The Pentagram That Was Flawed

Battle Pentagram BoxI noted in an earlier post that I’d imported Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie: The Battle Pentagram due to its surprising similarity to The Turtle Who Had Wings. I also stated that the game would not have sold without its license. I figure it’s now time to elaborate. My apologies if this post reads like it’s all over the place, as my feelings are all over the place when even thinking about this subject.

Before I begin, I will note that the game was made by Artdink (A-Train, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z, etc., tons of experience with smaller or licensed games) and published by Namco Bandai.

Unmarked spoilers for the story of the anime abound. Starting from the sentence after next, in fact. But if you watch anime and haven’t seen the series yet, what’s wrong with you?

Description of The Battle Pentagram

Battle Pentagram Screenshot 1

So, The Battle Pentagram starts off with a slightly altered version of Homura’s original timeline. She gains her time travel powers immediately, if I’m not mistaken, rather than waiting for Madoka to die against Walpurgisnacht. In fact, Madoka’s death to Walpurgisnacht has her ask Homura to make all 5 magical girls friends who take it down together instead of the anime’s equivalent scene having her beg Homura to not let her be tricked by Kyubey again.

Battle Pentagram Screenshot 6

The setup is simple. Homura goes back in time to a point where, for some reason, all of the girls are magical girls. She drags Kyoko over to the city, and tells them all about the coming of Walpurgisnacht in 30 days. The player then spends 30 days and 29 nights preparing, with the 30 days being visual novel-style cutscenes raising the girls’ friendships (which affect team attacks and endings), and the nights being spent attacking witches or their familiars. There isn’t much variety to them (there’s only Gertrud, Charlotte, Elly, Elsa Maria, Patricia, Izabel, Octavia and Walpurgisnact herself, and I have no idea how to trigger Octavia), so the game makes up a story about witches reviving themselves in order to justify fighting recolours.

Battle Pentagram Screenshot 2

On the 30th night, you fight Walpurgisnacht. There are several endings based on the friendship levels of all of the girls, and you get to rewind time and start over from day 1 (keeping everything, somehow) if you lose, so you can deepen your bonds, level up, and try again.

Levels can usually be cleared within 10-15 minutes, consisting of a dungeon and, if you’re up against a witch, a boss fight against said witch. Said levels are usually pretty featureless and are traversed while killing a bunch of generic enemies and proceeding.

Battle Pentagram Screenshot 5

Each character has a soul gem meter (used to revive yourself and restore MP), as well as health, MP and “Tension” (which is used for team attacks). You can play levels with or without a partner (though you’ll bring one with you unless aiming for a certain trophy or two), and their only interactions with each other are reviving each other for free and team attacks.

Each character has a melee attack and several specials, as well as combination attacks based on what pair of characters is in use. There’s also a small dash that turns into a run when the button is held. Outside of combat, you can pay to raise stats prematurely, as well as to unlock skills and other boosts to equip to the characters.

Battle Pentagram Screenshot 3

Some miscellaneous notes:

  • I actually rather like the resulting game, though it feels like it’s missing something a key piece to reel people in. It also gets very repetitive due to the very similar environments and enemies. Basically, it did not deserve its 5180¥ (~$50.50 USD) price tag. $10-15 feels fair, maybe $20 because of its license. But every cent after $12.50 is pushing it.
  • Every enemy type just runs straight at you and uses a melee attack.

DSC_0192

  • In my playthrough, Sayaka was completely unaffected by Hitomi stealing Kyosuke despite Homura worrying otherwise until seeing that her soul gem hadn’t darkened at all. This is why I haven’t the foggiest idea how to trigger Octavia’s appearance in the game, as anime watchers will know that Octavia is Sayaka’s witch form upon succumbing to her despair after that happens.
  • The game completely disallows screenshots for some stupid reason, so all screens of the game are from one of three sources: the marketing team, owners of modded Vitas, and Vita TV owners. In the latter two cases, the screenshots would be screens of video footage, rather than directly from the game itself.
  • There are a ton of DLC costumes (only buyable from a Japanese PSN account, of course, so I couldn’t access them). These include a whole bunch of different things, but the only ones with a non-cosmetic benefit are the swimsuit and school uniform costumes, which give you an equip for buying the complete set of each.

Battle Pentagram Screenshot 13

  • All of the music is taken straight from the anime, with Mami’s theme, Credens Justitiam (Believing in Justice) being the music for clearing a level. An excellent choice, to be honest. Yes, this song:


(Before anyone unaware asks, the lyrics are in a fake, faux-Latin language, whose meaning is wholly subjective to the one speaking it.)

People who’ve either tried the pre-alpha builds of The Turtle Who Had Wings, or even discussed the game with me, should already have noticed a whole bunch of very similar points. For those who haven’t or don’t remember…

The Battle Pentagram (TBP) Compared to The Turtle Who Had Wings (TWHW)

TBP VS TWHW

The first, most immediate similarity is the AI partner. TBP lets you use any combination of up to 2 of the 5 magical girls, while TWHW forces you to use one of 3 set pairs of its 6 characters at any given time. But this is nowhere near the only similarity.

