The Final Fantasy series has been on somewhat of a break for the past four years, giving other companies plenty of opportunity to try to grab a piece of the console role-playing market while the juggernaut franchise from Square Enix lies dormant. Series like Shadow Hearts and Digital Devil Saga have all put their own unique spins on the genre while simultaneously delivering the basic story-driven, stat-building gameplay that role-playing veterans crave. Magna Carta: Tears of Blood attempts to do the same, and for the most part it succeeds, thanks to a compelling story, interesting characters, and a unique battle system.
The humans and the Yason are at war for control of Efferia, and it's up to you to put an end to all the bloodshed.
Magna Carta: Tears of Blood takes place in the world of Efferia, where two races, the humans and the Yason, are locked in a bitter struggle for control of the land. The humans and the Yason are pretty much the same. The Yason are a bit more in tune with nature, and they have strange-looking ears, but functionally there isn't much of a difference between the two races. You control a hotheaded transvestite named Calintz, who is the captain of a group of mercenaries known as the Tears of Blood. The game picks up the story just as the humans launch a massive attack on the Yason in an attempt to end the war once and for all. The Tears of Blood join the effort, but the attack is foiled by the mysterious Queen Amilia of the Yason. As the Tears of Blood retreat, Calintz meets a strange amnesic girl named Reith, who has mystical healing powers beyond anything anyone has seen.
The two strike up an awkward and unrequited romance that carries the story through the adventure of trying to figure out who Reith is, where her powers came from, and how she can help bring peace to the world of Efferia. The story is full of mysticism and unexplained coincidences, but there are also plenty of political undertones as well. The cast of characters is bizarre, but interesting and well developed. It starts out a bit slow, but there's plenty of story here to hold your interest throughout the game. The story doesn't pull any punches, either, taking on heavier subjects like death and betrayal, while throwing in plenty of interesting plot twists to keep you guessing.
The biggest problem with the story is that the progression is so linear that it feels restrictive. There's no opportunity to stray off the path, because if you do a character will stop you and tell you to go another way. There are a few side quests you can pick up on, but for the most part you'll just be walking a narrow path from point A to point B. It feels like you're just going through the motions as the game dictates, rather than embarking on an epic quest of your own volition.
Man, woman, or otherwise, Chalintz is good with a sword.
Most of the quests are pretty basic. There are quite a few missions where you have to travel to one town to gather information, only to get there and find out that the information you really need is in yet another town. As you travel from place to place you'll run into a variety of monsters that you can fight to earn experience and level up your characters. You can see the monsters on the map, and if you touch one you'll be pulled into a battle. The monsters are all laid out in specific areas, though, so the battles aren't actually random. This makes it a bit more difficult to power level your characters, although you really don't need to do that anyway. As long as you clear each area you visit, you'll level up at a pace that basically guarantees that you won't have any trouble with any of the enemies in the game.
The battle system in Magna Carta uses a mechanic similar to the judgment wheel in Shadow Hearts: Covenant. You can bring a party of three characters into battle, but you only ever control a single character. To attack, you simply have to run up to an enemy and the trinity circle will appear. This is basically just a little diagram with three button icons. By hitting the right button at the correct time, you'll get a "good" or a "great" success. If you do that with all three buttons, you'll be able to successfully attack. If you miss any of the three button presses, you'll fail the attack and lose your turn. If you get "great" on all three button presses, you'll get a boost to your trinity drive gauge. The trinity drive gauge is like an overdrive gauge that you can activate to boost your attack. By scoring all "great" hits, you can also perceive new moves. Each character can learn multiple fighting styles, and each fighting style has four different moves, which are activated with different combinations of buttons on the trinity circle. Only the X and circle buttons are used, though, so the combos never get too complex. In fact, you can get the timing down pretty easily, and after the first few minutes of the game you won't really have to worry about missing any attacks.