Magical Starsign - Staff Retroview  

A Star Is Born
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

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20-40 Hours
+ Amusing localization
+ Involving combat
- Serious moments fall flat
- Touch screen only interface
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   For reasons known only to its employees, Nintendo of America localized Magical Starsign after leaving its predecessor stranded in Japan. The DS RPG market was fairly sparse at the time, and Starsign got some moderate praise. The game is no unforgettable masterpiece, but Brownie Brown did a good job putting an entertaining title together that doesn't outstay its welcome.

   A sextet of classmates at Will-O'-Wisp magic academy is rather perturbed when the instructor stays missing after what was supposed to be a quick job elsewhere. One student named Lassi manages to locate the academy's hidden space rocket collection, and naturally takes off in one to begin the adventure of finding the missing Miss Madeline. Collecting the other classmates takes a good chunk of this time, since the player-named protagonist ends up having to unite with his or her scattered compatriots on other planets. Along the way a strange aggregate of pirate otters and flying Space Police start getting obstructive, and their behavior is guided by a malevolent personality elsewhere.

   Starsign succeeds in being a lighthearted tale for the most part, and some of the small stories that unfold as the characters explore the planets of their neighborhood are quite amusing. When the game attempts to get more serious it mostly falls flat, because the villains have too little screen time to come across as more than caricatures and the heroes don't have deep personalities. Their goal of rescuing Madeline carries no weight to the player when the woman vanished at the beginning of the game without establishing her personality in depth, but most of the time the cast is entertaining enough for that not to matter.

   Magical Starsign's combat dispenses with almost everything Magical Vacation introduced, but manages to be even more involving. One facet that was kept between the games is the constant MP regeneration of characters, making these attacks the mainstay of most offense. Instead of the sixteen elements in Vacation, Starsign has reduced that number to seven, and the game helpfully displays when a magical attack will be weak or powerful against adversaries. Instead of every spell having a specific area of effect, Starsign makes every magic use from the front row single target at maximum power while casts from the rear hit everything with lowered efficacy.

Is this gonna be a stand-up fight or another bug hunt? Is this gonna be a stand-up fight or another bug hunt?

   The only element to Starsign's combat that is not turn based comes from catering to the DS touch screen. Every time a character casts a spell, tapping that person at the right moment will increase the effectiveness of the magic by about fifty percent, and this mechanic works quite well. It is also possible to increase physical attack strength and guard against non-magical enemy strikes by tapping the target at the right moment, but these actions require excellent timing and are difficult to pull off consistently. Doing so is fortunately unnecessary to achieve victory, and the only real off-putting part of the combat is how fast enemies are sometimes able to act twice before slow player characters have acted once.

   Brownie Brown made the decision to have the touch screen be the major source of player input while playing the game. This works fairly well for the most part, and it can actually be quite pleasant to touch the screen and have the characters walk in the indicated direction until they hit a wall with no further input. There are times when being able to use the D-pad would be helpful though, such as when several characters are grouped in a small area and touching the right one with the stylus is surprisingly challenging. Having the ability to use more than just the stylus for certain situations would have been helpful.

   The majority of Magical Starsign is nothing more visually complex than a very colorful sprite-based title, with the exception of a few grainy FMV sequences. This is hardly a bad thing, as the DS was already known to have issues making 3D look appealing. Starsign's visuals may not push the system to its limits but they have an appealing feel that makes the game enjoyable to gaze upon.

One wonders what happens to the runoff water on such a flat planet... One wonders what happens to the runoff water on such a flat planet...

   Tsukasa Masuko is mostly known for gracing the Megami Tensei series with scores, but Starsign shows him venturing into something else. The battle theme may bear an uncanny resemblance to the one he would later compose for Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans, but it remains energising. Several regular battle themes keep the variety strong and the environmental music is also quite strong, creating a score that stays enjoyable throughout.

   Magical Vacation got nasty in its later areas, but Starsign's difficulty stays easily manageable for the most part. Enemies can act quickly and hit hard, but they're never quite as brutal as in the first game's climax. This makes Starsign accessible to a wider range of players than Vacation would have been.

   Magical Starsign must not have set the sales charts on fire, or else another installment in the series would have materialized by now. The twenty-five hours it takes to finish the game won't necessarily change anyone's life or impart deep meaning to the cosmos, but they're pretty fun. Its annoyances don't wreck the experience, and the game knows not to draw out its endgame to the point of being bothersome. Magical Starsign is surprisingly cheap on the secondary market, and deserves a second look from anyone interested in a cute tale that moves along in an entertaining fashion.

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