First Impressions: Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom

I’d been mildly interested in Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom when I first heard about it because my ears normally prick up whenever an action-adventure game involving ruins comes out. I wasn’t crazy about the demo–although I rarely like demos, I find–and didn’t pick it up because there were other games to play at the time.

A random glance through the Gamestop flyer told me that the game was on sale, new, for $13, and so on Friday I stopped by the Manhattan Mall Gamestop–the BEST Gamestop ever and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise–and picked it up. $13 is the perfect price for this game. Any more expensive and I’d have felt ripped off, but spending so little–it’s easier to overlook the flaws.

The flaws are mostly with the voice acting and plot. The plot is your typical “evil takes over the kingdom and you’ve got to stop it”, but the game thinks it’s giving a fresh take on it. It’s really not, and while the cutscenes aren’t offensive per se, there’s a lot of them, particularly at the beginning. The game opens up and lets you breathe after a little while, but it’s your typical Japanese game narrative style–don’t let the player figure anything out for himself when you could give an infodump.

The basic gimmick of the game is that you’re a dude who’s trying to save the kingdom, and you team up with this giant creature thing called the Majin. It reminds me of a Team ICO game in this way, that it’s based on your relationship. But where Team ICO games are elegant and understated, the Majin is…

…well, for one he won’t goddamn shut up. Recording the voice acting for the Majin apparently consisted of grabbing an intern and having him do his best attempt at a “lovable oafish troll” voice (IMDB claims that the Majin was voiced by an actual actor who played, among other things, Xemnas from Kingdom Hearts and Vicious from Cowboy Bebop, but I can’t believe that listening to his performance here). He’s constantly throwing out stuff like “ME HUNGRY” and “YOU LOOK HURT” and, every time–EVERY time–you solve a puzzle, “YAY! THAT GREAT”. He’s supposed to be childish and endearing and silly, and it’s–

–well, I’m normally the last person to have a problem with “kiddy”–but there’s a difference between childlike whimsy and insulting, and Majin falls VERY much into the latter. The Mario games are a pretty textbook example of how to do it right–there’s bright colors and wacky things going on, for children to enjoy, and there’s tough platforming and lasting character designs for older folks. When there’s dialogue between the main character and the Majin, I almost want to mute the TV. I realize they’re not going for elegant and minimalist, that they want to make a broad comedy, but the game’s based on the relationship between the main character and the Majin–it’s hard to take when I want to punch the Majin in his stupid face every time he speaks. Movies like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth and The Neverending Story have included characters like this, and I think that’s what the team was going for when they created the Majin, but it doesn’t exactly work. There’s a very dark undercurrent throughout the game, and while there’s nothing outright violent or non-child-friendly in it, I don’t think kids were the primary audience (the game got a T rating in the US). Maybe it’s poor translation, I don’t know–all I know is I don’t find the character to be a lovable oaf.

And worse is your animal helpers. You have the ability to talk to animals–mice and birds mostly–and their actors are–it’s some of the absolute goddamn WORST voice acting I’ve heard in years. It’s embarrassing to listen to. I really wish that they’d done something simple like had a sound clip of the animal chittering away while subtitles showed a “translation”–that would have been less irritating.

It’s also one of those games that takes control of the camera every few minutes to show you stuff you’re supposed to notice. If there’s a puzzle, it’ll basically grab your head and turn it so you’re looking in the right spot. If there’s enemies, it’ll cut to their positions on the field. At one point, I was looking for an alternate entrance around a door. I noticed a ledge I could climb on at the end of a hallway and began to go there, feeling clever for figuring it out. The game then cut to a shot of the ledge with some kind of narration to the effect of, “Maybe I could climb up there”. Every time you flip a lever or blow up a wall, you get a tiny cutscene showing the effects of your action–it’s one of THOSE. I just got off of playing Portal 2, where sometimes actions you performed affected other areas of the level. There was nothing forcing you to watch–if you were curious as to what door was opening, you had to look around and figure it out. The respect that afforded to the player, the assumption that players were capable of figuring it out on their own, was really refreshing. One of the reasons I hate Zelda games is because of how it treats you like someone who can’t solve simple puzzles–Majin falls squarely into that trap.

As far as gameplay goes, Majin is pretty much a Zelda clone. You’ve got a series of ruins, you’ve got to collect stuff, fight dudes, solve puzzles, make your way around a map. I’m not far enough along to be able to tell for sure, but it seems like it’s set up like a small Metroidvania–so far the map appears pretty contiguous. And here’s where the game’s pretty good actually. The game basically sets you down and has you explore and figure out where to go. Occasionally you’ll break a seal in one area that unlocks a door in another, and it’ll point out where the door is, but other than that, there’s no flashing arrow pointing out where to go. It’s a fairly relaxed pace–you make your way from area to area, solving puzzles as you go, and eventually you’ll stumble on the right place.

So basically, what we have here is a ruin exploration game punctuated with some light combat and puzzle solving. It’s a slightly more acrobatic Zelda game, or a clumsier Prince of Persia. I’m a total sucker for games like these–I appreciate that it’s focused on exploring a little world, that most of the game is based on navigating a physical space, and that the graphics aren’t bad doesn’t hurt. It’s not the prettiest set of ruins I’ve ever seen, but it’s colorful and I like colorful games. The creature design, however, IS a delight, and the one thing that keeps the Majin from being a horrible character is that his design is awesome. He’s an endearing-looking stone golem thing, but he’s got grass and moss and these weird plants growing out of him–he’s a total creature of nature and I love his design. The monsters too, they’re some typical shadow monsters but they just look alien and creepy.

All in all, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom reminds me of a random budget PS2 game in a lot of ways, one of those dozens of obscure titles that no one remembers that you may have played by chance. When I first got my PS2, I got a rental pass from Blockbuster and systematically began to rent every game the store had. There’s tons of games like Dual Hearts and Dark Cloud and Okage Shadow King, none of which changed the world and some of which may have been terrible, but whose existence I appreciate nontheless. It seems a lot of times that games are either AAA titles or shovelware, and there’s not that much room for “little” games. I fully admit that the very low price has helped me appreciate Majin a bit more–I’m able to overlook its flaws and appreciate it for what it is. It does have a certain charm to it, and I’m having fun with it so far.

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