Spinoff game of Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Game Genre(s): Turn-based RPG, Gacha, Visual Novel
Story Genre(s): Magical Girl, Dark Fantasy, Slice of Life (Events), Psychological
Age-Appropriateness: 14+ (violence, occasional dark themes)
Platforms: Mobile (iOS, Android)
Hours of VN content: 27+ main story, 4+ side story, +30 min. per character x 92 obtainable characters, 45+ Special event stories, grand total of over 100 hours.
TheAwersome Rating: 7.7 / 10 (VN structure somewhat limited, different vibe from Madoka anime)
Premise: A white creature named Kyubey has the power to grant girls any single wish. In exchange for that wish, however, they must become magical girls and fight against creatures known as Witches. A rumor soon begins to spread among magical girls that they can be saved from their duty by going to Kamihama City. Iroha Tamaki, a girl who had originally forgotten the wish she had made to become a magical girl, one day encounters a smaller Kyubey and remembers that she made a wish to cure her younger sister Ui of her illness. Realizing that Ui has become missing somehow, Iroha travels to Kamihama City to find answers, encountering many other magical girls along the way.
TheAwersome’s Thoughts: First off, no, this doesn’t mean I’m going to start reviewing games. Why would I, a Twitch streamer who streams 6-8 hours of video games a week, review games? Maybe, but we’ll get there when we get there.
This was a fun pastime for the past year. Thank goodness Fate / Grand Order didn’t use to work on the Pixel 3, because I would have likely picked that up rather than this if it had (that game is notorious for being a gacha money pit, and had been around longer / came out earlier). Firstly, I have spent 0 money on this game. I’ve played it every day for a full year and have not once felt the need to drop money on it. Heck, I haven’t even used the free accumulated in-game currency yet for hardly anything, and I’ve still thoroughly enjoyed my time playing it. So, if you’re scared that it’s a pay-to-win, or even pay-to-enjoy, you may rest easy knowing it was none of these things.
So, what’s the structure?
Magia Record has a main story, a side story, individual Magical Girl stories, Event stories, and stories associated with the PVP realm. The main story was split into 10 chapters of varying lengths, and all the dialogue for it (and only the main story) has professional Japanese voice acting. The stories are all presented in visual novel form, meaning there are specific Live2D character models that have canned expressions and animations that they’ll cycle for various lines. There will generally be a scene before and after a battle, and sometimes during. Battles are pretty standard turn-based RPG with type advantages/disadvantages, three main attack types, and a charge meter to unleash special “Magia” attacks (ults). Scenes of dialogue generally last 1-5 minutes.
Alongside each chapter of the Main Story is a smaller chapter of “Another Story” which follows the Magical Girls of Mitakihara (original Madoka anime city and girls) and their actions surrounding the events of Kamihama, and their dealings with Iroha and co.
For every Magical Girl that you unlock, you also get their nine scenes of back story or OVA-flavored side story.
Now here’s how they keep you playing every day, you ready? Events, and event stories. Events last usually between 8-15 days and come in a variety of formats. Except for a few “Special Training” events, where certain magical girls get 20x Experience and you just grind, almost all Events have their own accompanying story, usually about one hour of VN content per event. These event stories are canon to the main story but usually don’t affect it or get referenced 80% of the time. If you don’t play them, you won’t get lost in the main story, but might miss an occasional reference or not know a specific character’s backstory as well (with two or three very canon and very important exceptions). Most often it will focus on the story of a Magical Girl that just got released or be a seasonal story/event (Summer, New Year’s, Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s, etc.). Occasionally there will be a cross-over with either a spin-off Madoka Manga and those characters, (e.g. the Joan of Arc stories) or a different IP entirely, such as Lyrical Nanoha or Monogatari (alas, the NA servers never got the Monogatari crossover). Be warned on the events though, some are pure goofy slice-of-life nonsense, and others are written by Inu Curry and channel the traditional dark and unsettling vibe of the Madoka anime. Especially if Homura is involved.
If there’s anywhere that can be said to be the money-pit, it’s these events. Usually with each event there will be a special promotion where you’ll have a higher chance to pull a specific Girl. For seasonal events and crossovers, this is often the only time you can get that girl at all. So if you’re a goblin/magpie player and need to collect ALL the things, you’re doomed.
Then there’s also the PVP section that has a story going on with it, that is somewhat relevant to the main story, so don’t be like me and completely sleep on it for the first 8 months of playing.
