Sunday, 2 September 2012

This Is How The World Ends

So, I finally managed to finish Magna Carta 2 last night. And after all that effort spent wading through the game the question I find myself faced with is do I trade the game? Or simply set it on fire so that no one else ever has to go through all that shit?

It is not a very good game. In fact it is actually a game that I would be inclined to label as OBJECTIVELY bad. Not this game is, in my personal opinion, not great. But just..... BAD.

It's a metaphor.

Now, this isn't to say that the game isn't without it's good features. The art style and design is pretty good. The story, although padded out in a rather glaring fashion, actually has some really great ideas. Which is just as well really. Because the actual gameplay is fucking terrible. Seriously. It's like the sort of thing that someone who hates videogames would make to troll gamers.


Except of course that they'd actually have to know something about games in order to ensure everything was as perfectly awful as possible. You may consider the ongoing rant I'm typing here as some sort of necessary catharsis that I require to purge my mind of seething rage so I can get on with my life.

Let's get down to details. Starting with the combat. Oh, god. The combat.

The basic principle of combat as is follows: The character hacks away at the enemy, building up a stamina bar. Once this bar is full they go into an overdrive state for a couple of seconds, doing (allegedly) increased damage. Once the overdrive state ends they are in an overheat state for FUCKING AGES. This means that they cannot do ANYTHING. AT ALL. Not until the overheat bar depletes, and then enough of the stamina bar depletes that you can try actually hitting something again. The trick with all this is, in theory, that you have three characters to switch between. If you manage to pull of a special move when your first character overheats, switch to a second character, make them overheat AND do a second special move with that character then both bars instantly reset.

Got all that?

Now, quite naturally the game introduces you to this combat by giving you a single character to work with. This means your very first hands on experience with actually doing anything in game consists mainly of waiting to be allowed to hit crabs. Do you start to see what I mean by objectively bad design decisions?

Eventually of course you'll get some more characters, and can start chaining combos like you're supposed to. Unless of course the enemy takes a couple of steps backwards. Or, even worse, dies.

Now, I think you may agree that a game system where some of the worst things the enemy can do to fuck you up is run away or fall over sounds a bit off. But bear with me. You need to remember that if your character overheats then they'll be stuck there for 30 seconds or so, being useless and taking hits. Should a monster move back slightly before you can trigger the move necessary to chain to the next character, then you've just lost a third of your party for the next bit of fight. Same with if you're fighting a group of enemies and one dies before you can do do the thing. Or even if you finish with one group, you're stuck waiting for everyone to cool down before moving onto the next one.

If I've got one core rule of game design, it's the rule of DOIN' STUFF.

That's... That's not what I meant....

Put simply, this rule says that all the various design decisions should always work towards enabling the player to actually play. I do not think this is an unreasonable demand to make of a game. I may even elaborate on it further in another post. Magna Carta 2 violates this rule in a few places, but the most glaring is in simply having an allegedly action based combat system that consists of 50% dull repetition and the other 50% waiting around. On a good day. Doesn't sound very actiony to me.

Then there's the targeting. Jesus fucking fuckbiscuits bandicoot arsewads is that AWFUL. To switch target you just tap one of the shoulder buttons. Provided you're haven't tried to press anything else whatsoever in the last few seconds. You can't engage one enemy briefly then switch to a more promising target. You have to sit there doing nothing but tap the button. As the game invariably cycles through EVERY COCKING ENEMY EXCEPT THE ONE YOU NEED. Even if you're trying target the one standing RIGHT NEXT TO YOU. Want to quickly stop the guy who's currently fucking up your archer in close combat. FUCKING TOUGH. Scroll through the entire population of west Hammersmith first. At a speed roughly approaching that of a quadrapegic turtle with a ketamin addiction.

