The MKR "experience" isn't ultimately something which I would, even charitably, call a true RPG. It isn't so much a quest as an entertaining diversion which would undertake to divert their attention from serious matters. Call it a "stress-buster" if you're gauche. It's as far from an RPG as you can get.
Rather than slaying monsters by the millions to build up your character's attributes, MKR's interface is simplified. You increase your HPs and MPs one point at a time by
collecting special jewels. And your characters’ experience levels are increased automatically as the story progresses.
The protagonists are three girls, each hailing from a different clique; Hikaru is a
fiery individualist, Umi's a snob, and Fuu is a breezy ditz who, according to the manual "is very self-conscious" and is "overly concerned about everything." Of the three, I admire Hikaru the most. She is described as "simple-minded," albeit in the fact that she sees the world in straight-forward, realistic fashion. Her accomplices are a handful.
The main differences between them is how each of the girls operate. Hikaru learns to use fire-based magic, Umi's specialty is water, and Fuu, embodies wind. As for their choice of weapons, although Hikaru and Fuu both have swords, they handle theirs in two distinctly different ways: Hikaru, the kendo expert will slash her sword in a roughly 90 degree arc, and since Umi is a fencing student, she'll stab straight ahead. Fuu is the most versatile, since her crossbow affords the longest range and, when powered-up, her arrows will immediately home in on any on-screen monsters.
Each girl learns a total of 3 spells each: Fuu is the healer while the other two have primarily attack spells. When wandering around on the world map, you choose which girl you would like to control by scrolling through them by pressing the L or R buttons. The other two will be controlled by the computer, like Secret of Mana, but with improved AI so they don't get hung up on obstacles quite so often.
Fortunately, the "team leader" which you've selected will be the only one to incur damage, so if Fuu is badly injured, then rotate over to Hikaru. When Hikaru is hurt, then rotate to Fuu so that you can have her cast her healing spell and revive her compatriots.
The plot of MKR isn't quite spectacular. Like Soul Blazer and its unfortunate sequel, Illusion of Gaia, MKR takes place in one of those ubiquitous magical kingdoms which are similar to our own, yet fundamentally different. Unfortunately, MKR doesn't improve upon them philosophically. Instead, it chronicles the adventures of three complete strangers who meet by accident at a field trip to Tokyo Tower. Without further ado, the girls are instantly snatched up by a magical portal and are torn from their own reality and dropped rather unceremoniously in a cut-rate Never-Neverland known as Cefiro.
The first person they meet is the local unicorn-horned wizard named Clef who fancies himself to be the grand poobah of tourism. Before you can say "some have greatness thrust upon them," Clef explains to the befuddled trio that their only hope of escape to their own world is to impersonate the legendary saviors of Cefiro, the
"Magic Knights," and rescue Princess Emerald from the clutches of the former-priest-turned-evil-wizard, Zagat. What a mouthful! So, the girls volunteer to do as Clef asks; what other choice do they have?
Cefiro's triumph over its SNES fore-fathers is seen in almost every locale which you visit. It’s simply beautiful to behold.
The music, while ostensibly not the trademark classical renditions popularized in Enix's 16-bit endeavors, is quite uplifting. It fits the scenes well, yet isn't really fit for repeated listening. In particular, the main theme song, while the lyrics might seem indecipherable, is quite catchy.
Yet the one thing in which MKR excels over its peers is its uniquely vociferous characters. The protagonists, although not native to Cefiro, do not hesitate to expound upon whatever their hearts desire. Through the course of their journeys, the girls learn
to forgive each other's shortcomings and are drawn closer together than they might otherwise have been in their own world.
The inhabitants of Cefiro have vibrant personalities and aren't afraid to discus what
exactly is on their minds. Witness the couple whose house is overrun by dozens of rambunctious children and are having nervous breakdowns. Living next-door to
them is a lonely woman who laments that her only companion is her... YUCK!
The girls’ divergent personalities are also explored in how each character perceives inanimate objects. While in Phantasy Star IV, Chaz would only comment about how clean someone's kitchen is or how wrong "looking into other people's personal belongings without their possessions is" it's actually pure bliss to get MKR's heroines
to tell you what's on their mind while examining a lamp or other such paraphernalia. Seriously, trust me. Just ask Fuu which people "have the biggest balls".
MKR's faults, on the other hand, are pretty atrocious. The game play, while not as damning as Illusion of Gaia’s, just really isn't quite up to The Legend of Zelda's standards. The closest comparison would be a Link to the Past. Like Link, the girls can run and swim. Their running dash also allows them to knock over certain obstacles by charging full-tilt into them, yet there isn't the satisfying recoil afterward.
Unlike Link, the girls can actually jump, yet they can't attack while air-borne, which is unfortunate. Also, the girls aren't quite as versatile as Link when it comes to warfare. This is forgivable, since they aren't accustomed to such a hostile fight for survival. And, just for the sake of complaining, who the heck were those people in the test group who
insisted that Working Designs remove most of the dialogue, anyway? Voice acting would have seriously improved some of the otherwise dramatically lacking scenes in the game.
The biggest joke is the girls’ arsenal. You spend most of your time looking for these stupid multi-colored gems. The reason for such a pointless treasure hunt is that you are allowed to purchase not-so special items in the "Rainbow Junction."
I'll have to admit that, since I'm not a member of the obvious target audience, I just don't appreciate it as much as I should. The girl's out there would delight in practically everything, including the stickers which were included with the manual. Yet, here's fair
warning: the ending for this baby really knocked me for a loop so that I almost fell out of my chair in shock!