During the time in your life when you didn’t know certain things like how to bleed a radiator or the health benefits of brushing your teeth, like me you probably had an imaginary friend. What seems like madness to you now was heralded as a success when you where younger. What was just thin air to the taller and hairier adults, to you was a fully formed being that enabled you to feel brave in times of concern and actively seek out adventure during moments of the ‘Antiques Roadshow’. It seems to almost translate into madness now but back then the activity of your mind was as such that it had to find ways to properly turn your creativity into an element that could be suitably dealt with.
Trying to get that feeling back now is sometimes utterly impossible. You can dine out on Angel Delight all you wish but the flippancy and folly of youth is hard to capture. What then is unique about Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is that it goes some lengths to try and appeal to that which still prefers Kinder Egg over Eggs Benedict.
There is nothing much that is complicated about Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom it is a simple set up that gets more powerful over time than is impressive right from the opening titles. Told in simple and fairy tale 2-D panels the story is one of a once great kingdom that fell to the ‘darkness’ and now exactly one hundred years since that event a thief attempts to try and restore balance to ever pervading evil by freeing the guardian of old, the Majin. However what was once the bull like defender of a nation is now locked away in the depths of a castle and even though freeing the beast is an easy task, getting him to regain his powers and remember the wars of the past is a fairly more challenging one.
The Majin is accepted to be an animal of sorts, a Japanese Gruffalo of mythical and legendary standing in some respects, but still an animal that is your companion for the adventure. And the reason the Majin joins you on the quest is not of revenge or a lust for destruction but due to a parity of understanding. It is this that creates the bond between the pair. The fact being that due to a ‘natural’ upbringing your character can coheres with all animal life. The Majin therefore takes nothing but joy in finally being able to speak to someone, which is premise for companionship so base and trite that it almost works as an endearing and childlike desire.
Directed by Yoshiki Okamoto, of Resident Evil and Street Fighter Fame, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is part adventure game part Jackanory as you travel the expansive and beautiful landscape searching for those responsible for bringing the ‘darkness’ into this world. The ultimate aim being to gain access to the castle where the iniquity of the world stems from but to do this means breaking four masks that seal the door, and each mask is covering some rather unpleasant faces. The world is generally huge as well, it is traversed all in a singularity, so there is no dipping in from one world to another, each part is connected to another. This does cause some mindless backtracking but the environments are pleasant enough to look at. As I said though it is all part of the simplest of concepts and one that will remind you of Zelda more than much else.
It is not just the story though that seems inspired by some other avenue. Even the character design seems to be lifted from other games as well. The sprite quick feet of the adventurer seem all too familiar, and the strange ink like fluidity of the enemies strikes me of things that I have encountered before. The difference being in MatFK is that you have the Majin by your side. He is the lynch pin of the game, and it is his nature and personality which I once too eagerly criticised as being puerile, but that develops into something more dark but yet demonstrative. It is these slowly creeping relationships that make MatFK a small triumph but Game Republic do not make things easy on the player.
The first thing you’ll notice is the voice acting. Due to the fact that you can talk to animals, all of your hints and progress through the game are provided by a smattering of creatures. Pillars you can interact with are courted by Butterflies and walls you can jump up are occupied by Geckos. It is a presentation of a world that would be so utterly charming if none of them ever opened their beaks. What tends to come out is so badly scripted and directed it felt like I was being patronised at every step and turn. It doesn’t help that even the main characters are voiced in such terrible ways as well, with the wonderful Majin coming across like a cross between Sloth from the ‘Goonies’ and Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’.
Over time though it becomes achingly clear that in between those moments that you wish the original voice over work had been kept and subtitles supplied instead, there develops a cohesion between the two characters that pushes aside any bad choices in western translation.
Mostly all combat and puzzles in MatFK work in tandem and the easy interface to interact with your oversized companion makes the one button attack option available whilst on your own suddenly flourish into a deadly partnership. There is no doubt that the Majin does most of the work when taking down enemies which makes combat simple but when they start leeching themselves to his body or flying around him it is up to you to make sure his fighting doesn’t get disturbed. Just like with the variety of simple but effective puzzles it is the valuable relationship between the pair that makes the title really work well.
The puzzles are mainly sections to release fruit that is locked away from the Majin. It is this fruit which highlights the nature versus industry argument for another time but also brings restorative qualities to the Majin’s former powers. The beauty of this mechanic is that it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference as both of you level up but over time as the two go deeper into the adventure there is genuine fear as the Majin gets stronger you wonder if he understands the responsibility of having so much power. There is some authentic depth as you begin to let his title take you and it is a strange feeling hanging around with a beast you don’t feel in complete control of but yet couldn’t be without. The problem with MatFK is that for me this wonderfully complex relationship takes its time.
You could call it cynicism or the fact that there are a lot of elements in MatFK that you will have seen before, but I don’t think Game Rebublic had any firm idea on the game they wanted to create. Couple that with some terrible direction both in character voicing and landscaping then you have quite a few moments that pull you from your bond. Though where I think this game improves at around six hours in I think a child will latch on to its charms immediately.
Again though it is a shame though that as a PEGI rated 12 title this might even be missing the core audience that I feel will travel engagingly with the game. It would be a perfect title for those wanting a more serious grown up adventure at a young age, a fairy tale told in a captivating way. The Majin could so be the strong effacing imaginary friend we once had but I don’t think this game knows really what it was aiming to be and lacks direction in the places it matters.
MLG Rating: 7/10
Platform: PS3/360 Release Date: 26/11/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on a PS3