Why did I play this?Why did I play this?

Posted on Jun 13th 2014 at 06:26:45 PM by (SirPsycho)
Posted under Saturn, sega, working designs, action, anime

Magic Knight Rayearth is an action/adventure based on a popular manga and anime series of the same name. Come to the Sega Saturn where we get going back down the Working Designs road!

Working Designs and Sega had quite a close relationship at first. Sega could make some money by licensing the rights to a game out to Working Designs that they themselves did not want to localize and release. Looking at the lineup of Working Designs Saturn games a staggering 4 of their 6 games for the Saturn were actually developed by Sega (5 if you count Camelot's Shining Wisdom since the company was founded by Sega, but they had broken away from them the same year it was released in Japan) including our game this week.

Magic Knight Rayearth was first released in Japan in 1995, but did not make it to North America until late 1998. In fact this is the very last Saturn game released in North America. What was the cause of this delay? In the manual Working Designs simply states that it took 30 months to fix everything that they wanted to or could fix. Well, that story actually goes back to around 1995 when Working Designs was interested in working with Sony. Bernie Stolar did not like the company or its president Victor Ireland, and quickly shot them down for the rights to Arc the Lad. When Stolar moved from Sony to Sega Working Designs was quick to move back to Sony, since their relationship with Sega soured very quickly. I don't think they took three years messing around with an already finished game for no reason. Stolar was well known for his dislike of RPGs, especially at Working Designs. Nevertheless, the game was released and sits as a curiousity for a company known for putting as much work into packaging as their actual games.

As a result of this nearly three year delay between releases Rayearth was not reviewed well when it launched. Many criticized the graphics as being akin to an early Saturn 2D game (it was), and the game's release window (months after the other final Saturn stragglers). But, does this mean the game itself is not worth anybody's time, or is it just a case of bad timing mixed with a sour relationship?

I previously reviewed Sunsoft's Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean from Working Designs where I praised that game's voice work. Rayearth has much more voice acting in it, and its all top notch quality that other companies should take some lessons from to this day. Each of the three main heroines keeps a diary of events as you progress through the game. Most of these are multiple sentences and are fully voiced. Cutscenes are fully voiced as well. There are hundreds of lines of spoken dialogue for the major characters, and you can hear how well directed the actors and actresses were, as well as the quality of Working Designs' recording studio. Sega America could have taken some pointers from these guys.

Now let's dig into the meat of this game. As an action-RPG combat takes place in real time. It takes quite some time for the game to really ramp itself though. There are three playable characters, Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu. Hikaru and Umi use short range swords while Fuu uses a bow. Fuu's charged attack homes in on enemies, making her by far the most useful character. About the only time you'll switch characters is to use magic to progress, or blast the boss with your strongest spells until they're out of MP. Then you'll just switch to Fuu, run in circles, and use her charged attack until the boss is dead. Its not a deep combat system.

The progression system is mostly related to the the Zelda system. Your heroines get better armor, weapon upgrades, and spells by getting to certain parts of the game, and not by spending a lot of money. Money in this game are gems, and they're actually quite hard to come by. Most enemies will not drop much, most of these gems come from treasure finds.

The story is about a kidnapped princess who summons a few Magic Knights from another world to save her own from being swallowed in darkness. So the world of Cefiro is being taken over by dark forces and starts coming apart at the seams as a result of the princess' lack of protecting prayers. Our three heroines have been prophesized in this world's mythology for eons, but these Magic Knights were always assumed to be male. This type of gender identity and societal roles plays a crucial part of the story. Almost everybody is surprised that the Magic Knights are a trio of fourteen year old girls in short skirts. This story does take quite a few twists and turns despite using this rather simple and trite formula.

In the end I felt like the game was a mediocre Zelda clone. Even though it had some nice twists and turns and the game actually functions quite well it just does not stand out too much other than being a Working Designs game. There are a few places in the game where the frame rate plummets and the game almost grinds to a halt. Thankfully these places are not in the middle of a dungeon where you're surrounded by enemies, but they really stand out and show poor optimization on Sega's original team. I enjoyed the game overall but there was a distinct lack of polish in places and it was just too easy for my tastes. Given its price tag I would say pass on this unless you must find and own every Working Designs release or every Saturn game.