Great, but give me a review, not a wiki article.
Now that I’m done detailing all the things you probably didn’t actually care about, here are my thoughts on the experience of playing it over the year. Probably the most important thing to know is that the vibe is very different from the Madoka anime; it isn’t nearly as dark (though quite similar in unsettling creepiness). There’s a great deal more joy and happiness here, but of course, not everything is sunshine and roses. Just know that it isn’t going to be near-constant suffering and despair.
Pros and Cons of the Visual Novel Format:
This being a visual novel means that we get to experience a lot more of the characters than we would in a TV series or a movie (you know, like in a novel), as it doesn’t follow the same time constraints of “tell a story in twelve or thirteen 22-minute episodes, with each episode being a complete chapter.” The downside of course, is that due to the smaller, 1-5 minute bite-size structure it’s hard to get INTO it. On multiple occasions I found myself saying “This scene would be SO interesting if it was fully animated,” especially when it comes to action sequences. The visual novel format used for Magia Record does not lend well to letting you feel adequate tension, immersion, or action, especially since it is rarely narrated.
In VNs like Clannad, PacaPlus, DDLC, etc., they’re narrated from a 1st person perspective, and so we get narration such as “Sayori is dragging her eraser up and down her desk, gazing into the distance. I tentatively approach her,” or “Tomoyo grabbed Sunohara by the collar, then proceeded to deliver a combo of kicks before he hit the ground. It was beautiful to behold” For Magia Record, we will only sometimes get some first-person thoughts from Iroha, but never narration of action. This makes dialogue kind of tricky because rather than getting something like “Yachiyo quickly grabbed Tsukuyo by the wrist and brought her spear crashing down to her leg, breaking it,” we get a flash of red light, Tsukuyo’s “startled” reaction, and then Yachiyo says “It will be hard to follow us if you can’t use your leg.” You don’t get that same intensity that you would from seeing Sasuke dislocate someone’s shoulder, or even reading a description of it.
Getting a Good Ending
In a tactful move, the first main story arc finished exactly one year from the day that the game launched on the NA servers. For this final chapter of the main story, it was played out as an event: as a massive Raid. Meaning everyone who was playing across the NA servers contributed to dealing damage to the end boss and could buff each other, send messages, etc. A lot of scenes in the final chapter were fully traditionally animated, and I was caught off guard emotionally.
Something I particularly enjoyed about the ending was how everything came together and was answered. I see an increasing number of stories get written, be it books, games, TV shows, or movies where you can definitely tell that the ending wasn’t known from the beginning and the writers are freestyling as they go along. Too often we see mysterious elements present themselves and then get either forgotten, ret-conned, or explained via ad hoc deus ex machina. The ending of Magia Record surprised me with how much clear planning went into it that I got to see after the fact. There’s a great deal of hints, foreshadowing, and other elements that really set the stage to all come together at the end. Many event stories that you thought were just filler, elements of the intro video you thought just looked neat, etc. turn out to be deliberate hints.
The Virtues of Slow and Steady
My experience with most media that I consume these days is more on the binge end of the spectrum. I don’t like having to wait a week between episodes, I don’t like having to wait a year between seasons. As such, unless there’s a great deal of hype, I won’t pick up a show if I know it has another season coming or is still ongoing. But, because of how the main story was stretched out over the year, and how I was still getting some new Magia Record content with frequency (the event stories), there was a stronger connection and bond that I felt for the characters. Especially when all of the various side characters are coming in and contributing to this grand finale battle. While there are about 16 main characters, there are about 50 other supporting characters that contribute to the world-building and general story of Magia Record. I don’t think there is any way to replicate this in a traditional TV show or movie format. There isn’t a good way to get the same level of connection to 60+ characters and have it all come together in a final and great moment that not only connects all the characters, but the players as well, adding that much more of an immersive element that we, together, are contributing to the story’s outcome.
And at that moment I became very sad that I wasn’t in on World of Warcraft at its inception, building up to the Wrath of the Lich King. Having realized how awesome and special it was to have a very large community coming together for an event to finalize a story that you’d all been following together for a year or more, I can only imagine what it would have been like to storm Icecrown back in the day. Because I had spent a full year with all these characters, rather than my typical 15-45 days on a series (depending on length), there was history there. Flashbacks weren’t just “oh yeah, that happened three episodes ago,” it was “That happened eight months ago, my life was different then, and so was this story.” It’s because of that, that I cried during the scenes of that final raid. Despite all the difficulties the game presented in format for immersion, I was still quite moved at the end of that year.
