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Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom's lop sided partnership is as interesting as it is deadly. As much a study in friendship as a videogame, it slowly grew into a meaningful experience for me.
Generating the same profound atmosphere and melancholy soul as ICO or Shadow of the Colossus, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is a thoughtful action adventure that really enchanted me. The combination of platforming and co-operative combat played second fiddle to the relationship built between the main character and the Majin - a lovable ogre-like guardian of an ancient kingdom.
The intrigue begins when your character, Tepeu, finds the Majin bound and shackled within a castle. After freeing the child-like giant you journey with him, exploring the fallen kingdom until you regain enough of the ancient guardian's powers to return and set things straight.
The tale itself is simple. The symmetry of the story could easily feel cheap and contrived but for Majin's irresistible charm. By being both charismatic and challenging, the focus is always on building a relationship with your giant companion through co-operative combat or puzzle-orientated platforming sections.
This relationship is fostered through reliance. Just for once you aren't the strong, muscle-bound hero cracking skulls and wisecracks - it's the Majin who is powerful and devastating. It's only with his strength and elemental powers that the oily monsters can be destroyed. Just whacking them with your own weapon is only effective once they've been knocked down to initiate a combo attack.
I genuinely cared for the big guy, feeling like I was guiding a child through to adulthood as he learned new skills and became stronger.
It's rare that combat as simple as this feels satisfying. But here it works well by focusing on a personal partnership that must be well trafficked to prevail. I genuinely cared for the big guy, feeling like I was guiding a child through to adulthood as he learned new skills and became stronger.
It's refreshing to play the weaker character in this regard and even though Tepeu will evolve to be more powerful, you're always left in awe of the Majin's power - channeled through your instruction.
It's also full of little touches that add to the experience. A day/night cycle not only effects how things look but also alters enemies into different forms - becoming harder as the night mirrors their oily-black figures.
As you take damage you can see Tepeu's figure being slowly overtaken by the same dripping blackness, only healing when the Majin sucks it up for you. Complete a tricky combat section and both characters will dance a brief jig to celebrate - and as your relationship grows that dance gets more exuberant.
Although it seems like you spend the entire game looking after this giant beast, in truth the Majin is really escorting you. You may be ordering him to open doors or blast movable platforms with his powers. And true, he needs guidance in order to be useful and healing when in trouble, but relationally he's often the one to take the lead.
Decaying bridges, fire-scorched mines and abandoned towns all add to the sense of melancholy and loss.
But beyond this relationship Majin holds something deeper within its core. The ruined kingdom, with verdant overgrowth and parched wasteland feels believably old. Decaying bridges, fire-scorched mines and abandoned towns all add to the sense of melancholy and loss.
One level takes place on a decaying warship, beached and sunk into the dusty wasteland of a boiled ocean. In this regard it struck a similar tone to Nier - of an earth ruined by our own hand and corrupted by darkness - making the experience feel forlorn and lonely.
Even my initial distaste for the giant's playful nature turned out to be a foil for the more reflective moments the game offers. These brief scenes that take place underneath the Trees of Life are touching. The emotional weight you glimpse here, being carried by these two characters, is simple beautiful.
This quiet and soulful style is remarkable and a far cry from the bombastic nature of other action RPGs. Yes, it might look and feel like an ICO tribute at times but any comparison is intended as flattery rather than derision. It pulls in another direction entirely with its mechanics. You watch out for Majin as much as Yorda but at the same time using him like as oversized killing machine. It's a partnership that, by the end of the game, is as potent as the Majin's brute strength.
A gentle masterpiece with charm that pulls as much on your heartstrings as your brainpower.
It took a while for me to warm to all this though. The seemingly shallow combat, awkward platforming and slow pace wasn't quite what I expected. As you progress through areas you'll find puzzles that can't be solved until you unlock another one of Majin's powers, leading to a lot of backtracking through levels. At a certain point I was mystified as to my next direction and as traversing this world on foot is slow going it added to my frustration.
This was a fine line that I felt the game struggled to balance at first. Once I realised that this wasn't Fable, with its heavy handed breadcrumb trails, I understood the game's intent. Majin eschews all those convenient tricks aimed at new players to place you in a lush and ruined environment, creating a world that never tries to pull you out of its embrace.
Just as Majin and Tepeu grow in trust and strength, so did my affection for this game. I never imagined I'd find an experience like this outside of Team ICO and at times it approached the same quality - a gentle masterpiece with charm that pulls as much on your heartstrings as your brainpower.
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