Madoka Magica Online

Writing about something like Strategy Partners’ Madoka Magica Online is harder than expected; for instance, I tried writing this several days ago and couldn’t figure out where to even begin. Though I suppose now it bears mentioning that unless you are familiar with at least the 12-Part anime series Madoka Magica (Americans have the privilege of watching it on, F.Y.I.) or you can just really enjoy gameplay mechanics without understanding the plot behind them, you may not be interested in this game. Because it is all in Japanese. There are many guides that can tell you what the user interface is in English, but still, all of the dialogue (of NPC’s and just about every player) is not translated.

If you can put up with it, the run down of the anime’s plot: the universe is running out of energy, and a race of cat-looking creatures has found a way to convert emotion to energy to keep it going. But their race has no capacity for emotions, so they come to earth instead–the big joke being that 12 year old girls show more emotion than any other being in the universe. The girls are promised a wish, secretly in exchange for their eternal servitude (as they must enter kooky rifts in space to fight creatures), and the show itself is centred around five main girls: the yellow-haired one who likes to show off, the blue-haired one with love-issues, the red-haired one that eats more than the Hungry Caterpillar but is still the thinnest of all five, the black-haired one who despite showing less emotion than a normal human still became a magical girl, somehow, and the pink-haired one who spends the whole series not knowing what to wish for, if anything at all.

Onto The Game!

MMO, which is abbreviated fittingly enough, is quite clearly not intended for non-Japanese users, just like the other Madoka Magica game, which Japan cannot be bothered to pass on to the rest of the world, though they still have time to make an MMO version of it. You are an alleged sixth magical girl who hops around the plot of the anime, with all the other characters appearing in pre-level cut scenes serving as exposition. I suppose I should have mentioned that no matter what gender you are, your character is a girl, appropriate to the anime’s plot.

The Stage Info Screen of an early stage in the game.

The actual layout of the game is rather interesting, resembling that of a board game. You travel along paths of squares, with most squares containing either items you use in the over world (new weapons, armour, money, etc.) or other things pertaining to that level (keys, traps, healing potions, etc.), and you progress by rolling a six-sided die to reach a single goal at the end of the level, which stages a battle in which you and your party (if you managed to find one) fight against an often rather powerful enemy. At the end of each level, you gain coins (which are spent to upgrade weapons), tickets (which are spent to get random items), possible treasure (that you either pick up or earn from completing special challenges specific to each level), and experience points. The early levels are very simplistic: single lines of blocks meant to give the player a good amount of experience points, as you have three stats: health, strength, and defence; easy levels early in the game allow for quick level-ups early on, so you can start tailoring your character towards certain stats over others. Afterwards, levels begin to complicate, incorporating elements such as finding keys and branching paths.

The stylised card of a new set of clothes.

The game itself is free, luckily, though it bears mentioning that the game uses your standard ‘energy points’ or ‘action points’ method of limiting you to a certain number of stages over time, however levelling up will happen quickly for the average player, for a long time, and your points are instantly refilled whenever you gain a level; otherwise it only takes fifty minutes to get all of your points back.  Aside from possible purchase concerning ‘Action Points’, the only thing that requires payment is the aforementioned tickets to get random items–something you can find in-game easily, making the game feel very accessible even to those who do not pay for it at all, i.e. me. The whole process behind using tickets was a bit odd, though: every item is assigned a rarity index of N, R, RR, S, SS, and U (from lowest to highest), and three different tickets exist in the game: regular (which can get you an item with a rarity from N, R, RR, and S), variety (R, RR, S, and SS), and premium (S, SS, and U). A random item costs three of the same kind of ticket, and considering you get six regular tickets for just completing a level means you can easily get an ‘S’ item without even trying–variety tickets can be snatched up from the board in-game, and it is possible to be given three premium tickets just for logging in–it’s not hard to see why playing for free is not much different from paying.

In the earlier release of the game, the level of a weapon was placed in the corner, instead of the rarity index.

