Magic Knight Rayearth - Reader Retroview  

Anime Adaptation Ahead
by JuMeSyn

15-25 hours


Rating definitions 

   1998 was the end of the road for the English-speaking Saturn fanbase. The pitifully small amount of software released for the system was mostly high-quality, but as Nintendo’s recent consoles have shown, quality cannot easily compensate for lack of quantity. Sega of America released four final titles for the Saturn in the summer of 1998. Had all gone as planned at Working Designs’ headquarters, the action-RPG Magic Knight Rayearth would have been released the year before. In an unsurprising development to later watchers of Working Designs however, Magic Knight Rayearth was repeatedly delayed, becoming the final title released on the Saturn in English during the fall of 1998.

   Working Designs had begun translation on MKR close to its Japanese release date, which was a full three years earlier. Fortunately for the player, Magic Knight Rayearth when released in 1995 featured roughly the pinnacle of graphical achievement using the overhead variety of viewing. The graphics were still impressive for the type of game this is by 1998, and hold up as being very colorful and vibrant today. FMV sequences are uncovered at certain parts of the game, and they look reasonable as well, possibly due to most of them being animated specifically for the game.

I fell into a burning ring of fire… I fell into a burning ring of fire…

   Music in Magic Knight Rayearth is a slightly mixed bag, but only in that some tunes are more prone to endless playing than others. The sky garden in particular possesses some of the most enchanting music I have ever heard. Sound effects do the job without being remarkable. Voice acting is quite good, in keeping with Working Designs’ usual high standards. And there is quite a bit of voice acting. In a stylistic departure from the Japanese original Working Designs elected to make an optional feature, wherein each of the three playable characters describes events in the story into her own diary accessible to the player, feature a great deal of voice acting. The tradeoff here is that most mandatory story sequences in the Japanese version had voice acting. Whether the player appreciates or deplores Working Designs’ reduction of mandatory voice acting is a personal choice.

   Being an action-RPG, controls are of paramount importance. Jumping can be a bit tricky thanks to a need for careful timing, but after a bit of practice will become second nature. Running, a necessity if the player wants to get through previously explored areas quickly, is automatic at first and later accessible via a learned technique. Weapon wielding depends upon the character currently being controlled (Hikaru uses a blade, Umi a rapier, and Fuu a bow), but all are effective at their own brand of fighting. Spells are not great in number, with one per character being selected in the menu and then instantly deployed via a quick touch of the X button. Hit detection is perfectly acceptable, and after being hit the active character enjoys a brief moment of invincibility which is quite useful. Switching between characters is accomplished via a quick button press and can be done as often as desired.

   Magic Knight Rayearth originated as a manga by CLAMP in Japan. It was then adapted into an anime series, along with being given a few video game renditions. Each version holds, broadly, the same tale, but with significant differences becoming apparent as the story(ies) wind on. In any version the tale begins with three junior-high enrolled girls, Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu being sucked from Tokyo Tower into a strange world called Cephiro. Before they have time to gather their wits about them, the three are addressed by an oddly young-looking magician named Clef as the Magic Knights. Before they can gather much more than a propensity towards fire magic on the part of Hikaru, Clef is petrified by a rather nasty sorceress named Alcione who encounters a bit of a surprise from Hikaru’s new magical power. The three then head for Precia per Clef’s last instruction, from whom they will learn more about the imprisoning of Princess Emerald by her most trusted retainer Zagat. Princess Emerald’s imprisonment is disastrous because her willpower keeps Cephiro intact.

Oh, no, Lukino, you’re extraordinary at being in the way. Oh, no, Lukino, you’re extraordinary at being in the way.

   The setup makes it sound as if a standard “Kidnapped Princess” storyline is in play. And this is the core of the story until the very end, although a number of twists and turns keep things from getting boring. Players who have watched the anime and/or read the manga will find that things don’t proceed exactly as in either of those two antecedents here.

   Magic Knight Rayearth was not developed to provide a challenge. There are a few mildly rough spots, but nothing a veteran action-RPGamer won’t plow through easily. The final battles take a quite different turn, however, and will demand shooter-style play. Replaying the title is relatively easy thanks to its undemanding length, but there is no real reason to do so except for the sake of an item-collection quest that nets interesting and sometimes useful keepsakes for the player.

   As the final release outside of Japan on the Saturn, Magic Knight Rayearth cannot meet all possible expectations. It is a good game, and does nothing wrong save for a lack of grand ambition. Approached as a cute action title rather than anything larger, MKR will please the player without attaining anything close to classic status.

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