The way the combat is paced is just... Odd. It says action RPG on the box, but your actions are hardly frenetic. It's a slow, regular tumpty tum chugging along kind of thing. If anything it's paced rather like an MMO. Another game genre that seems to think waiting is a mechanic. In fact, when you take that pacing, the needlessly huge, open environments (especially in the first city) and respawning enemies you can't help but wonder if someone wasn't trying to build this as an online game first, didn't have the money, and then converted it into a single player game by tacking on that bullshit party system. Although if anything the game would probably be even worse.

Anyway, where was I? Still whinging about the combat system? Shall we change tack and moan about something else for a bit? How about the menus?

In the game you either have your weapons drawn (combat mode) or not. In combat mode you get a little menu in the left hand corner of the screen showing everyone's health and mana, and it lets you switch between characters using the D-pad. In explore mode you don't and you can't. If you want to switch the leader you need to press Y, then use the shoulder pads to navigate to a particular tap. Then use the stick to select the party member you want to switch to and press A to confirm. Guess how much that particular method gets used?

Why is there simply not always the option to change member using the D-pad?

Yeah. That's what I figured. 

The Y menu let's you use items and shit as well. But then so does the menu you get by pressing start. Of course, during combat you can't use items via the start menu, as it locks out the items option. Why? Because someone decided that there would be an entirely redundant menu on the Y button. The main menu is a hideous mess of going down submenus and confirming when it really doesn't need to be. If someone had thought things out a bit better you could have cut out a whole lot of fucking about by simply allowing you to navigate the options already on the screen. It's tedious busywork. Sure, it's not necessarily a game breaking deal. But it bugs me when things clearly haven't been though out very well. And since I'm already so fucked off with the game the last thing you need is to be bugging me any further.

Sadly, that's what the game does though. At times it will lull you into a false sense of security by being almost fun for a little while. Then it comes and kicks you in the teeth with some offensively badly thought out crap.

Now, there's a lot of classic mistakes that we, as a species REALLY should have left behind by this point. You simply do not, for example, put long walks and 20 minute cutscenes either side of a boss battle. You put a goddamn save point before you make me sit through any amount of extended exposition if you want me to actually pay attention to it. And you sure as hell don't make wait for a half to be allowed to save after I've fought a boss. I do not have infinite time, I don't want to be wasting it. If I need to stop playing then I'd like to be able to.

The perfect storm of shitness comes near the end of the game. You're locked in an area, and can't get backed out. Well, I say locked. What I mean is that all the exits are wide open, and you could abort the mission at any time. But should you actually try to go back then characters decide they must press ahead to certain death because reasons?

So there we have strike one. Arbitrary barriers.

So, you press on and find the first boss of the area who, it turns out, is a bit rapey. He fucks you up good and proper, but you scrape through and get to the next save point. Yay.

Then you meet the seond boss who is even more rapey. And you've burned through all your healing items. And you can't retreat to resupply. And it's a 10 minute walk through various groups of enemies, a cut scene, AND a bunch of dialogue before the fight.

That's strikes 2 and probably 3.

If you die then you have to wait for the game over screen to finish telling you what you already know. then it dumps you back to the front screen. Press start, load game, back up the path, skip the cutscene, hammer A repeatedly wishing you skip the dialogue, start fight again.

That takes us up to strike, what? Six?

Now, there's always the fact that anytime you have a boss fight your party always starts in explore mode, allowing the enemy to rush in and get a few free hits before you can even convince the drooling idiots that pass for heroes in this game to maybe draw their fucking weapons. And there's the previously mentioned targeting issues that mean by the time you've gotten locked onto the minions you need to kill first half your party is already dead. And the awful, awful party A.I. which means that even when you've set everyone to attack the leaders target they'll just lock onto the boss instead and not help taking down the other 4 guys first whilst they die. All whilst having no healing items. But it turns out that's not even the worst part. It's stupid, it's frustrating. It is, frankly, a bunch of bullshit. But the worst part is in how I finally beat the guy.

I did it by not fighting. And I don't mean that there's some cunning option you can take to avoid the fight. I mean you do it by exploiting what has been, up to this point, the single most useless character in the game.

