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Sometimes I play video games on camera, other times I play them off.. I am an enigma

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What's the Greatest Video Game: The Magister

This is an ongoing list where I attempt to do the following: Play, Complete, and Rank every video game in the known universe in order to finally answer the age old question "What is the greatest game of all time?" For previous entries find the links on the attached spreadsheet.

How did I do?

CategoryCompletion level
Hours played~8-10
ResultsWon 2 out of 3
Most pointless LocationGraveyard

It has been a long time since I have played a game that made me change my mind on the game so rapidly and so many times. Of course, it has happened in the past where a game fumbles the bag at some point, or you go in with low expectations and then you actually start enjoying the game because it is outperforming your expectations, but games normally only change your mind once. In the Magister (our subject today) I changed my view on the game about 3 times in about 3 days. I know I’m leading with a cliff-hanger here, but lets start at the basics.

The first thing you will see with this game, is that it looks homemade. No one is going to confuse this game for something that EA or Nintendo put out. However, for me that adds a little to the charm of the game. The game is played at 3/4th top down and you move around a hand drawn background that lays out the blueprints of the area. The looks of games never really weights too much on me, as I care about it so far down the checklist of what makes a good game, but I can see a lot of people looking at the screenshots and waving this game away without another glance.

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The Magister is a little independent game that is best summed up as a fantasy murder mystery game. You play as the game’s equivalent to a detective, known as a magister, who is summoned to a small town because the previous magister wound up dead in a hotel room. You are given a time limit to solve the case in 14 days and will thus have to interview witnesses, find suspects, and put together enough evidence to convict the right person for the murder. What the game makes sure to tell you right off the bat, is that your playthrough is going to be unique because the game is procedurally generated. The killer, the reason for the murder, the murder weapon, what the witnesses tell you is all procedurally generated, each game should be unique and you can’t just look up an answer to help you.

On top of those procedurally generated options, you also have some agency in picking a starting Magister and starting skills. You get the choice of 3 different Magister’s to start, and they each represent 1 of 3 categories of how skills are divided. You can, of course, choose to upgrade your character differently and you don’t have to play them based on the Magister you picked. Anyway, the three categories are Physical, Intelligence, and Cunning. Some of these are more easily explained by their names than others, but by picking a Physical Magister you will get a boost in combat encounters. By picking intelligence you can deduce more about clues and attempt negotiations, and by picking cunning you can utilize “dirty” tactics to gain an edge. Each category has about 9 skills in them, ranging from all sorts of different bonuses and you can create hybrids. Hell my first playthrough I had at least one skill in each category. To level set, because this game is all about replay-ability one full playthrough will probably only grant you enough EXP to get about 5 skills, so you will not be able to unlock every skill even if you stick to just one discipline.

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Once you are in the game the different systems come into play. For most of your time you are walking around locations talking to people trying to do the investigation. For each location that you travel to from the world map, part of your day is taken up, and you only can really visit about 5 different locations a day. The reason this is important, is because almost everyone you meet that has pivotal information to tell you, does not start out trusting you, and in order to gain their trust you need to do quests for them. Some of the quests will pop up new locations on your map, some of those locations might be timed and depending on what you are juggling you will almost certainly not be able to get to every location that you want in a single day. However, complete enough quests for a person, and they will finally tell you where they were during the night of the murder. Should you have evidence that contradicts their account of the night you can accuse them of lying in which case they will usually crack and tell you a vital clue that you will need to solve the crime.

Here is where I peel back the curtain a little bit, everyone has an alibi and everyone is lying about their alibi. This isn’t just fun detective talk but a frustrating point in how this game operates when it comes to solving the murder. No matter the procedurally generated case, you will have to do 2-3 quests for, lets say the knight captain, just for him to tell you his alibi, and then find evidence that contradicts them, only to get the one worthwhile clue you need for the murder. Even when you have narrowed down your suspect list, you still need to break alibis of people you don’t suspect just so they can give you a clue to use later on.

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But hey, lets get back to how the game is played. Sometimes when moving on the world map you might encounter an ‘event,’ or when going out on a quest, that leads to combat. Combat is handled in a hybrid of turn-based combat and card battling. You have a deck of combat cards that can be modified or added to throughout the game, and these will be drawn on each turn in order to facilitate what you can do. On your turn, you can move within a radius, and then play cards. However, each card you play has a time associated with them and that time will be how long before your next turn. If you play every card in your hand, you are almost certainly not going to act again until everyone else on the battlefield has taken at least one turn, and possibly two. So, there is a bit of strategy here to weigh, but if I am being honest, doing damage is still king in this game, so playing all your damage cards no matter the cost is almost always beneficial to trying to slow play your hand. Winning the battle will net you experience points and potentially other benefits (gold, an item, a new card, quest reward) however if you lose the battle you wake up back at the inn and have lost out on the previous day. Since this game is on a clock, depending on if you get knocked out at the end of the day or beginning of the day could be a big difference.

