Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven had a tumultuous time reaching Western shores, to say the least. Now-defunct developer Neverland started work on the game shortly after finishing Rune Factory 4, but during the game's development the developer went under. But instead of the game ceasing to exist due to these circumstances, publisher Marvelous was able to gather up enough of the development staff to finish off the game and get it ready for release. So how does it compare to some of the developer's most highly praised titles? That depends on what you're looking to get out of it.
Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven starts out with the main character Luchs (although you can change his name if you so wish), a humble innkeeper who was told by his father to always keep the inn's doors open in case he ever received guests --- in such case would treat them as nothing less than family. On a trek out to the local cave to gather crystals, a precious commodity in the game's world, he encounters a group of monsters. As he is pushed back closer to a giant crystal by the monsters, a mysterious girl named Charlotte appears, saves him, and pledges her loyalty to him.
As one could guess from the game's subtitle, Maiden Heaven, there's a bit of humor to how the game approaches this turn of events. The developers went with somewhat of a harem anime setup in the sense that there's six other Artemis sisters Charlotte has that end up joining up with the main character, but downplays the usual sexual tension one would expect for a more lighthearted fair. And if there's scenes you don't really care for, you have the option from the get-go to skip through scenes as you wish.
That ability ends up coming in handy, as the overall narrative ends up taking a major backseat to interactions between the main character and the sisters. There's a decent story here wrapped around the sisters and the mysterious bracelet the main character wears and its abilities, but it's overshadowed by character talking to each other explaining why they considering each other to be family, along with some other comedic moments. Having these elements isn't bad in and of itself, but the game tends to overuse this in detriment to the overarching narrative. And when the game does have its more grandiose moments, it feels like it's including them because its expected instead of building on them proper. XSEED Games did a good job with the localization as everything feels authentic when read in English, but there's only so much even the best localizers can do with these circumstances.
The combat also has its own rough edges. Battles take place from slightly skewed overhead perspective where the player's units (usually consisting of the main character and one or more of the sisters) are fighting against various enemy mobs placed throughout the map. Each turn, players can move around the map along a set radius and have specific attacks ranges, depending on the weapon they wield in battle. Enemies, outside of specific bosses, are almost always made up of a leader that surrounds itself with a number of servants who die at the slightest touch. This element plays into how the chaining system works in Lord of Magna, as you get bonuses for defeating large numbers of enemies with one attack, as the servant-type enemies move around like bowling pins when they're attack and can defeat enemies behind them if they knock into them.
Surprisingly, though, the game doesn't really let you full appreciate this system due to a couple key faults. To get to the leader you need to get rid of the servants surrounding them, but once you're close enough, they tend to summon new servants that surround you in a way that makes hitting the leader against difficult. This is compounded by certain maps being too narrow for their own good, which makes your allies flanking them near impossible. Changing the difficulty only adds more HP to the enemies, so there's no real incentive to increase it unless you like each of the maps taking longer than necessary to complete. The developers did provide the option to instantly retry the battle if you die, with the option of buying items and reorganizing your party. It's a small thing, but it does a lot to remove some of the issues the battle system has.
There's a skill customization and enhancement system present to help with battles, but the game doesn't do much to explain it outside of letting the player know it's available. And creating said skills requires scrolling through the entire available list of materials instead of filtering as necessary, making the whole process unnecessarily tedious.
You can also improve your units, specifically the Artemis sisters. Somewhat similar to the "social links" mechanic in the recent Persona titles, in-between battles you can talk to the girls. After talking to them enough, you can take on side quests with them that helps increase your affinity with them and thus power up your affinity with them. This system is intended to draw people to replay the game multiple times as you lock out increasing your affinity towards the other sisters past a certain point once you've progress far enough with one of them. During my time reviewing the game I tried out a couple of these paths and there is enough variety with the girls if you want to put in the time to replay the game again.
On the brighter side, the graphics are quite lavishly detailed. If you've played Neverland's previous titles, you'll find the backdrop's art style familiar with its rustic but fantasy-inspired art touches but instead of more adult character designs they went with adorable chibi-style ones. If you've played Bravely Default, there's a similar character design approach in terms of animation implemented with Lord of Magna's chibi characters in terms of how they feel more realistic than simple sprites on the screen.
In terms of the areas you'll visit, things become somewhat mixed. The areas themselves are exceptionally detailed, but often times you'll pass by them only in cutscenes and only seeing certain portions of them at that. Some of the quests make it feel like you were expected at one time to investigate them, but likely due to the game's tumultuous development they were cut for time.
This lack of time also seems to play a part in the voice acting, which at times is exceptionally sparse and doesn't play when you'd expect it to, but is oddly used elsewhere in areas where it's not really needed. The English dub from XSEED Games is great and I didn't feel like any of the characters were miscast, but I wish I'd be able to hear more of them during the game.
Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven is one of those games where everything works relatively well when its put together, but it feels like something is missing. It's a great swan song for developer Neverland, but the issues surrounding its development did play an issue with the game as a whole. It doesn't hit the same high notes their past titles did, but it's worth at least a playthrough if you're either a fan of their past work or want a new Japanese RPG with some strategy worked in. Just don't go in expecting a game that reaches for the heavens.
|The English voice acting is right on point.|
|If you choose to replay the game multiple times, it's worthwhile to go for each girls' affinity maxing routes.|
|The bowling ball-like mechanics when servant type enemies are knocked over is amusing.|
|Some of the battle maps are too narrow for their own good.|
|The story feels uneven at times in terms of its serious versus not-serious balance.|
|Feels like the developer's closure affected some parts of the game.|