Coming up with RPGs for the DS must be tricky. Sure, your staff can come up with all sorts of cliched stories and generic heroes to go with them. There’s also plenty of leeway with regards to the leveling and combat systems. Hell, even the DS’s graphical capabilities can work a few small wonders. But the real problem lies with the Touch Screen; it’s one of the system’s most celebrated features, yet finding new and inventive ways to utilize it must be quite a task. All things considered, it’s little wonder that many of the RPGs for the DS use the screen for the exact same purpose: drawing little random doodles that somehow translate into magical spells. While it seems a little creative at first, it tends to get old after a while. Especially when the same basic system is used for all the cool RPGs you’re interested in. Until the game designers get off their asses and come up with something new, gamers will have to sit back, be patient, and hopefully enjoy what’s being given to them. Thankfully, Lost Magic isn’t too shabby.
Meet Isaac. He’s the typical young RPG hero/child prodigy that you will get to know over course of the adventure. At the beginning of the story, he’s nothing more than a naive errand boy, slowly developing under his surrogate grandmother’s strict regimen of hard work and spell casting drills. Issac isn’t your typical farm boy; he’s the son of the Sage of Light, some sort of mystical guardian of the Earth (or something equally important). While having a supernatural being for a father may be beneficial, things aren’t so good when daddy’s work starts spilling over into the family’s private life. The Diva of the Twilight has gone insane with ambition, stealing all of the other sages’ magic wands and the powers held within them. Out of pure desperation, the Sage of Light left his wand to his son, hoping to stall enough time before the Janet Jackson wannabe literally took the world by storm. Now with nothing standing in her way, the evil Diva is on the hunt for Issac and the wand he carries. It’s up to our hero to harness the power of his dad’s wand, set foot into a world of evil and set things right again.
Oh. How original.
Okay, so it’s not exactly the deepest plot you’ll ever come across. Generic characters, plot twists and a few brief cutscenes aside, the majority of Lost Magic takes place across the vast area that makes up Isaac’s homeland. However, you won’t get to see very much of this place. Instead of being able to freely roam on a world map, you’ll have to tap a few icons on the screen to walk along the paths that connect the various battlegrounds. Once you’ve found the next location on your little quest, you’ll occasionally be treated to a little dialogue or a tutorial of some kind. However, the bulk of the gameplay in Lost Magic revolves around battling. Once a level starts up, you’ll find yourself hopelessly outnumbered by monsters, wolves, beasts, evil wizard guys, and everything in between. You’ll have to satisfy a certain goal before successfully completing the mission, such as protecting villagers, activating beacons, destroying every enemy within a time limit, vanquishing an evil wizard dude, etc.
Considering how much you’ll have to take on even in the earlier battles, things might seem pretty daunting at first. Thankfully, you’ve got the one thing that will send even the worst baddies packing: the magic wand. With a simple press of the shoulder button, you’ll conjure up a miniature Pentagram knockoff that conveniently covers the entire Touch Screen. Use the stylus to draw a few simple symbols, and watch as your foes burn into charred carcasses, get blown away by wind gusts, crushed by rocks, drowned in a deluge of water, and die in some of the most violent-yet-non-gory ways possible. Once you’ve got the basics down, you’ll eventually be able to combine certain spells for different status effects, level up and develop your powers for more effective spells, and a few other nifty features that can only be discovered by experimenting with all the different spells you’ll come across. Once you’ve found one of the hundreds of different symbols, they’ll be neatly tucked away in a massive spell book hidden in the depths of the game’s user-friendly menus.
That’s assuming, of course, that Isaac doesn’t die before he gets the chance to sling some magic around. Though you’ll spend plenty of time fumbling with the stylus and the Touch Screen in the midst of battle (and dealing with the inevitable hand cramps), the game stays true to its RTS-style gameplay; enemies can still whittle down your health as you try to create that all-too-important spell for your survival. You can’t be too wand-happy with your powers either; given the horribly limited amount of magic points (the energy required to perform spells) at your disposal, you’ll find yourself frequently burned out with nowhere run, waiting for the energy gauge to refill as your enemies take free shots at you. Luckily, you don’t have to face the endless hordes of baddies all by yourself. Should you utilize certain spells, you’ll be able to capture certain monsters, arrange them into teams, and unleash them upon their monstrous brethren. In order to command them throughout the battle, you’ll have to tap on a monster, and then tap where you want it to go. Thus, you have the choice of spreading out your forces individually or sending them to their untimely deaths en masse. All of these creatures come with certain attacks, elemental magic affinities, strengths and weaknesses to be exploited during battles. You’ll even be able to level up your monsters through the battles and equip them with items to enhance their offensive and defensive capabilities.
I know what you’re thinking. Though the mechanics of Lost Magic revolve around real time strategy, this game takes a few pages (hell, it takes whole chapters) from of the Pokemon series’ playbook. However, this game places much more emphasis on learning and using different spells in any given situation; the monster team building system is fairly underdeveloped. However, it does have its uses aside from helping you brutally slaughter the game’s decent AI. Should you feel the need to show off your mighty army and mad magic skills, you can use the game’s multiplayer capabilities to slug it out with a friend in battles of epic handheld proportions. But if you don’t have anyone nearby to test your new-acquired spell on, you can use the game’s Wifi Connection to take on gamers around the world. Online play is a great idea; you get to see tons of spells and monsters that you might not normally see, observe other gamers’ strategies and learn from them, and just get more out of what you could from the main Story Mode. Unfortunately, the gameplay is marred by some utterly nasty lag and connection slowdown; while playing other people is far more interesting than the adventure’s battles, the whole experience so slowed to an aggravating crawl.
The game doesn’t look very impressive at first glance, either. Sure, you’ll get to wander through dark forests, traverse sandblasted deserts, freeze in artic wastelands, and explore plenty of other interesting locales, but there’s nothing about these places that seems very eye-catching. Many of these graphics can be implemented (and occasionally done better) on the GBA, which suggests that the game designers spent too much time developing the Touch Screen features and neglecting the DS’s other capabilities. Luckily, not everything looks too mediocre. Isaac’s scruffy blond hair will stand out almost anywhere against the muted colors of the levels. Also, many of the monsters come with a fair amount of detail, like a wolf’s shaggy green mane, a Wyvern’s leathery wings, or a Misty Mush’s signature mushroom sombrero. While many of these monsters will never hold a candle from their not-so distant Pokemon cousins, their designs aren’t solely there for looks; the bright colors and shapes makes identifying them a casual affair, even in the thickest of battles. Throw in a few generic RPG characters, mix them uninteresting dialogue and a forgettable soundtrack, and add in a completely unnecessary bird mutant/ Pokemon/ Digimon as Isaac’s sidekick, and you’ve got game that falls just short of being a truly epic experience.
Look, Lost Magic is not a bad game. Sure, it’s got one of the most horribly cliched and overused plots in existence, but it’s saved by a wonderfully implemented spell casting system that will leave you experimenting and developing your character’s capabilities long after the Story Mode has gone stale. For all you Pokemon enthusiasts that can’t wait to get your hands on Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, the game’s monster capturing and leveling systems ought to satisfy your appetite. Gamers that love indulging in Nintendo’s Wifi service can be a double-edged sword; while playing online can be a great experience, the frequent slowdowns can ruin it for those of us that lack patience. No, Lost Magic is not a bad game. It just comes off as a work that came so close, but never realized it’s full potential. Nevertheless, the game has magic, lost or otherwise.