TBP-TWHW Screen Comparison

The second thing to catch one’s attention when comparing the games should be the resources available to the player, though the ways in which they’re shown and used differ. TBP doesn’t make you worry about the AI partner’s resources, unlike TWHW (since TBP doesn’t let you switch to controlling them). However, both feature a non-standard way to measure lives (soul gem VS money), as well as HP, stamina/MP, and another bar linked to team attacks (tension VS sync). Both TBP and TWHW have power-ups to restore HP and stamina/MP, as well as the team attack-related bar.

Battle Pentagram Screenshot 7

However, while TBP doesn’t let you restore the soul gem except automatically upon finishing a level, and only lets you gain more by defeating a witch, TWHW is constantly restoring your ability to revive as you kill enemies, though it is also spent on your AI partner (whereas it’s seemingly infinite for them in TBP). Additionally, TBP doesn’t have specials use MP, but rather their own cooldowns (there are other attacks that use MP, that also differ between use while moving or standing, however, meaning TBP has the higher attack variety).

Traversal within a level is very similar between both games, with the main differences being the lack of flight and the presence of running in TBP. Also, while TWHW uses dashing as a defensive maneuver, TBP does not do anything of the sort, with the dash and run both being traversal moves only. Both games also feature a lock-on mechanic for convenience, though TBP centers the camera on that, unlike TWHW. TBP also gives players a minimap, which TWHW lacks.

Battle Pentagram Screenshot 12

Another similar note is the purchasing of stat boosts and new specials. TBP has separate monetary pools for each one, while TWHW uses just one, and shares that with the measurement of lives. Additionally, TBP’s purchasing of stats is merely an advance on gains from level-ups, while TWHW lacks level-ups and uses this as the only way to advance stats. Additionally, the available abilities are much more numerous in TBP, with 4 abilities that have 5 power variants each, totaling 20 per character, with only 3 equippable at a time. TWHW only has 5 per character, no power variants, all of which are unlocked with stat progression, and are equipped automatically into their pre-set slots.

Battle Pentagram Screenshot 4

And, finally, the cutscenes. They’re all in visual novel style with no actual choices to be made within the scenes themselves in both games. The difference here being that TBP lets you pick between 2-3 scenes most of the time, and you only get to see the other one on a new loop, while TWHW gives no autonomy whatsoever. Both games also have the characters chatting during a level, though TBP’s is merely for flavour while TWHW uses it for plot purposes.

Finally, the level layouts in both games feel empty and samey, with most enemies running straight at you. The difference being that TBP shipped like this and I’m actively trying to avoid this being the norm in TWHW.

These are practically all of the mechanics of both games (only the multiplier in TWHW hasn’t been brought up, I think), so you’ll understand if the similarities between both games irk me somewhat.

What To Do About It

Battle Pentagram Screenshot 11

So the next thing to ponder on is my next course of action. That’s not a very easy thing to do here, but the important things to worry about, I suppose, are the basics. What they’re doing better and what I’m doing better, as well as what clearly doesn’t work.

The problem is that such things aren’t black and white. There are also things I’m simply doing differently. One very blatant example of this is the whole business with specials, lives, and stat-buying – you can’t exactly say that one method is “superior” without slipping in a huge dose of personal preference in there, aside from how the method used in TBP allows for more customization.

Battle Pentagram Screenshot 10

I might actually try adding some simple power variants myself, so I’m happy for the idea, at least. Additionally, the implementation of lives in TBP is both a good and bad idea compared to TWHW due to its more restricting nature, which makes me wonder if I should restrict the amount of money the player has at stake at the start of a level or something (which I did at one point, but cut due to being unsure on the idea).

There are a few things that are probably a good idea for me to mix in, running being a very clear example. And the game made it perfectly clear to avoid featureless areas with a bunch of samey enemies unless the area is positively packed with them, or it ends up feeling dull or like a chore.

Battle Pentagram Screenshot 9

Then there’s stuff like the ability to mix-and-match character pairings, which is the sort of thing that’s wholly dependent on the setting details. While giving the player the option is nice, it only worked in that case because of the story it was trying to tell, much like how pairs are fixed in TWHW because of the story it is trying to tell.

What I know for sure, however, is that nobody’s gonna accuse me of being a copycat. Not only does this blog act as proof otherwise, but TBP and TWHW are both relatively small projects in the grand scheme of things (large for me, small for Namco Bandai, but both small in general) and are highly unlikely to have any significant overlap in playerbase, so the similarity won’t be noticed and I won’t need to strongly adjust to avoid accusations or anything. But this, overall, just leaves me confused.

Battle Pentagram Screenshot 8

That’s about all there really is to say. This gives me a handful of ideas, but I’m mostly lost on whether or not I can learn more from this.

Oh well. I suppose we’ll see as time passes.

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