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   Magical Starsign - Staff Review  

Ursa Minor
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

BATTLE SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
Very Easy
COMPLETION TIME
35 to 40 hours
OVERALL

3.0/5

Rating definitions 

   Magical Starsign is a game with an impressive amount of charm and no small amount of wit. A good thing, too, considering that most of the underlying systems and ideas the game possesses are thoroughly unremarkable. Using a highly traditional turn-based combat system and a story that touts the power of friendship, loyalty and love, Magical Starsign takes some of the most basic ideas of RPGs and combines them with a fun visual style, an unusual interface, and an infectious sense of humor. It presents an unwieldy balance between the mundane and the intriguing, presenting on the one hand a quirky cast and an intriguing solar system to explore, and on the other, a predictable combat system and meaningless plot. Ultimately, what saves Magical Starsign is its sense of humor.

   The solar system in which Magical Starsign takes place is made up of six planets and a sun. Each planet is aligned with a specific element, except for the sixth, the planet Kovomaka. Kovomaka is the planet of magic, and home to the Will-o-Wisp Academy, the premier school for mages throughout the solar system. The main character, whose gender, name and elemental alignment are decided by the player, is a student at this academy, studying under the tutelage of the powerful and absentminded Ms. Madeline. The story begins in earnest when Ms. Madeline is sent after a rogue former student, and her students decide to tag along for the ride, setting in motion an adventure that will shake the core of the Baklava system itself.

   The best parts of the story have largely to do with the setting itself. The plot is largely unremarkable where theme and direction is concerned. It relies on very basic, nearly universal RPG conventions, and never really makes it clear exactly what, if anything, it is trying to say. What saves Magical Starsignís plot, and arguably the entire game, is the amount of sheer inventiveness it displays in world design. The worlds of the Baklava system are home to a wide variety of life, from humans and dwarves to animate pots and small, jive-talking stone cubes. In these worlds, the children will have to contend with everything from otter space-pirates to a lackadaisical Space Police force, and even a stone giant animated by the power of gummy candy. Though the story itself progresses along predictable lines, the inventiveness of the gameís setting does it credit.

Wild Magic can be used to solve minor puzzles. Wild Magic can be used to solve minor puzzles.

   Magical Starsign runs on a highly traditional turn-based combat system, with a distinct focus on magic. Each of the six main characters have a distinct elemental alignment, which grants them a bonus when their planet is in a particular spot relative to the Baklavian sun. Spells can also be powered up by tapping the character as they cast, a move known as a Spellstrike. Between elemental starsigns, Spellstrikes, and MP regeneration for each character which ranges between ten and twenty-five percent per turn, magic is always the determining factor in combat. A pity, then, that each of the gameís six cast members can learn a grand total of only six spells each. With such limited options in combat, fights quickly become repetitive, despite a reasonably broad range of enemies to beat up on.

   Unusually for a game as grounded in genre tradition as this, Magical Starsign forgoes a more basic control setup in favor of one almost entirely focused on the touch screen. Movement on the field can be controlled with either the BAXY buttons or the control pad, but combat is controlled entirely through the use of touch-screen icons. Field movement using the touch screen is a little squirrelly, with characters taking often circuitous routes to go where they are directed. Moving with the control pad is a bit better, but with "confirm" mapped to the L/R buttons, it can still be a bit awkward at times. Overall, the interface works reasonably well, though it does feel a little weird given the classical tone of the game.

The majority of combat takes place on the bottom screen. The majority of combat takes place on the bottom screen.

   Magical Starsignís visual style is quite imaginative and unusual, using bright colors and jagged lines to bring the worlds of Baklava to life. It feels reminiscent of Secret of Mana at times, but the gameís use of CG cutscenes does help set it apart. From a technical standpoint, the game isnít very impressive. Even the aforementioned cutscenes arenít that great, suffering from choppiness and a lack of cohesion with other visual aspects of the game.

   The music of Magical Starsign compliments the somewhat cutesy visual style well enough, at times even sounding a bit like the early Mana games it so resembles. However, the limited length of the music tracks gives it a somewhat limited life, as it becomes repetitive very quickly. The gameís sound effects are adequate, even featuring some limited voice acting, though the actual clips suffer similarly from a lack of variety.

   Given the highly traditional combat design and abundance of healing items, Magical Starsign is one of the easier games in recent memory. This doesnít help with the somewhat low level of interest that the combat system manages to generate, but it does make it a bit more accessible to younger and more inexperienced gamers. The gameís length is about average, coming out to between thirty five and forty hours to complete.

   With technically inelegant visuals, a plot without anything much to say, and a timeworn combat system, Magical Starsignís problems are obvious to anyone who cares to look. However, even saddled with these issues, Magical Starsignís infectious sense of humor and inventive characters make it a worthwhile play for anyone looking for a lighthearted, moderately long jaunt through a universe populated with all manner of unusual critters.

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