My favorite videogames are the ones most people don't think to make. I'll spend money just for the chance to run a farm, to whack frogs into holes with golf clubs, to rain destruction upon my enemies using calligraphy. Heck—innovation-lust is the reason I bought a Nintendo DS in the first place. But after playing Lost Magic, I have to wonder: is innovation enough to make a game any good?
Lost Magic is a real-time strategy role-playing game (SRPG) in which a teenage boy named Isaac is out to save the world. Isaac's father was one of the six Sages charged with protecting the Lost Magic: elemental powers that, in the wrong hands, could destroy the universe. Unfortunately, someone called the Diva of the Twilight wants to destroy the universe in order to create a new one, and Isaac has to keep the Lost Magic away from her.
Pretty standard SRPG fare, I know. But the innovative bit's coming.
Isaac can catch monsters and send them out to fight enemies on his behalf, or he can cast magic spells. Players use magic by drawing runes on the DS's touch-screen. This is a very clever idea: my stylus really did feel like a tiny magic wand as I made triangles, stars and spirals. Casting spells also required lots and lots of practice. I didn't just get spells handed to me—I had to learn them.
Sadly, the ingenuity of rune-drawing in Lost Magic gets lost in its clumsy implementation. To cast a spell, players must hold down either the L or R buttons to bring up a special screen—and if their fingers slip, they have to start over. In short, spell-casting is a lot like trying to pat my head and rub my stomach…while being swarmed upon by monsters. And my non- "Lite" DS didn't help matters, either. Its L button is perilously close to the power button, and many times I accidentally shut my DS off while trying to cast a spell.
Lost Magic has other problems as well. Issac's monster companions aren't the sharpest crayons in the box; players need to hover over them constantly, making sure they don't attack the wrong enemies or walk across hot lava or get stuck in a corner of the screen. Their lousy intelligence may be part of the game's challenge (it would be too easy to clear a level in five minutes if my teammates could think for themselves), but it's still annoying.
While this game is certainly slam-the-DS-on-a-coffee-table frustrating, it deserves credit for focusing on a teams' strategy instead of its strength. Issac and his monster-friends don't have a very high level cap (they can't grow higher than level 50) and it's very easy to catch high-level monsters. Victory has little to do with brute force; it depends on speed, exploiting enemy weaknesses and using the environment to one's advantage.
Players whose DSs are hooked up to the Nintendo WiFi Connection can duel with opponents from anywhere—no Friend Code required. They can also battle with friends, as well. I wouldn't say that Lost Magic's online play is impressive, but it adds some fun to the game after it's finished.
Parts of Lost Magic are brilliant. But that brilliance gets bogged down in physical awkwardness and bad artificial intelligence. Flashes of innovation only make me think of how much better this game could've been. Flights of fancy in games are marvelous things, but they need to be grounded in solid gameplay. And Lost Magic, unfortunately, is not.