Author’s Note: This review was originally published on January 10th, 2006. The original title was “You don’t need a High IQ to enjoy this game.” When I was playing Tears of Blood, a user by the name of “High IQ” was constantly berating the game and belittling others that enjoyed it. The review’s title was my attempt at calling him out.
My goodness, it was a long journey but I finally finished Magna Carta: Tears of Blood. This is a game I looked forward to playing way before it was released. I got much more than I expected, which isn’t necessarily always a good thing. Now don’t get so timorous, this RPG was one of the most epic I have played for a long time. It just had its fair share of problems, like most games do, that made me want to pull my hair out.
Magna Carta: Tears of Blood takes place in the world of Efferia, where humans and a super human race called the Yason exist. Unfortunately, they do not exist in harmony. In fact, a war has been going on for quite some time between the two races. At the center of the war there is the mercenary group known as the Tears of Blood, the fortuitous and ready for action group that fights for the humans with burning vengeance against the Yason. The leader of the group is Calintz, a powerful swordsman who had his village destroyed by the Yason when he was a child. As the war continued burgeoning, Calintz studied under master Zekart and became a fine swordsman not to be messed with. Today, he hopes to end the war due to the efforts of the Tears of Blood. During an attack against the Yason, Calintz and his friends run into some trouble, causing Calintz to fall into an unknown cavern. He wakes up to find Reith, a woman who forgot her memory, healing his wounds. This chance encounter will change Efferia forever.
I know what you’re thinking, “Oh great, another person who lost her memory and has some secret past.” Yeah, that’s part of the story, but watching it unfold will keep you mesmerized. MC: ToB has an amazing tale, not just of Reith and her self-discovery, but you’ll encounter love, tragedy, betrayal, humor, and death as you lead the Tears of Blood. All of these themes are expressed through amazingly developed characters and villains. Watching the tale unfold is a real treat. What’s great about the story is that it also teaches you an important lesson about war. Leave it to a video game to hopefully wake up some people about the tragedies of war.
The story is great, but parts of it unfolding nearly killed me. There are two reasons why. One is the battling, but I’ll get to that when I talk more about game play. The other reason involves pacing. At the start of the game, you control Calintz and everyone. Near a certain point, the party splits with Calintz having one team and Reith having the other. You first play as one, and then after all of the events have taken place you play as the other. Eventually, the hero and the debutante meet up and the tale continues as it previously did. It takes a Suikoden III approach by telling the stories through both ends. The idea is unique, but all of the backtracking and watching the same cut scenes and events over and over really does it to me. That’s part of the reason why I hated Suikoden III. I don’t care how great a story is, if you can’t tell it properly than you ruin it. MC didn’t ruin the story entirely because of the way it was told; seeing the new events unfold (once, and only once) in fully animated cut scenes was a real treat. Heck even when the written dialogue was unfolding I was captivated by the story, even though all you get are text boxes and a non-moving background. Still, part of the reason the game lasts 50 hours is due to the story pacing.
The other reason this game had me clock in over 50 hours is due to the battle system. Remember how I said you’d be doing plenty of backtracking? Yeah, you’ll be doing a lot of that in battle-ridden areas. There are two ways to traverse through these places. You can do it in Detect Mode, which is where your character draws his weapon, has a wider viewing range, and can gain first strike by hitting the enemy. If you do not hit the enemy and you are spotted, you start a regular battle. Gaining first strikes is easy to do, and very helpful during some parts of the game. However, Detect Mode has your characters walking slower than they usually would. If you chose not to go into Detect Mode, you’ll just run at a normal pace, but your vision is worse and if a monster spots you, they get initiative. Thus, one reason why the game took long was because I was constantly trekking through the dungeons in Detect Mode. Then again, having the monster gain first strike would take equally long. Now that I have covered how to enter the battle system, it’s time to talk about the battles themselves.
It took me a while to figure out the system in it’s entirety, and it will probably work the same way for you as well, but once you do figure it out you’ll have fun with one of the most interesting battle systems ever. Yes, near the end of the game you’ll be getting quite annoyed with the surfeit of battles, and how slow some of them can last. However, the remedy for this is taking a break from the game and doing something else. Honestly, my fellow gamers, go outside once and a while and do some physical activity. Anyway, at the start of a battle you’ll see various things. In the upper right hand corner, there is the player meter and the enemy meter. When the meter reaches a marked point, you can use your turn. While you can have three people at a time in your party, only one person can be used. You can switch whom you wish to use on the fly. The same goes for enemies; only one enemy will attack at a time. The higher the charisma of your characters, the sooner and more often your characters can attack. In the upper left hand corner, you’ll see how much chi is available. In MC, chi plays a large role not just in battles, but the story itself. The types of chi are wind, water, fire, ice, lightning, earth, mountain, and celestial. Whenever you attack, you’ll use some chi in the area. If you run out of a certain chi, you can’t use those types of attacks anymore. While chi is always regenerating, certain types will regenerate faster than others due to your location. Obviously, fire chi is abundant in the fire caves but there is little to no water and ice chi. However, you can use Talismans (which are the items of Magna Carta world) to restore a type of chi. These can also be used to heal, raise stats, and other things of that nature. Next up, you’ll have your players in the battlefield. You can move the selected player freely, however moving will cause the player meter to stop filling up. After you chose your player who is to take over the fighting, you can move him in range of attacking the enemy. Your mages have a wider range than your melee fighters, so they don’t have to move too far. After that it is time to attack.
