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Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is a game of odd contrasts. On the one hand, I admired its beautiful art style, its emphasis on cooperation, and its solid gameplay. On the other hand, poor graphics, awful voiceovers, and corny dialogue mar the experience. This is a game that certainly has its quirks. Look past the blemishes, though, and you will find a fairly interesting action/puzzle game in the vein of Ico or Enslaved. Cooperating with an AI-driven partner may not be the most original concept nowadays, especially with The Last Guardian gathering plenty of post-E3 buzz, but if you are intrigued by Majin’s world, or if you find yourself unable to wait for Team Ico’s next project, you would do well to give this game a shot.
In Majin, you will step into the shoes of thief-with-a-heart-of-gold Tepeu. Fearful for the future of his land after an army of dark, gooey demons begin to attack, Tepeu ventures out into forests in search of the mythical Majin. It is said that the Majin possesses magical powers capable of vanquishing the dark hoards. Almost immediately upon starting up a new game, Tepeu finds the Majin imprisoned in an elaborate series of caverns. He frees the creature, and together they set out to escape the Majin’s prison and save the world. It quickly becomes apparent that years of inactivity have weakened the Majin greatly, and thus he can only access a fraction of his powers at the outset of the game. These powers include superhuman strength and fire breath. Over the course of the game, the Majin will grow stronger and stronger, gaining new abilities that will prove useful in combat and puzzle solving. The change in the Majin’s power level will be given physical representation by the amount of plant life growing on his back. As he gains more strength, more plants and crystals will grow out of the Majin’s back, giving a nice physical representation to his growth and giving you the feeling that you are really making progress through the game.
The majority of the gameplay is split amongst puzzle solving and combat, with combat breaking down into outright brawls and the occasional stealth section. During most battles, you will fight side by side with the Majin. You are incapable of outright killing the sinewy enemies that haunt your kingdom. Only the mythical strength of your lumbering companion is enough to send these demons to an early grave. This means that, in order to be successful in combat, you must knock enemies to the ground with your staff and then perform a follow-up combo move with the Majin to finish them off. More combos and staff moves will be unlocked as you progress through the game. The combat will remind you a lot of another recent co-op jaunt, Enslaved. In addition to the main character’s use of a staff as a weapon, the combat shares a similar feel. Neither game is terribly deep or skill-driven in terms of dealing out a beating, but like Enslaved, the fighting proves entertaining enough to carry you through the game. The stealth sections are less complex, and are reminiscent of some of last generation’s stealth games in that the enemies will rarely go out of their way to search for you and they will forget about your presence as soon as you are out of eyesight.
Puzzle solving can also be fun, especially when integrated into the combat. Early on in the game, for example, you will learn that you can lure enemies underneath a weakened wall or other environmental protrusion, and then command the Majin to drop the wall on the enemies and kill them. These little sections are pretty cool, but like the puzzle solving as a whole, can begin to feel repetitive before the adventure comes to a close. Many of the puzzles revolve around pulling switches, pushing over walls, and standing on pressure sensitive plates. The emphasis on cooperation can add some fun to these puzzles, but often it just comes down to you having to go through an extra series of commands in order to solve variations of puzzles that you have already seen in other, less cooperative games. Certain exceptions can be pretty fun and challenging, like a puzzle early on that has you firing yourself from a catapult, but many of the puzzles begin to wear thin.
The world of Majin is lovingly crafted with an elegant art style to back it up. Had the game featured better graphics, it could have been one of the most gorgeous releases of the year. This is not the case, however, and Majin often takes on the appearance of a PS2 game thanks to some bland and blurry texture work. Further marring the experience is the awful audio. This certainly seems to be one of those cases where a team of legitimate voice actors simply was not in the budget, so they had to go with whoever was available at the time. The Majin sounds dumb, yet oddly articulate at the same time. Tepeu does not fare much better thanks to an overall lack of emotion in his voice. The biggest audio abomination by far has to be the forest animals, though. You see, Tepeu has the ability to communicate with all of the little forest critters he encounters on his travels. They function as a sort of hint system, guiding you in the right direction when you need it. You will definitely want to steer clear of these mammalian menaces after hearing their voiceovers. They sound like poor imitations of Saturday morning cartoon characters. The dialogue is no better. Every time you find yourself overlooking the bad voices and blurry visuals, you will be beaten over the head with some seriously ham-fisted exchanges.
Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom had potential, but it fails to live up to a lot of it. Many of the game’s shortcomings, such as the bland graphics and awful audio, could probably have been avoided had the team simply been given a larger budget. Game Republic has proven itself capable of crafting excellent adventure games in the past with the PS3-exclusive Folklore, but recently it seems like their star may have fallen. Even better production values could not save Majin from the terrible dialogue and repetitive puzzle design, which is a shame, because certain parts of the game really do shine through all of the flaws. The combat and stealth sections are basic but fun, the dungeons are well designed, and the art style can be captivating. It is too bad that this game was not given more time and money by its creators, because the final product really suffers as a result.