It's a sad day when you see one of your favourite games developers go belly up - taking one of your favourite games series' with it. Neverland, the company behind the life-sim/dungeon-crawling/farming series Rune Factory, officially closed it's doors back in 2013 - leaving the "partially translated for EU markets" Rune Factory 4 hanging, seemingly left to languish in the ashes of Neverland, never to be seen again. Or it would have, had publishers Marvelous Europe not stepped in and picked up the pieces, buying up many of Neverland's properties, Rune Factory 4 included, which finally saw a release earlier this year.
Of course, there was more than just Rune Factory 4 in amongst the assets Marvelous picked up - including a promising little (unfinished) game called Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven. So promising this was, in fact, that Marvelous set about rounding up key members of the Neverland team so they could finish it off and get it out there, as the last testament to the now-defunct company.
Unfortunately, as with a lot of their more 'niche' games, Marvelous have released Lord of Magna as a digital download only, meaning you'll have to plonk down £24.99 for a 10,014 block download version from the Nintendo eShop. But while that may seem like a lot of money to shell out on a relative unknown, you're getting plenty of game for your money...
Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven is one of those games that's part traditional role-playing game and part story-heavy visual novel. Most of your time will be spent watching story scenes, chatting with other characters and generally reading reams and reams of text, with a few rounds of battles from time to time and very little in the way of exploring to do in the interim. As with a lot of Neverland's games, however, it's the story and characters that make the game...
The game revolves around a young lad called Luchs, an innkeep on an island that's so xenophobic outside visitors are few and far between. Having made a promise to his late parents to pour his heart and soul into the business and keep things going at any cost, he's had to resort to farming crystals from the nearby caves and selling them to support himself. But one day, during one of his expeditions, he stumbles on more than just some precious ore, being mobbed by a mysterious group of enemies - only to be saved by an even more mysterious pink-haired, amnesiac girl. Things ramp up fairly quickly from thereon in, kicking off an adventure filled with magic, monsters and many, many maidens...
Despite our love for the Rune Factory series, when we heard Lord of Magna had strategic battles in, we cried a little inside. With all the forward planning and tactical skills of a brick, we were more than a little concerned - but fortunately, Lord of Magna's battles are much less hardcore, brain-twisting encounters than we'd feared (it's not as tricky as Fire Emblem or Disgaea, for example). Distinctly turn-based (but not grid based) affairs, you and your team-mates head out onto the field/cave/map, and take it in turns to beat up the hordes of enemies scattered all over the shop. With the ability to move fairly freely around the map, your move isn't constrained by grid squares - instead, you can go wherever you want, moving up to a certain distance in each turn. And where you choose to place your troops plays into your strategy, albeit in a bit of an unusual way.
Each character has a certain area of effect for their attack, shown by a shaded red area - and the idea is to take out as many enemies in one attack as possible. That may sound fairly par for the course - but the twist is, your attack can send weaker enemies flying backwards into other weaker enemies and take them out too, which in turn sends them flying backwards into the unlucky souls behind them, in a kind of funky domino effect of death. With enemies effectively split into underlings, who can usually be defeated in a single swing, and leaders who summon more of their troops with each turn, you'll want to try and position yourself in such a way as to knock as many enemies into each other as possible, whilst simultaneously working your way through the scrum to the leader. If you manage to defeat at least ten folks in one go - which is a lot harder in actuality than it sounds - you'll get yourself an extra turn to boot. If it all sounds a bit complex, don't worry - the game's official battle trailer sums it up well:
While the battle system itself is pretty fun and original, it's actually not really the meat of the game here. Much like Rune Factory, Lord of Magna is a game which lives for it's story, cast of characters and the tale it weaves of Luchs' expanding 'family'. Not too dissimilar to Playstation 3 visual novel-alike Tears to Tiara II, the bulk of your time will be spent reading the reams and reams of text and watching the story unfold - a story which is then punctuated by occasional battle against the fiends that threaten to overwhelm their little world. But much like Neverland's other properties, it's a game which pays homage to a rural life of hard work and simple fun - each of the girls ends up helping Luchs around the inn, which, despite having few visitors, seemingly requires a heck of a lot of work to keep going; a friend runs a farm nearby, providing all the food for the island; and you can even partake in a bit of basic gardening and item crafting on your days off.
But all work and no play make Luchs a... something something - and, as you might have guessed from the 'Maiden Heaven' of the title, more than a little romance is in the air of the Famille inn. With seven sisters to choose from, each with their own distinct personalities and quirks, there's seven different possible endings to see - one for each character - depending on who you spend the most time with and grow closest to over the course of the game. And from the maidens themselves, to your best bud Bart, to your childhood friend Amelia (who spends most of her time crushing on the main character, naturally), everyone is eminently likeable and well-written, making for some rather engaging, and often times hilarious, scenes.
For fans of Rune Factory and games of that ilk, there's a lot to like about Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven - it's a well-written adventure full of memorable characters with an interesting battle system and a side order of romance. However it may not be a game for everyone, as those who prefer more action and less reading will likely find it a bit on the slow side. But for those it draws in with it's innocent, warm-hearted charm, it'll be an adventure that's hard to put down.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS