Sometimes Steam is an interesting place to find RPGs that might not have found an audience elsewhere. Its Greenlight service appears to be a treasure trove for the genre, though the quality can be variable. Tiny Assosiates Brand have managed to lever Greenlight to get their love-letter to the lighter side of the RPG market out to the masses.
Magatama Earrings is very much a fusion of two games, ‘Paper Mario’ and ‘Dragon Quest’. This presents a light and fluffy atmosphere that’s deeply inspired by tropes of the genre and a certain fourth-wall breaking approach to explaining the games systems. NPCs will often spout comments about how to play the game, and the princess of the starting kingdom actively states that she was supposed to have a larger role and hopes to be a playable character in a sequel or DLC expansion one day.
Graphically the game is rendered in 3D, using textures and a blocky design approach that is reminiscent of an RPG Maker tile set (it’s not an RPG Maker game however, this was built in Unity) and this may possibly be intentional to draw upon the visuals we expect from a traditional RPG. The heroine is also rendered in 3D and has a nicely animated model in a chibi art style, but every other character is 2D in a style similar to that of Paper Mario and the game uses Dragon Quest style random battles with 2D illustrations for monsters. There’s some clash here, as it doesn’t really make sense as to why only the heroine is 3D, and perhaps having her in 2D would add some connective style to the look – which does work, and the illustrations aren’t bad, though multiple artists have clearly contributed to the game. Nothing looks bad however, and everything has a fun and bubbly tone to it. The game also opens with a short animatic that uses the games papery art style to good effect without outstaying its welcome.
Sound is less appealing. For the most part effects are exactly what you’d expect to hear, though they outstay their welcome quickly. The sounds for text in speech bubbles is particularly annoying and often the length of the noise doesn’t adequately represent that of the text on screen. Music uses synth and although not terrible doesn’t match the narrative being shown on screen in a regular capacity. Sequences where bad things are happening lack music cues that shift the tone to a darker place, instead bubbling along with the same happy tones seen throughout the earlier sequences. There are no bad pieces here, but nothing stands out and players will probably mute the audio within the first ten minutes of play.
Narrative is brief and straightforward at the games outset. The world has always had people and monsters, but they’ve a mutual respect and stay away from each other. However the arrival of a strange and sinister individual from another world changes that balance and turns monsters violent. Worse, she intends to slowly twist the main character’s world into a version of her own. The lead, a girl names Cello, thinks on what is happening and decides she should do something. Not because she’s driven to save the world but because she doesn’t want her hair and eye colour to turn dark. It’s a surprisingly shallow motivation in truth, but the game does develop a little as it evolves. There are two language options and evidently the English version is now the primary focus as it is riddled with sentence structure errors and phrases that whilst correct would never be spoken aloud. ‘Monsterous monsters’ gets dropped more than once and many NPCs spout bad jokes or absolute rubbish. There’s not a great sense of world building on display, which seems at odds to the visually interesting and appealing designs.
Gameplay has a few faults but is enjoyable overall. Exploration is marred by bouncing off of solid objects jarring the camera and odd loading times that leads to black screens between locations on systems that have no reason to struggle to run this title. The walking speed is also a little slow, but areas are designed nicely and movement itself isn’t a hassle. You have an action button and a cancel button (mapped to similar locations to RPG Maker) as well as the arrow keys to get around and the whole thing is easy to access and play. Combat is strictly turn based and extremely similar to Dragon Quest in how it is displayed, however the addition of all your current options being displayed on the right hand side of the screen for easy planning and access makes for a nice update. You learn magic, collect items and equip weapons and/or armour in the usual ways and for the most part combat is strictly a 1-1 affair. It’s a solid system and it works very well. The menu is also extremely well put together to allow for speed of play and all information is available at a glance.
Overall, Magatama Earrings is a game that does almost nothing to reinvent the RPG genre and has a level of complexity that would make it a prime candidate for release on a mobile device. It’s got story problems and the sound isn’t great, but it does a brilliant job of presenting a 3D take on some of the older NES style environments and its battle system is solid. The major draw is the art style, and the visuals do live up to the screenshots, showing good imagination for monsters and characters. MBU brought the game in a Steam sale for £1 and it was worth the play through, though at full price I’d recommend you carefully weigh up how badly you want to play it and consider waiting for it to go on offer again.