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I had always wondered about this game.  About the time it was released collectors were flying up out of the woodwork to snatch up every Sega Saturn game that wasn't sports related, so there was no chance I could have played it.  After reading your thoughts on the game I was quite surprised to hear your overall opinion, as well as the playstyle of the game.  Basically, I think those people who reported the brilliance of this game (as well as it's "Final Fantasy" style) were full of beans.

It is kind of a shame that WD fell off the map so suddenly, but when you put the pieces together (especially after your mentioning the Arc the Lad problem) it kind of makes sense.  Such as small company and delay after delay, plus (seemingly) little love from Sony.  Shame.
@bombatomba: Yeah, most of the problem was between Ireland and Stolar. Once he was out of the picture at Sony Working Designs jumped right back over to them. By the time Rayearth released for the Saturn Alundra had been out for almost a year on the Playstation.
Reading your reviews is always something I look forward to. I wouldn't be surprised to see you in an auditorium or something spreading knowledge with a cult following of eager minds following your every word. I have always loved Working Designs, but never knew there was so much to it. I had figured they just didn't release much outside of Japan, I never imagined the truth behind the scenes.

I also knew there were many Saturn titles I missed out on growing up, but again, I was mistaken as to the amount of quality to the titles I never knew about.

Thank you again for sharing your knowledge along with your review of the actual game.
@Boshamp: They had quite the rocky run. The never released anything inside Japan since they were founded to specifically bring games from Japan to North America. After Working Designs went belly up in 2005 Victor Ireland turned around and founded Gaijinworks in 2006. Its the direct successor but the more successful spiritual successor is XSEED.
I've had a couple people asking to get your reviews promoted, but remembered that your profile flag for it broke. FIXED NOW!
I have always been told what a great system the Saturn is. I have owned one for a few years, but just don't know what games to purchase for it. Woo Hoo! Love these reviews. Keep them coming. Smiley
@Shadow Kisuragi: Look mom, I'm on the front page!
I'm surprised to see this here =) This game is one of my prized pieces! Sits on my dresser with my Saturn and Sega CD, right next to Lunar Wink My only regret is not owning a minty copy of the other two disc variants...

That aside, the game is honestly sub par. I only love it as much as I do because I've been a huge MKR (and CLAMP) fan boy since I was a a young teen. That being said I agree with your assessment... if you don't have a specific interest in Saturn, Working Designs, or Rayearth then pass.
Oh man I liked this game a lot! The final boss battle was great. Good write-up though Psycho, I can't argue with what you're putting down here, I just happened to like it more.
RETRO Playthrough Smiley I never finished it. and need to.
I picked this game up at launch, as I was a Saturn supporter from launch until the end. By then I had also grabbed a PSX and N64, but I still really enjoyed Saturn games when I could.

I couldn't ever get that far into this game, and never took the time to finish it. Nice write up.
With all the Sega reviews I've been doing I feel like I'm Noise's replacement.
This game has been on my radar since I discovered Working Designs. There's something about the games that they put out that makes me really want to track them down and play them. I love anything with anime style cut scenes too.

Nice review of the game! Did you have this one back in the late 90s or did you buy it after getting into collecting?
@Fleach: I didn't own a Saturn until last year. Tynstar sold off his Saturn stuff, and I jumped at the juiciest meat on the bone.
@douglie007: Once again, a title that's too pricey for a playthrough. However, the Saturn is a system that we have not used in a playthrough and would like to remedy that. Send us some more good and affordable game suggestions please: http://www.rfgeneration.com/forum/index.php?topic=13242.0
This blog post blew up!  You'd think this was a forum post or something.  And on the front page, as well.  Sweet!  Now if only we can lure a couple more people out...
We promote things to front page fairly often - unfortunately, it's been a while since most of our active bloggers don't have the flag set in their profile to allow us to promote! I know this was the case for SirPsycho, but he mentioned in the past that it was broken for him.

If any of our bloggers out there have this problem, let me know and I'll correct it!
@Shadow Kisuragi: Out of idle curiosity, does one have to set the flag for every post?
@bombatomba: No, it's a profile option.
@Shadow Kisuragi: I've tried changing it in my profile but I'm not sure if it sticks with the wall of PHP errors still plaguing the blogs.
We had that problem before the move. Wish I had more time to fix the blog portion of the site, or anything on the site, right now... Sad
This was a nice game from my past, thanks for the review! I agree that the voice acting is pretty good, I remember Zagat especially being an awesomely voiced character for the genre.

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