When you are in range and you can attack, you’ll see a ring called the Trinity Circle. Basically, you have to time the three buttons that pass through a certain point. If you land it perfectly, you’ll see Great. Otherwise, you’ll get a Good and the attack won’t be as powerful. If you miss or hit the wrong button, you lose your turn. Sound difficult? It is at first, but you’ll gain a rhythm and after a few battles. There are three types of attack modes. Standard allows you to attack with one move at a time while still having a shield when the enemy attacks. If you can land three Greats in a row, you have a chance of learning a new move for the current style being used. However, once you learn a new move you must use each previous move before that newly acquired move in order to use it. Again, sounds confusing but just playing through a couple of battles will allow you to see what I mean. Combo mode is only available for certain styles, but the attacks are much more powerful. On the other hand you have a longer sequence to input and no shield. This is used for boss battles, typically. Finally, Counter mode will make you guess what type of attack the enemy is using and input the buttons. If you mess up, your enemy hits you but if you guess right you hit the enemy for much more damage. An annoyance comes into play here, because after every attack is issued, you have to wait a while for the attack to load and watch it play out. Seeing the same thing over and over again gets old.
Landing three Greats not only allows you to hopefully learn a new move, but it adds 5% to the Trinity Drive. You can activate this by pressing the square button when the drive reaches 30%. The highest it goes is 100%. This activated with a powerful combo attack really racks up the damage, but be warned that anytime you mess up an attack the Trinity Drive goes back to zero. When the battle ends you get experience, money (called Sid) and items. The experience points are actually little dashes, and when ten are filled, you gain a level. A cool thing that the game does is keep track of your highest damage record. If you exceed your record, you gain extra experience.
The abridged version of the battles is Shadow Hearts meets Star Ocean 3 meets SaGa Frontier, with some original ideas tossed in. The battles are fun, sometimes requiring strategy, and most of all rewarding after you master a style or land a ton of damage after a combo. Still, the battles get annoying to the extreme. When you are going the same area for the zillionth time, you are in no mood to battle. Instead, you just want to move on with the story. It’s a shame that you’ll often be forced into a battle when trying to sneak around the enemy, and you can’t run because you are in Detect Mode and don’t want to risk being surprised. Besides, after every battle ends, you have to wait for the game to load which can take as long as seven seconds, which will seem like an eternity after you are sick of fighting. MC: ToB has a great system, but when you continue to fight when you don’t want to, you start getting frustrated. Not to mention that Calintz is ridiculously over-powered by the end of the game, making half of the other characters obsolete.
At least when you’re not fighting, you can do typical RPG stuff that isn’t confusing. Once again, however, you’ll be faced with loading times that are on the verge of being inexcusable, especially now with all of the PS2 games out. Anyway, in town you can talk to people, buy things, combine Talismans to get new Talismans, go on quests for blacksmiths, upgrade certain weapons, get your fortune told, and appraise items. At the inn and the various save points, you can chat with your party to increase their trust level for you which effects how they perform in battle. Another way to increase trust is to give them gifts, although not everyone will like the same thing. There is also a communication sphere that allows you to chat with people outside of the town you are in. All of this stuff to do is fun, but once again going to the same damn town time and time again makes the game appear tedious. The menus in the game are easy to read and follow. Something new to me is the Style option. As I said, characters use certain styles in battle. Here, you can view which ones they have learned and mastered. You get new styles from scrolls, which are found in treasure chests or acquired after finishing a dojo.
Sheesh, I think I just about covered about everything in terms of game play. Thus, it is now for the audio/visual goods. Graphically, this game excels. The FMV cut scenes, like the opening one, are beautiful. The regular cut scenes are just as nice, although the NPCs could’ve been made a bit better. Watching their mouths move in an attempt to match the dialogue is quite sad. Still, everything from the gorgeous backgrounds to the amazingly designed characters in some of the most kick ass clothes makes the visual department shine. Not to mention that most girls in the game, such as the amazing villain Carian, almost put Tifa to shame. The music is nice, with the exception of the opening theme. I wouldn’t hunt down the OST because the tunes aren’t memorable like they were in other RPGs, but there are some great tracks at least worth a download. Voice acting was done well, too. All characters have voices that fit their appearance, but some of the things they say are a bit over the top. Thankfully, the translation was done perfectly so you will not be seeing any grammatical or spelling errors.
After 50+ hours of my life gone, Magna Carta: Tears of Blood was completed. I’m glad I finished this game, not just because of the story, but because I was getting tired of going through the same places over and over. This game is worth buying because it lasts so long, but I wouldn’t play it again for a good, long while because I know what’s going to happen. There is some foreshadowing, but that is no reason to go back for more. Since there is no “New Game+” option, this game is going to be placed on the shelf for a while. This does not mean that I will be getting rid of it, however. This is a game published by Atlus, and true RPGers know what happens to those types of games: poof, they’re gone and hard to find. If you buy a new copy of the game, you get some goodies. This includes a huge, double-sided poster and an art-book/mini-strategy guide. This is a game collector’s dream come true.
It had flaws, it had style, and it was made in Korea. Magna Carta: Tears of Blood is a game worth checking out. I got frustrated at times, but the good outweighed the bad and I was satisfied with the end result. If you need your RPG appetite satisfied, look no further than this game. If you want an amazing battle system and don’t mind repetition, look no further than this game. If you want a short quest that you can play again in the future, I say look elsewhere. This is a game that requires patience, but the rewards are well worth it in the end.