference between playing as a girl or a boy (hurray for no sexism!). Wikipedia does point out that each gender does however get a different bonus dialogue; the male hero has a bonus scene with Lassi where she expresses her affection for him, while the female heroine gets a bonus scene with Mokka and Principle Biscotti, where the former also expresses his (or is its?) affection for her, while the latter supposedly clearly states that he wants a romantic relationship, but I swear I don’t remember any such dialogue with Biscotti. As for different bonus dialogues, I am perfectly fine with them, since both involve a confession of love, which does not change the story, nor the gameplay, in any drastic way. Now if the game was made easier by playing as a female, then I would be offended. For a female gamer, it’s a nice addition, since the majority of the time I’m stuck playing as a boy. I’m pretty used to it now, but I do love when games spoil me with the choice; I’m a girl, so I enjoy playing as one =P.

Also the outer space take on an RPG is really pure fun; the last time I played an RPG with an outer space or sci-fi theme was with Phantasy Star II and that was quite a while ago. The majority of RPGs place you in a single world with fantasy settings, so it is a refreshing change. It is also really delightful to explore new planets, each with its own element and inhabitants. It keeps me looking forward to exploring the next planet, because they are never the same. The spiced up battle system is a nice touch to this outer space traveling RPG and really establishes it as something that keeps with its RPG roots, yet gives the player a brand new experience.

With that said, the game is not without its flaws, namely the poor story, which is all about stopping an evil wizard from destroying the solar system and your teacher along with it. This aspect of the game is by far the biggest problem I have with it. I find the story boring and mediocre. Thankfully, exploring the Baklava solar system is entertaining enough to keep me playing. The music and sound are also on the lower side of the quality spectrum; often a simple tune will just loop continuously and get very annoying very quickly (main menu I’m looking at you)

The graphics, I find, are very nice, but I have to admit, at first I was very disappointed by them. This is entirely due to the fact that Magical Starsign was my first DS game, and I had big expectations, especially since I had seen a few screen shots of the then up coming Final Fantasy III DS. Once I got over my initial shock that the game was in 2-D and not 3-D, I grew to love the graphics. Sure, they don’t exactly push the DS’s capabilities, and it almost seems as if Magical Starsign is a GBA game with added 3-D rocket sequences, but nonetheless, the graphics are charming, and I am certain that anyone will enjoy them as long as they don’t get their expectations as high as I did when I purchased the title.

Although Magical Starsign is definitely not the best RPG on the system, it is also not the worst. Players new to the RPG genre should definitely give it a try, as it is a relatively easy RPG with intuitive controls, and an in-game battle tutorial. But more experienced players and especially those who enjoy RGPs should also give Magical Starsign a go, and although it is on the easier side of the difficulty spectrum, the game won’t hold your hand for long and it gets progressively more difficult. The final planet in particular has regular enemies that are pretty strong and can pick off your party members if you don’t watch their HP.

Conclusion:

Pros:                                                                                                        Cons:

-Gender Choice                                                                                 -Mostly dull music

-Unique Battle System                                                                   -Cliche Plot

-Wacky enemy and race designs                                                -Weak Characterization

-Charming graphics and world                                                   -Some of the art/designs

-Space travel                                                                                       for the characters are

                                                                                                                 ugly

Overall a fun and cute game

–SW

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