Magician's Quest: Mysterious Times Review
Once upon a time, Harry Potter was the 'tween franchise to beat, but this year's “Twilight”-driven vampire phenomenon seems to have given the wand-wavers a serious run for their money. In spite of that, there are still too many die-hard magic fans to count wizardry totally out and Konami's Magician's Quest: Mysterious Times aims to give them something magical to do while awaiting the release of the Half Blood Prince. Put simply, Magician's Quest is like Animal Crossing, but with wizards. Game play happens in real time and players do a lot of leisurely ambling around, gathering stuff and talking to NPC's. If this is your cup of tea, you'll love Magician's Quest. If not—well let's just say you've got a long game ahead of you.
You start by making a character in the limited character customization screen after which you're welcomed to the magic school by Reginald, the leaf-smoking, pumpkin/tomato-headed dorm-master. Classes start immediately, led by school Principal Sol who gives you a wand and a hat. Classes are held once per day and each class teaches you one incantation. Casting incantations is easy and is done by transforming your character into a wizard by spinning him or her around with the stylus, then loading incantations into your wand with the different rune menus. Once an incantation is loaded up, you can cast it over and over by tapping the screen. Two standout incantations for me are Party Popper, which lets you shoot fireworks everywhere you go, and Flatulence, which scares ghosts away by (and I quote) “using the power of farts”.
To become more powerful, you level your wizard up by taking classes, making friends and using your Inspector Gadgetish wand (it can be used as a fishing pole, a shovel, a watering can or a butterfly net) to do other seemingly random things like collecting insects, catching fish and helping the shop owners in town. In addition to these activities, about once a week Principal Sol will evaluate your progress and give you a key to a magical door in the dorm that when opened leads to a special mode called “Mystery Time”. During Mystery Time, the sky turns a bold magenta and you encounter strange creatures you wouldn't see under normal conditions. Mystery Time also heralds the existence of a new mystery waiting to be solved. Part of your advancement as a wizard depends on solving these mysteries; too bad they're so mysterious, you often have no idea what you're meant to do.
The game is generally fairly vague about pesky details like objectives. I found myself doing an awful lot of wandering around the mostly inert environment, hoping something would happen. During Mystery Time I did catch a couple of new fish and bugs and I did encounter one or two strange creatures but I wasn't sure what to do with or about them. I tried talking to them, giving them stuff, casting spells on them; nothing worked. I realized later when one Mystery Time had ended and a new one began, that if you don't figure these situations out the first time, the mysterious creatures apparently disappear, never to return.
Then there's the “real time” thing. I suppose on one hand, real time is a great idea because it could force players to put the game down now and then while they wait for time-based events to trigger. On the other hand, real time can get pretty dull. The game world is meant to evolve like the real world, with characters and conditions changing all the time. In fact, not a lot seems to happen and it kind of sucks waiting hours for the shops to open. The game's official patter claims it has “150 in game characters each with unique reactions depending on how players interact” but after days of playing, I just kept encountering the same gossipy classmates. Worse yet, they kept saying the same things, borrowing liberally from each other's dialog pools. There wasn't much evidence of their relationships changing, either to me or to each other so I finally gave up and stopped talking to them.
With only one class a day and no friends to bother with, I had to find other ways to fill my time. I checked out the haunted house, caught and registered a bunch of fish and bugs, planted some berries, got my hair done at the beauty parlor, hung out at the local juice bar listening to the owner bellyache about her love life, did some shopping, sent a couple of telegrams, stashed some junk in my dorm room and...that was it. And once those things were done I did them again and again, hoping somehow to trigger some kind of event. No dice. Later I discovered I could have a bowl of noodles and chat with the traveling noodle cart guy, find and play new tunes in the magic school's music room and put my money in the bank, but those things got old pretty fast too. That last especially. That lying, goat bank-teller so-and-so told me if I deposited my money it would earn interest, but I never earned any.
In theory, Magician's Quest: Mysterious Times offers players a lot to do. In reality, not so much. The school and the environment surrounding it very quickly feel too small and the handful of activities you're offered quickly become repetitive. (I mean, let's face it—there's only so much fishing, bug catching and berry growing you can do.) Another problem is that Mystery Time, the one aspect of the game that might be more interesting and purposeful, often falls flat due to lack of player feedback and direction. As if that wasn't enough, there's the issue that the game doesn't deliver the changing, evolving world it promises due to the painfully slow pace that evolution occurs. And finally, the real time idea is another thing that's more compelling on paper than in practice. I for one play games because they're more interesting and action-packed than real life. If I wanted to do things in real time, I'd be more productive and go do real things in real time. Sorry wizardry fans; if you're looking for magical mystery, I suggest you re-read Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Magician's Quest just doesn't deliver.