The fighting genre has always been a static element in gaming, a simple formula that could be experimented with here and there but the fundamentals never changing so much the core gamers were alienated. As the years go on, this “battle” genre of games have been appearing, chiefly in Japan developed by often solo, ingenious young developers putting their skills to use in a competitive and very dynamic market.
At their heart, these games are fighting games with more gimmicks thrown into the mix to make it interesting. Some will remember Platinum Games’ Anarchy Reigns and even fewer will remember Capcom’s Chaos Legion as comparison.
In Magical Battle Festa, the idea isn’t too different. Opting to stay simple, you have a roster of twelve characters complete with their own skills and unique flair. A bevy of mechanics like ranged & melee combos, ‘perfect blocking’ and ‘swaying’ to evade attacks and counter at the right moment makes it more like Devil May Cry or Metal Gear Rising.
Battle in this game takes place mainly in one-on-one duels but with options for up to four players in network battle or three AI to duke it out free-for-all or in teams.
As battle rages, you will accrue two overdrive bars that connect to your ultimate attack, but using either overdrive can still turn the battle in your favor. As well, each character is assisted by ‘magibots’ which enter into a number of formations on the player’s command, affecting the user or their enemies in multiple ways. Magic is a bar that refills as you use ranged attacks and dashes, keeping the player thinking tactical at all times.
Every fight is quick and intense, and topping it off is the ability to customize each character with up to five different skills and three different magibot formations, setting each to three templates you choose before a fight. Often times though you’ll find yourself mashing buttons against the AI due to a few issues that present on your way through the game and up the difficulties.
At times, the AI can seem unbeatable and even comes off as unfair by perfect blocking you or evading combos out of nowhere, even under your own combo attacks, putting you at their mercy; at times, you’ll see it doing things you can’t do.
Oppositely, you can find them barely fighting back even on higher difficulty levels. This is not helped by the fact that some characters are oriented more towards ranged, magical combat than others and thus have powerful abilities they can spam at little cost which have a nullifying effect on invincibility frames.
The story is generic, but adorable for it, taking many cues from “magical girl” style animes like Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. This is further evidenced in character personalities and dialogue, many embody an archetype commonly seen in mainstream works.
In search of new energy, humans discovered magic, and after research they built several cauldrons across the world to ensure a steady flow to the populace, but strange creatures called specters emerged and corrupted whatever they touched.
Mages were trained to use magic to fight them off, and most of the characters are taking part in a tournament to decide the next Holy Mage who will enter the Magic Agency to join the never-ending struggle.
Magical Battle Festa features good graphics with a wide array of customization and compatibility, an excellent soundtrack with a theme song, and art provided by accomplished artist KeG. The game’s characters are all voiced enough that battle is livened up with their cries, but dialogue is largely silent.
This mixed with short battles and gamepad encouraged play is an arcade game that will keep you busy for the weekend, but it starts to drop off once you finish the few hours of story it has available. Beyond character customization, you can unlock two extra modes of play including Survival, but it’s more of the same.
The game begins to deteriorate once you are used to the abilities of the characters, as there are a few “easy modes” you can fall back on to render your opponent helpless, most notable being Claudio and his bow attacks. As an aside, some characters like Kyouichi lack punch and have boring moves.
However, there are some technical faults that make it seem pointless to have a few abilities in the first place. You have in your arsenal the ability to jump behind your opponent in a flash at the cost of your magic, but you are never automatically facing your enemy, so if you try to follow up with an attack you’ll hit nothing but air and leave yourself vulnerable facing the direction you already were.
Formations are superfluous to actual combat and poorly explained by the tutorial, forcing you to read up on them in character setup. They exist for the magibot’s overdrive which constantly fills, so in this way you can also get your ultimate attack by avoiding the enemy after a while and then hitting them with a hard to dodge super move.
In one word, Festa is simple. Easy to play and understand, but the lack of a meaningful ending for the story and otherwise repetitive gameplay mar its impact and replayability. As a friend to the developer of a similar game, I can appreciate the huge amount of effort that goes into putting these games together usually by only a handful of individuals.
As such, I would say that despite the shortcomings of this game, it’s still more than worth a look to anyone interested in the vast and still growing web of ‘doujin’ games coming out of Japan.