That bitch is always in another castle, if you get my drift.

Yeah, Princess motherfucking peach. Your parties healer who spends most of the game wandering off or being kidnapped. Seriously, that's ALL SHE DOES. In the first half of the game she fucks off after every mission so you can never check and upgrade her skills or equipment. In the second half she get's kidnapped and you spend most of your time trying to get her back for some reason. She has some healing abilities, but has never actually been any good since her attacks are so slow and rubbish that she never generates enough mana to use any of them, and is a positive liability when it comes to performing the chain breaks necessary to get anything done ever.

In short I have never used her if I had any other option. However, a quick consultation with my friend google revealed a startling piece of information. Should you equip her with the right mana discount upgrade she suddenly become capable of infinite healing.

Close enough.

So rather than actually fight the boss yourself, you just sit back and let the A.I. idiots in your party slowly beat him whilst you cast heal after every hit. And just like that the hardest boss fight yet in the game becomes a cake walk. Not even that. Because the word walk implies some level of effort. You just hang back and press X every five seconds.

I've lost count of how many strikes we're up to now. I'm not sure I care any more.

I know that the line between making a boss fight challenging and frustrating is a fine one. But that just took the piss. From unkillable monster to just sitting there waiting for it to die in the time it takes to reload the game and change a single gem on one characters weapon. I mean, seriously?

Whilst we're talking about Princess Peach, I should probably bring up some of the problems with the quests. Let me explain. At some point just before a big war I got a letter for the one made of boobs.

You know the boobs I mean.

Now, despite the fact that her range of emotional expression is entirely dependant on how she shakes her boobs at you (like some sort of boob semaphore), I kinda liked this character. There are certain archetypes in any JRPG, and she gives the role of the bouncy, enthusiastic and obviously under age one a twist by giving her the body of an adult for once. Even though she's still only 12.

Because Japan.

Anyway, whilst I'd love to go off and pursue the side quests offered for this character, we don't really have time right now, because we're in the middle of a fucking war. The actual characters themselves say this. War now, side quest later. No problem you'd think. So, we do the war and Princess Peach gets kidnapped. So we need to go rescue her. So we bugger around for several hours trying to get that vapid cow back, only to finally be told that, once we go into the other castle, certain quests cannot now be completed. Luckily we saved just outside, so reload and off we go to complete the outstanding side quests.

Or so you'd think.

See, after hacking my way back to the NPC required for the boobs quests I make an unpleasant discovery. It seems that earlier in between her wandering off and being kidnapped I'd picked up a side quest dependant on Princess Peach. And the person I need to talk to for that is the same NPC as for Boobface. So, seeing as how I've got 2 quests at the same NPC the game decides she'll only talk to me about the one I CAN'T DO. No options for what I want to talk about. No defaulting to the one for the character I actually have in my party. Oh no. It's just "The Princess is in another castle" and fuck you if you want to do anything else.

There is, quite literately, no excuse for this kind of bullshit. The game is, once again, actually stopping the player from playing. You should never be in a situation where you can only start a quest chain after completing a different quest which stops you being able to start the first one. Particularly when that first quest says "come over whenever and we'll have a party". There's no reason for it. It makes ZERO fucking sense.

Needless to say this crap did little to further endear me to the character.

Just so I'm clear here, I don't mind missing stuff so much, but arbitrarily DENIED stuff is a different matter. And replaying a game to pick up the stuff you missed is only an option when the game itself is actually FUN. If the game simply goes out of it's way to induce such levels of pure rage in player that they seriously contemplate gnawing off their own arms so they never have to pick up a controller again then it's not going to happen. EVER.

Perhaps that's why I stuck it out to the end. Just so I knew i wasn't going to be missing out anything, that the thing was done, completed, and I'd never have to play it again. That or i just kinda suck as a person and have some really messed up priorities. Either way the game still sucks outright, and I implore you to never play it. Unless you really like headaches for some reason.

30 hours of "gameplay". 29 hours making this face.