Lose Yourself in the Retro-Styled JRPG Fortuna Magus

If role-playing games in the spirit of the Super Nintendo-era entries to the Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Phantasy Star series are your thing, Kemco should be planted firmly in your radar. The Japanese developer has now released more than 20 RPGs on Android, at varying degrees of old-school.

I decided to finally take the plunge with their latest, Fortuna Magus, which seems to be more of a throwback than other recent releases. It’s a fun and well-conceived adventure, with an engaging battle system and an unconventional story of three children heading out in search of their father a decade after he vanished, but a solid set-up is let down by poor writing and pacing issues.


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Fortune Favors the Timid

You control Amane and his foster sister Tia, plus a vagabond magician called Rett and — eventually — two others. Amane’s a huge wuss, but he’s not afraid to stand up for what he sees as right. And so he and Tia — who’s clearly in love with Amane — become embroiled in Rett’s run from the law. Magi are outlawed, considered evil incarnate — even though they actually have no control over whether they possess arcane abilities.

A few bad apples spoiling it for the rest of us.

A few bad apples spoiling it for the rest of us.

Somehow this run from the King’s men becomes a search for Amane’s father, and then a crusade to put the world right (though there’s never a pretense that you’re saving the world, thankfully). Beneath the main narrative lies a cute subplot between Amane and Tia, which seems to offer the only real moments of personality in the game, and a few intriguing twists that keep things from getting too predictable.

There’s the makings of a great story here, but it’s delivered in such a ham-fisted way — replete with oftentimes awkward dialogue, unnecessary lines, lazy tropes, leaps of logic, and poor continuity — that there’s no way I could recommend Fortuna Magus on these merits alone.

Okay, maybe not all the dialogue is ham-fisted. Some of it's actually quite funny.

Okay, maybe not all the dialogue is ham-fisted. Some of it’s actually quite funny.

Take Your Turn

The battle system makes a few cool adjustments to the standard turn-based fare. Party members level up during battles, as each enemy falls, and they accrue Technical Points as they deal or take damage. These Technical Points can be spent on special attacks, including some tandem moves that involve two characters.

Each character also has a number of skills, which cost Skill Points to use (that’s essentially MP, for the JRPG vets). And magic users can, unsurprisingly, cast magic. You have to use skills in order to learn new ones; the more powerful the skill you use, the more likely you are to have a “revelation” that acquires the next one.

Boss fights, back with a vengeance.

Boss fights, back with a vengeance.

Adding an extra layer of tactics and planning to this, you need to use Magestone items to up each character’s aptitude in the four elements — wind, fire, water, and earth. If a character’s aptitude level isn’t high enough, they’ll never learn a particular skill.

Battles themselves move at a steady clip, and you can pop into Auto mode — which executes turns automatically — if they ever start to feel like a grind, while the complexity of the levelling systems feels about right. But dungeons are unfortunately too formulaic, always filled with random encounters with the same few enemies (a different few each dungeon) and ending with a boss encounter.

Generic Yet Different

It’s hard to place Fortuna Magus in the realms of Japanese-style role-playing games — at least as a newbie to Kemco’s games. It looks and sounds somewhere between blandly generic and refreshingly new, while it plays like a classic updated to the more streamlined design conventions of today (without cutting the depth). And it reads like it couldn’t decide whether to tell a story about a broken family or the usual saving the world schtick — leaving it uncomfortably in between the two.

And sometimes it doesn’t seem to be about either of those things, but rather whatever this is referring to (I'm not spoiling it).

And sometimes it doesn’t seem to be about either of those things, but rather whatever this is referring to (I’m not spoiling it).

But it’s a good game that offers excellent touch-based controls and a solid six to eight hours of story, plus however much time you’re willing to put into chasing the last few side quests and all the alternate endings. And Fortuna Magus definitely scratches that 16-bit RPG itch that so many of us have.

If you’ve played any of Kemco’s other RPGs, please take to the comments with your recommendations and comparisons. I’d love to know which one I should look at next.


Summary

A Japanese role-playing game in the vein of 16-bit Super Nintendo classics, Fortuna Magus at once clings onto the conventions of the past and updates them for the touch screens of today. An uneven story, never properly fleshed out, and formulaic dungeon crawling spoil an excellent premise and a solid battle and levelling system.

7