Famously the last game to be translated and released for the Sega Saturn, the CLAMP property ‘Magic Knights Rayearth’ also saw release on the SNES in the form of a more traditional JRPG.
As a manga written with many of the conventions of an RPG in mind, Magic Knights Rayearth was always going to be perfectly suited for adaption into a video game. The success of an animated series, that covered both story arcs in the original manga’s short run and later spawned an OVA retelling events in an elseworld’s fashion merely cemented the decision. 6 games based on the property were eventually made across the SNES, Game Boy, Game Gear and Saturn, with all of them being distinctly different from each other in terms of mechanics (though all RPGs) whilst all adapting the same material. Though only the Saturn game was released officially in English, a well written fan translation of the SNES version is easily available online.
Graphically the game uses large and appealing sprites that reflect the ‘wide-eyed heroines’ of CLAMP’s particular art style quite well and animate smoothly. The game uses a bright colour palette that gives things a pleasant visual edge at war with many of the gritty or dark settings of other titles popular at the time and some well-recreated panels from the manga have been taken to use for splash screens and character portraits, further preserving that CLAMP style. Monster and location graphics are recycled somewhat to pad the game’s content, but otherwise this is a fun and visually exciting package.
Sound does show a lack of variety and spells rarely have the impact of what’s happening on screen, with the music being largly a forgettable experience with the exception of the battle theme. There is a fairly faithful rendition of the Anime’s opening theme used in the game’s opening and closing sequences for good effect however, which is upbeat and memorable. Characters have battle cries that are used in combat, one unique to attacking and the other to casting spells, which helps to give them further sense of character, but no dialogue is spoken given the limitations of the console at the time.
Three girls from three different backgrounds are whisked away from a combined school trip to Tokyo Tower by a magic spell cast by a golden-haired princess. Named Fuu, Umi and Hikaru respectively, they are referred to by the princess as ‘Magic Knights’ and pulled forcefully into the magical world of Cephiro where they are greeted by a master mage by the name of Clef. This 700 year old wizard looks like he’s no older than 11, but informs them that they’ve been summoned to rescue Princess Emerade, the ‘pillar’ upon which their world is grounded. Unfortunately they arrival is also witnessed by the princess’ captor who dispatches an agent to track the trio down and kill them. In the ensuing battle Clef is turned to stone and the girls sent out alone into a strange and hostile land. It’s a pacey and engaging start to a game that is quite linear in terms of plot but does employ a well-played twist in its final act. Adapting volumes 1-3 of the Manga successfully but losing some of the dramatic interplay between the characters in favour of remaining a light and breezy experience. The fan translation is well handled and shows no obvious mistakes, showing a relation to the source material and not taking any large liberties with the script. The game can at times feel padded however, with towns and NPCs serving little purpose other than a place to buy items or rest.
Whilst the game is as standard a JRPG as they come, there are a few interesting features that serve to streamline the experience and make it an easy point of entry for first timers to the genre. The trio start the game with their personal choice of weaponry. Umi has a background in fencing so wields a rapier, Hikaru does Kendo and has her stick and Fuu enjoys archery so rocks a bow. Past a certain quest however these are swapped out for magical swords that grow in strength alongside the characters, making the buying and selling of weapons and armour a non-factor. Items are also in plentiful supply for healing and restoration (though they won’t be used much once the girls learn magic of their own), but special items are handed out in limited time usage by characters to enable to party of three to call upon their help. Occasionally a fourth guest character will join the team for a limited period of time, but these occasions never last too long. Battles are turn based and fairly conventional, with the difficulty level being set quite low, which enables a limited amount of grinding to have devastating effect. A patch does exist to allow the player to up the games challenge by strengthening all monsters, lowering the experience they give when killed and making healing items more expensive if you care to rebalance the game for a moderate challenge. Dungeons can be surprisingly long, serving as set pieces in which whole chapters of the story can take place. Critical attacks are replaced with double or even triple attacks (referred to Crushing and Greatest attacks in-game) though the turn order can at times feel a little sporadic, with some characters taking two actions in a row for no apparent reason.
Overall, Rayearth is a fun romp that will last you about 10 hours, but a very easy one. As it was never officially released in the west it’s probably only playable through the means of emulation and highly unlikely to see a proper port at this late stage on any digital service for a modern system. We advise you try it, perhaps play it through with your children or pass it to a friend who wants to dabble in the genre before diving head first into a 40+ hour game.