O magical girls, magical girls, wherefore art thou magical girls? From the crazy two-man team that brought us the well-received Cosmic Star Heroine and holiday classic Cthulhu Saves Christmas (reviewed here!) comes a short but sweet JRPG about a group of magical girls from the Stratford-Upon-Avon High Drama Society. While this group of high school girls loves recreating the most beloved works of the Bard, their most important extracurricular activities involve teleporting to alternate dimensions based on his plays and setting things right by beating the snot out of demons trying to interfere in the events.
I don’t know of a single person who had ever asked for a mashup of the likes of Sailor Moon and Shakespeare’s popular works, yet here we are and the results are absolutely enjoyable. This condensed JRPG trims off a lot of the fat that you may find in traditional JRPGS and as a result, has a runtime of around ten hours if you choose to stretch it out. There is no idle exploration or pointless NPC engagement: you will move from dungeon exploration to dungeon exploration, with interludes in between so you can enjoy some entertaining story scenes about the daily life of our intrepid heroines. For reasons not fully explained, our heroine and troupe lead Imogen has a magical scepter and can teleport her club friends to alternate dimensions that are in trouble. They are all based on Shakespeare’s plays, the first being Romeo and Juliet’s city of Verona.
During the intro, Shakespeare himself explains how parts of the game use Old English, which mainly happens when speaking to the inhabitants of the alternate play dimensions you visit. He explains that any time you see a dialogue box with Old English and you don’t understand it, you can press a button to use the fancy Zeboyd Translator, invented specially for this game. What it really does is give you a smart-alecky version of what the person originally said. For example, a person approaches you and gives you a long, flowery introduction. Press the translator button and all it says is “Hi”. It cracked me up to use this on each dialogue to see what it would change the dialogue into; I’m glad to see that Zeboyd continues to inject their trademark levity into their titles.
You have seven party members total but Imogen can only battle with three allies at a time. You won’t even be able to change your party members until close to the end of the game. The reason given for this is that Imogen does not have full control of her powers and can only bring random members, hence the forced selection. It sucks to be stuck with certain members *cough* Miranda* cough* but it is a great way to make sure each character gets their own screen time, so players can learn how to use their unique playstyles and abilities. Typically, they each have a specific purpose, whether it is an element only they can use, or healing and debuff skills. Imogen is a solid striker and has a good variety of healing/attack abilities, plus she can use the light element. Viola is another striker who is also capable of hitting hard with earth-element attacks. Miranda is an odd one: she has a dual set of abilities that shift during the fights. One minute she can be loaded with beneficial skills that heal, cure, and buff allies: the next, they’re abilities that inflict the opposite debuffs on the enemies. Beatrice is another ally whose abilities are mostly meant to debuff enemies (especially early on) and it can be annoying to be stuck with both of these characters at the same time. It does allow for some flexible tactics, though.
The girls of the Stratford-Upon-Avon High Drama Society Club not only fight and act together but level up also. Instead of individual leveling, the experience is earned by the club. Whenever the club levels up, some characters earn new abilities and traits. You can equip up to eight abilities at a time per character, so there is a lot of room to customize the party to your playstyle and open up some tactical opportunities. Each member can equip three traits at a time. Each trait grants a special perk alongside huge stat improvements and sometimes bonus elemental resistance points. There are no resources or equipment to manage, which I’m not a fan of personally but I see why it can appeal to people looking for a simpler JRPG experience.
The battle system is much like the previously mentioned Cthulhu Saves Christmas and Cosmic Star Heroine. The turn order is determined by speed. There is no MP mechanic. Instead, you can use any ability you have equipped once but then it is locked. You can spend a turn using the defend action to refresh your spent abilities if you start to run out. Certain skills can be used multiple times without the need to defend and refresh, but they are rare. Items are fairly similar, the difference being that you can only use equipped items once in a battle. Once the battle ends, however, you can use them again in the next fight. If you want to hit an enemy with something stronger, you can use a Unite attack. The type of attacks you can use depend on your active party members. The more turns that pass, the stronger the attacks get. They can only be used once a battle so in most cases it is better to save them for later on in the fight. There is also a smattering of healing/debuff unites but honestly, I never found them very useful. If you want to be an even more effective magical girl, you will want to keep track of their hyper gauges. Each time one of them takes a turn, they gain a point. Once the gauge is full, it increases the power of the ability used that turn, in some cases it even adds new effects.
The visuals are great: exactly what you would expect a retro-style game to look like if you grew up playing SNES/PS1 JRPGS. The soundtrack is decent overall but there are some great vocal tracks that are used very effectively. Toss in the cool Sailor Moon-style transformation animations and the way they introduce themselves before fighting a big boss and you have just about everything you would need for a lighthearted magical girl JRPG romp.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 8/10
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