So, I guess my takeaway is that there’s something to be said for going along with a series as it comes out rather than my usual strategy of Watch it All at Once. Because had I picked up Magia Record and played through all of the story in one giant blast in one or two months, I doubt it would have had the effect that it did.
The Fate of Magical Girls
Unfortunately, on August 28th we got the notice that the English servers are closing, and the game is ending service. I’m disappointed that we won’t be getting the second arc, because from what I could tell from the teaser given at the end of the first, and from what I’ve seen on the subreddit from the JP servers, it was going to head deeper into the traditional Madoka psychological, emotional elements.
On one hand there’s a level of liberation that comes from it. I now realize that near the end I’d spend close to 6-8 hours a week on the game, usually in small bursts of 15 minutes, other times a marathon for story (I did this with what I thought was just a fan-service beach-episode arc that ended up being the second-most disturbing, traditional Madoka horror arc the game had ever seen). That’s another reason why the 2019-2020 pool of anime review candidates was significantly lower than the previous year. In addition to watching Naruto, a lot of my spare time went into playing Magia Record.
On the other hand, I had really started thoroughly enjoying the game. There was a bit of a lull when it first started and I hadn’t gone through much of the story where I’d log in, do the free daily draw, and maybe play a few battles, maybe not. Over the past few months, however, I’d gotten quite invested in not only everyone’s stories, but the gameplay aspect as well; I felt I had a good handle on it, mastered farming techniques, and it really had become something I looked forward to. It wasn’t just “something to pass the time when I can’t or don’t feel like watching a full episode of a show.”
I initially didn’t want to move to the Japanese server because (in addition to jerry-rigging my internet location via VPNs) I’d have to start everything over from zero (can’t transfer accounts). Fate/GO finally got patched and works on Pixel 3 now, so I picked that up for about two months to play while working on archiving Magia Record content. That’s when I realized just what a gem we were losing in Magia Record. The animated character models, the voice acting, the story, and the vibe are pretty unique. Fate/GO doesn’t have animated models, doesn’t have voice acting for stories, and the writing gives a general vibe that feels like the whole thing is made for AND BY a bunch of weebs who haven’t experienced media outside of anime and manga. The music sounds like a generic discount N64 Pokemon Stadium track as opposed to the gorgeous orchestral tracks both by and inspired by Yuki Kajiura in Magia Record, dialogue is campy, everyone loves YOU, the protagonist, fan service is off the charts with frequent hyper-sexualized characters having volleyball-sized breasts (very often) with impractical outfits that accentuate them.
With very few exceptions, characters felt very single note, tropey, and one dimensional. While the gameplay and combat are certainly more intricate and complex, which for me equates to more fun, the overall experience of playing Fate/GO was not nearly as enjoyable. So, I’m starting from nothing on the Japanese server, which helps my learning the language anyway.
Gone, But Not Forgotten
The Magia Record NA servers ended service on October 30, 2020. The game is no longer available in app stores, which makes this a strange review for me. I usually give reviews under the premise of “Here’s why you would/wouldn’t enjoy watching this.” That isn’t an option anymore. While it’s nice not have to worry about physical copies getting damaged, or only having a game take up so much storage space because it’s mostly online, the price is inevitably that it dies when the servers do. It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve put into an MMO or a Gacha game; it’s unplayable if the servers are shut down.
Because of this I teamed up with some other enthusiasts from the Magia Record subreddit and I have been able to archive all of the Main Story, Another Story, and Event Stories, as well as most of the individual character side stories and voice lines. All of them are available on Google Drive links if you’re interested. While it won’t be the same experience as having the gameplay interspersed with the story, or the amount of time passing to experience the full game, you can at least experience all of the story elements this way. This can be helpful because Magia Record got an anime adaptation earlier this year, and you’ll at least have access to some source material.
As for the anime, we’ll get a review of that coming up soon, both from a “having played the game for a year” perspective and a “I’ve only watched the Madoka Anime and (maybe) Rebellion and am now watching this” perspective. The anime said it has the second season confirmed, which should finish up Arc 1. There is no word as of yet for a release date.