I once bought a PDA from Staples. I figured that I would use it to keep track of things at work and, better yet, to play games on. Certain genres could be really cool on a touch screen system, with the real-time strategy one being the forerunner in this justification for a hair-brained idea. Shortly after buying the PDA, I took it back and never tried to pick up another one again.
However, when Nintendo released the DS, I was excited – here was a game system that would combine the games I knew and loved with the idea of having touch-screen strategy romps. So far, the touch screen has been put to good use on the DS – while some games add in nonsensical touch elements, others like Wario Ware Touched use the screen to add to the game’s fun.
So, when I heard about Lostmagic, I wanted to give the game a shot. A fantasy RPG-Strategy game hybrid seemed like it would be right up my alley. While I did find some parts of the game to be very entertaining, other areas were lacking. Is it worth a try, though?
The answer, really, is a mixed bag. The game truly shines in some areas – the magic casting system, for example, has you drawing runes on the touch screen. Better and faster drawn runes make your magic more powerful. Players that take a chance to practice their skills will be able to cast their spells much more efficiently than a player who doesn’t play often.
The game also has a sort of Pokemon feel to it. You’ll run around and catch monsters that you battle with then send an army out to do your bidding. A neat element of this involves a point value system. As you get higher level, you can command more points of monsters. Now, this doesn’t just mean bigger monsters – if you want to have a horde of lower level ones to act as nothing more than a living barrier between you and your enemy, feel free.
While both of these things are quite fun, they have their downfalls also. Firstly, the spellcasting is a bit awkward to get used to. You have to press the L button to bring up the rune screen. Now, I understand the reasons for this – the main screen is used for selecting and moving around your army with the stylus so the L button acts as a sort of toggle. To me, though, it still feels awkward. With the game’s heavy touch screen focus, I’d like to instead see the ability to touch a spell toggle on the screen in addition to the L button thing -- I wouldn’t have to worry about holding down the L button to cast.
Also, having that group of monsters to do your bidding can be quite nice. Well, it is nice up until the point when they decide that running into a tree when told to move is a good idea. Or when they don’t seem to have an issue getting beat up while moving somewhere. The movement AI (or lack thereof) really hampers the enjoyment of the game. Additionally, unit movement across the board is slow – enemies, Isaac and Isaac’s army all move at an agonizingly slow pace. Why couldn’t speed be slightly increased across the board?
Another issue that I had with movement was that selecting units each time I wanted to move them was difficult. If I was trying to move Isaac (the main character) along with a few units but I then wanted to move the three monsters of mine separately, it was hard to select them. The A, B, X, and Y buttons are virtually unused in the game – why can’t I assign selections of units to these buttons (or, alternatively, to d-pad directions for those using the left-hand control config) to make moving my units far easier?
Also, why am I so limited in how I can select my units? There is no real need for a perfect circle to be the only selection tool when I have a stylus to use. Being able to draw an awkward shape to select units would have been a nice touch or having small pictures of each unit type along the bottom of the screen to pick all of a certain monster. The real time strategy genre has come a far way and assigning groups of units to hotkeys and in selecting them, but Lostmagic doesn’t seem to put any of those advances to use.
Despite these issues, however, fights are still fun once you’ve learned how to work around them. Capturing monsters is easy and done similarly to how it is in Pokemon – weaken the monster then toss out your capture rune. You’re going to need to be pretty close to your opponent to do this, though. Thankfully, you only have to use a spell – there aren’t any items to buy to capture monsters or anything.
This game truly shines in the multiplayer area. Featuring Wifi support, you can take your monsters up against other real people. The neat thing is that your monsters will actually gain experience that transfers over to the single player game. If you’re finding yourself at a difficult spot, you can just hop online and run a few matches to get some more experience. Alternatively, you can play matches with pre-generated armies to go for a more balanced online match. Either way, online play brings a lot to a single player experience that, while fun, is lacking much in the way of a good story.
Lastly, graphics and sound were most definitely not a focus of the design team. While there are some helpful sound cues (for example, the small ding after drawing a rune sounds different if you cast it better than normal), the music and other sounds are a mixed bag. The graphics are also a bit of give and take – while I did enjoy the character art in the ‘cutscenes’ on the top screen, the characters didn’t show much emotion. The actual in-game graphics weren’t any better than what the Game Boy Advance could do, though they were nice and colorful. In the end, though, both graphics and sound were functional enough and didn’t get in the way of playing the game.
Overall, I found this game to be entertaining with some issues that definitely get in the way of good game play. Hopefully, a future sequel or similar style game will improve on the issues that have been pointed out. Lostmagic has a great core to build a future game around – hopefully Taito takes the chance to do so in the future.