In the time up to the release of this game, let’s just say the hype was practically nonexistent. When I tried to discuss the game with my friends, they just sat there with blank stares on their faces (which they do most of the time anyway). Having now played the game, I'm confused why that was. Simply put, Magna Carta: Tears of Blood is one of the better RPGs available for the PS2.
If you read the other media reviews, you'll most likely hear that this game is a cross between Final Fantasy X, Star Ocean 3, and Shadow Hearts. While it's easy to see why people would come to that conclusion, it's also easy to see that this game is a quality title in its own right. It can actually hold more than a candle to those other series.
The graphics are good. It's hard to use any other word than "good" to describe them. They're certainly not the best you'll see on the PS2, and they're certainly not the worst. As for the visual style, it's certainly detailed and fairly unique. Some male characters, notably the main character Calintz, look female at first glance which is not really a big surprise from an Eastern Asian game.
However, comparing a character to one of the female characters who mostly seem to have unusually large breasts will soon help you tell who's what gender wise. In fact, the visuals are done by the stunning duo In-Jung Jang (landscape and concept) and Hyung-Tae Kim (character and monster design, known for his work in “Ragnarok Online” and “War of Genesis”), both two of my favorite artists who pour out a lot of detail in their designs. They definitely know how to make a world come alive, despite a lead character where you can’t tell which gender they are until you hear their voice.
If I had to highlight one area of this game that I enjoyed above the rest, I'd have to go with the gameplay. Structurally, the game provides a solid foundation on which the gameplay is created. The battle system is especially fun, with a kind of 'pseudo-real-time' thing going on.
As I've already mentioned, people compare this game with Star Ocean 3, and that's largely due to the battle system which allows you to freely move around the battle area with one character at a time. The major difference is that your other characters are not AI controlled when you're not using them in Magna Carta as they are in SO3. As other characters are not always useful, as in many RPGs, you just leave them to wait until they are - this is done by having a shared gauge (called Leadership) which determines when you can act; something typical of almost all turn based RPGs.
The world of Magna Carta has a force known as Chi which is harnessed when Ying and Yang combine. It all sounds very mystical and oriental, but basically Chi accounts for the games Elements as you would expect from an RPG.
The major fact about Chi is that it's present in the environment around you and to different quantities depending on where you are. Different types of Chi (H: Celestial, A: Wind, I: Ice, W: Water, M: Mountain, E: Earth, F: Fire, and L: Lightning) are used by different fighting styles which the characters can learn and master. These fighting styles contain a selection of skills, etc and so on.
Reading that you might be thinking it sounds a bit complicated, and I have to agree it does seem that way if you haven’t played the game, but the well designed interface and detailed descriptions given in game make it a breeze to get to grips with.
Execution of a skill in the game requires timing of button presses on the "Trinity Circle" which takes button presses of a combination of Xs and Circles.
The timing is consistent for all skills (other than during Combo mode) which means people with bad timing shouldn't be put off. People are obviously going to compare this to the "Judgment Ring" from Shadow Hearts, but it's very different and certainly better.
The timing is pretty forgiving, allowing for you to either Miss (you fail the skill) hit Good or hit Great. Hitting Great on every press in a skill is obviously the goal, especially when perfect sequences done a certain number of times are how you unlock new skills in a given fighting style. Don't worry though, it's not that hard.
The storyline is very involving, with plenty of mysteries and twists and turns. I would have to say that characters leaving your party and then coming back in quick succession during the early phase of the game does get a little annoying and at times seems pointless. No RPG is complete of course without the character suffering amnesia, and Magna Carta doesn't disappoint. The 2nd lead character, Reith (the girl on the box art next to the male lead, Calintz) doesn't know who she is, but maybe there's more to it than that? But then again, isn't there always?
The characters are all well developed and have unique personalities. Understanding your team is vital in Magna Carta, since how much they trust you directly affects combat with those characters in your party. Basically, trust = a better Leadership meter in terms of how soon you can act. There are two ways to gain trust: by talking to characters or by giving gifts. Talking to a character about whatever they bring up (usually related to the current state of the game’s plot) and replying with what you think they'd like to hear from the given two options will result in an increased trust.
However, other characters also react to how you talk with a character, so personality conflicts in the party tend to cause problems. Gifts are temporary trust increasers, and different characters prefer different types of things. It's a great system and it's as boring and stupid as it sounds... really.
My one major problem with the game, and the only reason stopping me giving it a very good score, is the voice acting. Broken sentences are plentiful, which is a shame considering some of the voice actors tend to fit the characters very well. At times you can be taken slightly out of the game because you have to wait for half a second for them to speak.
The reason this happens is that the game loads parts of the cut scene, and then starts showing the scene, and keeps loading the rest of the scene on. That is why the characters move painfully slow, and that also leads the voices to having a “dramatic” effect. The voices seem like they are pausing for dramatic effect, which it really is not, and it is loading the voices into segments, and playing the voice when it gets to the point of the video where it is appropriate. Of course, this is the case in almost anything Atlus does with voices.
For the most part, Magna Carta: Tears of Blood is a good game. It's shouldn't be set aside as a collection of ideas from various games, because it's a solid game in its own right. If you like those RPGs from the Far East, then you really should give it a chance.