As a longtime fan of both Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics, the mere mention of Tactics in any RPG’s title is enough to get me giddy with excitement. Admittedly, most of the time this perception sets me up for some form of disappointment – if only slightly – but I still continue to torture myself. Magic Scroll Tactics is one of the latest tactical RPGs to come out on Switch, and I had to give it a shot. Judging by its more unique two-dimensional side-scrolling approach, I had hopes that the fresh perspective would a welcome addition in the subgenre. While it certainly earns points just for trying something different, it does come with some issues that arise as a result of the change of perspective.
Long ago, the Chaos Magus threatened to wreak havoc on the world, forcing the Priestess of Light to seal the creature away on a distant island. For generations, the descendants of the priestess have watched over the seals but, for some reason, their power is now waning. Sensing the hold upon their master weakening, disciples of the Chaos Magus are now coming out of the woodwork in pursuit of destroying their long dormant master’s seal once and for all – but not if Kako, the current Priestess of Light, and Nash, a Summoner have anything to do with it.
The generic “sealed ultimate evil” plot would be fine if Kako and Nash were even the slightest bit interesting, but their backstories are nonexistent at best. The reason behind Nash coming to the remote island and wanting to take up arms is not really explained in detail. Kako has little screen time, and portrays the staple “saint of the light” in a one-note fashion. The inclusion of Levy and her band of pirates that constantly try and pillage the island shakes things up a bit though, and also gives the developers a reason to throw a bikini-clad “waifu” into the mix. Alas, Levy too ends up being as one dimensional as the rest of the cast. All of these things culminate into a general feeling of disinterest when it comes to the world of Magic Scroll Tactics, which is truly unfortunate considering it could have been so much more.
Magic Scroll Tactics is a grid-based side-scrolling tactical RPG that manages to overshadow its throwaway story and cast with its far more interesting game mechanics – if only slightly. The shift to a two-dimensional plane, of course, throws many conventions of the grid-based tactical RPG immediately out of the window, whether they be good or bad. Damage and accuracy are affected by the elevation differences between the controlled unit and their target, and that is really the only factor worth considering outside of elemental affinities. On offense, attacking an enemy while you have a height advantage gives you a boost in damage and accuracy while doing the opposite will reduce those factors accordingly. Additionally, all abilities are instant cast, meaning that having to plan attacks around their delays is not applicable here.
These key changes make for more fast-paced games than your traditional tactical RPG fare, which could be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. The speed of battle is further influenced by the game’s difficulty, which ranges from incredibly easy (75% of the game), average (20% of the game), to challenging (5% – some boss fights). The truth is that I blasted through 3/4 of the game with little to no effort, only to finally be greeted by some sort of challenge in the last slice of content. Even when things ramped up though, it really only came down to a few boss fights that provided a meaningful amount of challenge, and their design was based more on the hopes of “the stars aligning” more than anything (ie. luck).
For example, one boss is tuned to get two turns back-to-back, which in itself is not an issue but can be very tricky when they gain a reactive ability under a certain health threshold that immediately gives them another two turns every time they are attacked. While still entirely doable, a massive amount of RNG is involved when you might have to deal with a boss having four attacks almost completely in a row. On the opposite end of the difficulty spectrum, you have access to powerful boons in the form of scrolls for the majority of the game. These spells instantly provide the entire party bonuses, like regen, for long periods of time. The game really doesn’t begin to challenge you until these scrolls are revoked (for plot reasons) in the last two chapters. In short, Magic Scroll Tactics might be a great game for subgenre newcomers to get their toes wet in, but it lacks consistent challenge to make the average tactical RPG player engaged for a long time – and by long time I mean around 10 hours.
As a Summoner, Nash can call upon a few supporting units that serve as your party. These units, as well as Nash, can level up and be upgraded with weapons, armor, and skills. The gearing system is a bit clunky though, as there is no way to compare currently equipped items with that of new pieces on the fly. As a result, you are forced to navigate through lots of menus, and for no good reason. Level ups reward AP, which can be used to learn new active and passive traits. Assigning these traits is only part of the process – you must “master” them before the perks go into full effect. Many of these traits have branching paths to even more abilities, and you won’t come near reaching all of them during in a normal playthrough.
That said, if you feel at any time that you need to reconsider your choices, re-speccing is as simple as unassigning the traits, which immediately refunds their associated AP. There are no penalties to shifting around traits as you see fit, so make sure to adjust them as needed. The summoned units can also take on different jobs, and can potentially carry over traits across jobs. Honestly speaking, I did not see a need in changing jobs due to the light difficulty across most of the game, so I cannot touch on that aspect in granular detail.
The story of Magic Scroll Tactics unfolds over the course of five chapters, each of which have around a half dozen story missions. Occasionally, free battles will also pop up alongside the story missions, which can be repeated as necessary for EXP and potential rewards. But again, due to the overall low difficulty I only found it necessary to complete these a couple of times, and moreso in hopes of uncovering treasure chests. Also, these free battles are not randomized whatsoever, and can get repetitive quite fast.
Speaking of chests, they come in various qualities and reward you with money, consumables, and powerful equipment. Green and red chests are the most coveted ones, with the latter often containing extremely powerful gear, but they are only found sparingly through maps. As such, it is really frustrating coming across a chest that requires a certain trait (firewalking, waterwalking, etc) and you cannot reach it because – guess what – you are unable to revisit previously cleared story maps. That means unless you reload your save and learn the required trait, you may not be able to reach all of the red chests. Admittedly, this is only an issue with two or three of them, but is still quite a nuisance in concept.
Graphics and Sound
Magic Scroll Tactics utilizes pixel art in its world design alongside hand-drawn portraits, both of which do the job but are not anything outstanding. Character and enemy animations are limited too, which is somewhat to be expected given the title’s price point. Offensive spells are the most visually appealing animations of the bunch and are still really nothing to write home about. The sound effects are appropriate though, with wind-infused sword slashes drawing upon their aerial influences and fiery incantations giving off the sensation of a tornado of flames. The soundtrack is pretty great as well, with many tunes geared towards naturally amping you up.
Pro Controller Bug
Magic Scroll Tactics is virtually bug free – with one exception. If you are using a pro controller and are starting up the game from the beginning (not from suspension), the Pro Controller will unsync with the console, forcing you to re-connect it. This doesn’t happen with the joycons, so I’m not sure what the issue might be here. Coming out of suspension is also fine – it only happens when you start up the game initially, for whatever reason.
I commend the team behind Magic Scroll Tactics for trying out a more unique perspective in their Tactical RPG, but it didn’t turn out swimmingly in execution. The jump from 3D to 2D sidescrolling voids a lot of the things that make the traditional tactical RPG great, turning the majority of your playthrough into a rushfest rather than a genuinely methodical one. That’s not to say that more depth can’t be achieved from the sidescrolling perspective – it’s just not present here. That lack of consistent difficulty will ultimately deter many hardcore tactical RPG fans from giving it a go, and although it is more newcomer-friendly because of that, the massive spikes in difficulty in the later portion of the game might even frustrate those people. It is not a bad choice by any means – just know what to expect going into it.