But the items are half the fun itself; each item in the game is stylised as a card, with stats matching your own, ordered: Attack, Defence, Hitpoints, and there is an added fourth stat of a weapon’s ‘Crit Chance’, listed as the percent-likelihood of your weapon’s damage being doubled. Your personal stats are added onto the weapon’s to give you your stats in a battle(though I am yet to have found a weapon that changes one’s defence and hitpoints), and weapons even level like you. Except they don’t recieve experience points in battle like you do: here is where the coins come in. Weapons can be combined, and one is melted down into experience points for the others–the more experience you give a weapon, the more coins it costs to do so. I soon got into a rhythm of selling all the junk I found for coins so I could smelt all of my more valuable weapons into my main weapon. There are five different types of weapons in MMO, each pertaining to one of the anime’s cast members: rifles, handguns, spears/tridents, swords, and bows. Each one is given a balance between their strength and their crit chance, in that rifles deal the greatest amount of damage, but only one in fifty shots will be critical; handguns deal the least amount of damage, but crit once in every five attacks, statistically (I chose to use a handgun because you can compensate for strength by levelling a weapon up, but crit chance remains consistent for each class). As a result, the loot system of MMO tends to be more impressive than those of games like Mass Effect (the first one), in the since that excess weapons in MMO are used to strengthen your current one, if you don’t want them; in Mass Effect, you just turn unwanted weapons into ‘omni-gel’ which you use primarily to skip puzzles later in the game.

While there are other items in the game: clothing, accessories, and familiars, only the latter seem to do anything. I played for five days and finally got another outfit, only to find out that it does nothing to change your stats in the slightest–the same goes for accessories. But I suppose it is only part of the experience: the purpose of giving each girl in the anime her own weapon class and associated colour was to make them distinct; the extensive customisation provided for by MMO seems to emulate that very well, though most players do get a kick out of dressing up like the main cast. Familiars just provide the player with a random bonus: usually in a single stat, though some of the more rare cards will pump up all three. While only weapons can be smelted with weapons for experience, excess familiars fetch a decent price and are good funding for weapon-levelling.

Level design increases in complexity rapidly as the game progresses, and so does the chaos of Party Play.

Party play works well enough, seeing as board games are meant to be played with friends anyway, though I always felt like the odd one out. I attribute that to the fact that everyone spoke Japanese and I was that one American who was completely oblivious to what they may or may not have been saying about me. The final battles themselves seem designed for party play, as I had to level up twice beyond the recommended level for my first witch battle, and later in the game, enemies begin to make multiple attacks per turn; if you’re all alone, they throw everything they’ve got at you, making solo play extremely difficult to do. However, in its own way the game becomes more challenging. Rolling a six in the game gives you a ‘free move’ in which you may move any number of spaces between one and six. Let’s say you’re halfway through the board, and you’ve lost hundreds of precious hitpoints to trap-spaces, but the same goes for other members of your party. Your better off than others, but still not doing well; you roll a free move, and a healing potion is within reach–yours for the taking! But there are no more left on the board for your friends who need it more. Sure you can leave it for them, but there is no guarantee they will even land on that space at all, in which case it would all have been wasted and you may lose in the end because of that. That’s the sort of complexity that is layered on with party play.

However, the included PVP mode takes on a predictable stance, one might say. Without the party working together as they do in Party Play, many of the best qualities of the game are eliminated–read, those above. It functions just as one would expect, and doesn’t attempt to go above and beyond the regular style of combat or even level design to an extent. It does not feel very important to the game, so much as it feels as though it were added for continuity, seeing as magic girls often fight one another in the plot. But that’s about all there is to say about it–unexceptional, but at least not unplayable.

Couldn’t help but include the series’ antagonist at some point.

The elephant in the room, though is that combat isn’t what you’re probably expecting. The whole show is automated, in the since that every turn, you will deal damage to your enemy, and your enemy does damage to you–there is no choice involved, no interface, menus, or anything. In solo play, this just seems dumb, and it even took me a while to figure out if the developers were just lazy or what? But consider party play, as this is an MMO. It is impossible for your party to reach the goal space all at once, meaning someone is going to start taking damage while everyone else is catching up. Suspense begins to build as your friend nears death–all you hope is that someone, maybe even you, is fast enough to reach the goal space to swoop in and save her before she is killed!

Case in point, Madoka Magica Online is very well made: the items are balanced, the art is cute, the music is fitting, even in Japanese the interface is so well made that you understand it quickly, and its design purpose as a multiplayer game is executed brilliantly. I highly recommend it to all fans of the series, and even those who are just curious to play; those who don’t enjoy multiplayer games very much may not have as great of an experience as described, but you can’t win them all, I suppose. Above all else, MMO serves as an excellent example to other free-to-play games out there: keep it fun, keep it fair. That’s why a dozen F2P games will rise and fall every year, but games like Team Fortress 2 and now Madoka Magica Online are still enjoyable. The language barrier is a tad hassling, but for those interested in playing, you can sign up at the game’s homepage.

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