Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven

"Lord of Magna is far from the fanservicey mess it could've turned out to be."

Before I opened the box, I didn't know what to expect from Lord of Magna. I wasn't sure if I would be getting a harem anime-made-visual-novel with a side of strategy RPG, the opposite, or something else entirely. As it turns out, the game's cheesecakey premise — the young owner of an inn suddenly finds himself surrounded by seven mysterious beauties in maid outfits — doesn't actually develop into the uninhibited innuendo-fest one might expect it to be. To be sure, romantic feelings are integral to the game's characters as they develop over the course of its relatively brief narrative; there are even a few late-game scenes that carry some sexual overtones, but because there is suitable buildup to these moments, they are more palatable than those found in, say, Hyperdimension Neptunia. (Yes, I'm going to keep bringing that series up. It tortures me so.) Lord of Magna combines this concept with an unusual battle system that encourages the player to literally bowl enemies over with wide-reaching attacks. The end result is a serviceable, if unambitious strategy RPG that could have used some fine-tuning in the balance department, along with a stronger story — though it's far from the fanservicey mess it could've turned out to be.

The game tells the story of the Artemisias, seven superhuman sisters with hair for every color of the rainbow. One by one, they are drawn to the protagonist, a seemingly-average young man, and the subsequent events eventually pit the group against a tyrannical king who seeks to capture the sisters for his own nefarious purposes. Much of the game's runtime is spent exploring each of the girls' personalities, which are admittedly tropey, although generally not to such a degree that it insults the player's intelligence.

Crucially, Lord of Magna features a main character who isn't a sexual predator. He's clearly interested in the women around him, but he treats them with respect and tends to their unique needs accordingly. He's essentially dating all of them, yes, and that may not sit well with every player. However, as a person with progressive opinions about love and sexuality, I take no issue with polyamory so long as all parties consent and agree upon the terms of the relationship. I'm probably giving Lord of Magna more credit than it deserves in this department, because it could just as easily be viewed as a shallow self-insert fantasy, but I have to commend the writers (or the localization team, at least) for showing a modicum of taste in the presentation of its story. The game does have its share of problems: one of the characters clearly resembles an underage girl, for one, and I felt very uncomfortable with the idea of romancing her. The Artemisias are bound to the protagonist for narrative reasons and revere him almost immediately after they meet, which feels abrupt at times and unsettling at other times. I wouldn't risk my life for someone I just met, but I'm also not a magical fairy with a mysterious destiny. Minor differences, right?

Battles are where Lord of Magna shows what it really has to offer. Its strategic battles take place on gridless maps, with turns split between an ally phase and an enemy phase. What distinguishes Lord of Magna from its contemporaries is both the volume of enemy units and the manner in which they must be dispatched. Instead of eliminating the bad guys one by one, the player utilizes sweeping attacks that instantly kill most enemies, knocking them into one another and creating a chain reaction not unlike a series of bowling pins being swept away. It's satisfying to watch a well-placed strike decimate hordes of enemies at once. Unfortunately, this flow is disrupted by larger enemies, who have exponentially more health and must be whaled on turn after turn until they die. I rarely felt challenged by my foes; I could always heal faster than they could damage me, drawing most fights out into wars of attrition rather than the strategic clashes I saw potential for in the game's early stages. A game-wide reduction of enemy health would have gone a long way towards eliminating this issue, but I suspect it was balanced this way to extend its length. My total playtime clocked in around fifteen hours, which is not especially long for an RPG in the first place. But I'd rather have a shorter, consistently engaging game than a drawn-out grindfest any day. I still have traumatic flashbacks to Disgaea's Item Worlds.

There are some pacing issues in Lord of Magna as well; the story-to-battle ratio is generally unbalanced throughout, and while I enjoy dense, dialogue-heavy RPGs, this one spends more time introducing new characters than actually developing them or the world they inhabit. The final Artemisia sister joins extremely late in the game, for instance, and unless the player specifically pursues her side events, it's too easy to finish the game without learning much about her — which is a shame, because she was one of my favorite characters! More interesting is the flavor text for items and examinable objects in the game world. It's lighthearted, humorous, and changes after nearly every story event — it's the kind of thing completionists will enjoy discovering, while others can head straight for the story's finish line without missing anything of significance to the overall plot.

One oddity is the game's storybook graphical style, which intentionally employs low-frame animations for a whimsical effect. It looks completely different in motion than one might anticipate from seeing screenshots, but after an hour or so with the game, it not only feels natural, but gives the visuals some character. Audio is more of a mixed bag, as some of it is overused: the inn theme, an unexciting piece to begin with, is played far too often, and characters repeat the same lines in battle ad nauseum. The phrase "efficiency is a fine companion to visual presentation" is going to haunt my dreams. However, most of the voice actors are well-cast, and a few standout tracks evoke Falcom in the best way.

At times, I got a nostalgic, Lunar-esque vibe from Lord of Magna; characters appear in brief animated sequences, and the romance in the game is generally handled with restraint. Innuendo pokes through every now and then — unnecessary zoom-in on jiggling breasts during the animated introduction, for instance — and even though I'm not the target audience for this particular brand of fantasy, it didn't keep me from enjoying most of my time with the game. If I was bothered by anything, it was the occasionally glacial pacing of battles and story sections alike. Even with these issues, Lord of Magna exceeded my minimal expectations. It's definitely a game geared towards anime and dating sim fans, and while it doesn't have the deepest story or characters, there's enough substance to make it worth playing.

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