In a climate where dark, gritty games with Big Important Themes crammed into high octane action gameplay is the fashion, it’s nice to get a game developed by a team that still believes in telling sincere, heartfelt, charming stories for the young and young at heart. Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is one of those games. It may not be the best game on the market right now, but it’s got heart, which counts for something.
This is basically a fairy tale. In a far away kingdom, a scourge of inky darkness has been spreading from the king’s castle. A thief with the ability to converse with animals breaks into the palace and finds an imprisoned, legendary beast known as the Majin. He frees the Majin and the adventure is on to restore the Majin’s stripped away abilities and eventually save the kingdom. This isn’t exactly original story-telling, but it has the same sincerity and even environmental undertones of a Miyazaki feature, even if it’s nowhere near as elegantly executed.
This is a budget title, priced at a reasonable $40, and, unfortunately its budget production values show in the visuals. After a string of good looking games in 2010, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom resembles a launch console title in terms of visual fidelity. The polygon counts are obviously lower than something like the characters in Killzone 2 or Uncharted, and the textures don’t have the crispness or detail of higher profile, multi-platform titles like Resident Evil. This is mitigated somewhat by the careful art direction, and the emotive use of lighting as the environments move through their day and night cycles, but a careful examination by a discerning gamer quickly outs the game as unexceptional or even slightly sub-par by today’s HD standards. Sound fares better, with a fitting and gorgeously composed orchestral soundtrack that manages to hit all the right beats with the action on screen. It’s lyrical stuff that’s in keeping with the fairy tale ambiance of the game. The voice acting is not quite as strong. The Majin himself is actually quite enjoyable, sounding for all the world like Ludo from Labyrinth, a perception reinforced by his duties and appearance in game. The nameless hero (whom the Majin eventually dubs Tepeu) is the weak link with a brash, youthful but ultimately uninspired performance that can grate after some time.
Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is, in many ways, a rough but delightful throwback. It’s not often that you see a game unafraid to appeal to all ages that still manages to mix in some hardcore puzzle solving elements with some simple platforming and combat. It’s not going to rise up to the same level of revered quality, but there are echoes of Legend of Zelda, Metroid and even a little bit of Ico thrown into this interesting mix of a game. The game is constructed much like one massive Zelda dungeon, with the player moving from “room” to “room” each one constructed with a puzzle that will require some stealth, some combat, some environmental puzzle solving, the use of the Majin’s abilities, or a little bit of all of them. The Majin himself is the central mechanic of the game, starting out as little more than a strong brute good for brawling and eventually unlocking elemental abilities like blowing wind or projecting lightning to aid in puzzle solving and combat. Combat is primarily on the shoulders of the Majin as well, being the stronger of the two, with thief assisting when he can, and setting up devastating combo attacks with the Majin for powerful finishing moves.
The Majin could have been a horrible AI companion, but is smartly handled with a series of simple orders that get him to do what you want, or have him wait patiently somewhere when you need him out of the way. Sneaking is obviously much easier for the thief, and it creates an interesting relationship between the two, with the players reconnoitring the area and even taking out enemies (albeit temporarily, only the Majin can permanently kill foes) with stealth, and then helping the Majin to get where he needs to go in order to solve the puzzles. It’s an older style of gaming that’s not so commonly seen anymore and for the most part, Game Republic has succeeded. Where Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom stumbles is in the individual parts. Platforming plays an important role in the game, but the controls for platforming themselves can be a little clunky, occasionally leading to unnecessary falls that can result in discovery and combat if you were trying to sneak over your enemy’s head. Combat is simplistic, though again, sometimes the looseness of the controls can get in way of consistently doing what you want when you want, and the camera can occasionally be difficult to negotiate during these hectic fights as it gets confused when the thief is in a corner or some other area in proximity to walls. And of course, this is a single-player game with no online component, so re-playability is a factor for the more budget conscious.
But for all the rough spots that are found mechanically, the game shines conceptually. The puzzles can provide a challenge for some, especially those not used to thinking their way through games, but the solutions are always logical and never too frustrating. The use of the Majin, building up his power, using him to as both a tool and a fighting companion is generally well conceived and his character is presented sweetly enough that it will be easy for kids and the young at heart to get a little attached to him. There’s also a whole host of collectible items, from optional “fruits” (the source of the Majin’s power) to boost his stats to stat boosting costume pieces and other items hidden in treasure chests. It lengthens time so that this 10-12 hour game could actually go on for considerably longer for completionists.
Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is a far from perfect game, with some obvious mechanical deficiencies, but those rough spots are blemishes on what is an otherwise charming game. In a crowded holiday season, the game has little chance of making much of an impact, but for gamers looking for something different, something rough around the edges, and something with a little bit of heart, this is definitely worth looking into.