Depending on who you encounter, you might be able to negotiate with them in which case you are in a different battle. In negotiations your aim is to lower their rage to 0. You are using a negotiation deck and only have so many turns to win. Negotiation decks consist mainly of 3 types of cards. One card will reduce the rage meter, but come with a cost of... lets say mana. One type of card adds mana to your total, and the final type of card is a wildcard that could lower the rage, be a dud, or grant mana. On every turn you can redeem your mana to purchase a temporary card to add to your deck, but these only stay in for this negotiation and might bloat your deck. I found that for most low to mid level difficulty negotiations, you can avoid purchasing cards and just play the generic deck and win. Harder challenges might require more strategy of buying cards and hoping that the bonuses are worth the cost. Each negotiation has a turn limit so you will have to weigh how much time you have and how quickly you can lower the rage meter. Should you win a negotiation, you gain xp and whatever you were after, but you also don’t need to take part in a fight. You might enjoy the fighting, but even so that adds a risk to being knocked out and losing a day, so if you can still complete a quest without that risk, do it. If you fail a negotiation, you will probably end up in a fight, and potentially lose out on what you were initially after.

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When you have completed your negotiation, you go to send a message to home base, accuse the person of committing the murder and then outline all your evidence. You can technically move to solve the case at any time, but once you commit you can’t back out. As you are presenting evidence you are given a “conviction rate” or a score as to how well you did in your investigation and once complete you will be told if you were right or wrong. If you are right, you will unlock some new things for another playthrough, and if you are wrong, well you lose. In both of my wins, I just unlocked higher difficulties, which is not the draw for me. Yay! Battles are harder.. what a victory reward. I look forward to getting knocked out more often now.

Now I know everyone has been on pins and needles about my flip-flopping at the start of this article as to how this game plays out. When I purchased the game, I knew little of it so I kind of went into it with no expectations. During the first playthrough of the game I was completely won over. This is a bite sized mystery game that you can play through in about 4 hours AND everytime I play it, it is going to be different? I may have stumbled upon a hidden gem. Now I actually failed my first playthrough and accused the wrong person and ended up losing, but that didn’t matter as I was excited to start it over and see what was different, or how a different playstyle would affect the game. However, upon repeat playthroughs, I started to notice how all the strings came together.

In every playthrough I would have to do essentially the same thing just to see a different result. I would have to engage with the gambler and win his dice game so I can get his pivotal clue. I would have to work with the merchant 3 times so I can gain their trust in order to break their alibi. Sure a different playthrough might be some different quests, or perhaps my playstyle now allows me to test for poison in the food without having to send it away to a lab, but ultimately the beats are always going to be the same. Now this probably doesn’t surprise you, and it really didn’t surprise me… no game, especially one of this size and budget would be able to make a truly unique murder mystery every time you load it up. However, what broke the spell this game had on me was that upon a second playthrough (and only my second playthrough) I was getting the same alibis and same clues just said by different people. In game 1, the knight captain might have told me that he stayed home because of the storm and his clue was that the murder was wearing boots. And in game 2, the blacksmith told me the same alibi and that same clue came from the mayor. I started to realize that there are probably only 15 clues (an estimate) that are fed into the hopper and might get assigned out to different people but aren’t truly different.

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Now in fairness, the killer in my games were all different (I played 3 total playthroughs), but by the 3rd playthrough I felt like I was running in mud. I already knew the strategy, I knew how to get people to trust me as quick as possible, and I knew how to perfect my movements around the map. I had even gained enough knowledge about the game, that I knew the preferred skills during level-ups that would make my life easier. This is where the 3rd flip happened. I went from no expectations, to thinking this was truly a hidden gem I needed to tell people about, to realizing that this is a fun game that doesn't live up to it's promises.

So here we are, the game is still fun, and I would dare say that it is still worth the sale price that it is almost always at on the e-shop or steam. My personal opinion with the game just took a big dive because I got caught up in the enjoyment of the game and that is probably 90% my fault. Future playthroughs really aren’t that different, and while you might find a different murder weapon and/or a different killer, the route you take from A – Z is going to be very similar everytime. You can level up away from combat, but you will still need to take part in plenty of fights in this game, and if you put all your points in combat then you are going to miss clues or miss negotiations that make your game easier. I think I was hoping that the characters would be different on other playthroughs, and that perhaps some characters would be replaced with others so that I couldn’t always count on the list of suspects being the same, but I was wrong. What if I didn’t always have to find a special plant for the doctor, or investigate a cult for the church? What if there was an occasion where the Mayor didn’t lie about his alibi to me, even though he wasn’t a part of the murder? I’m just spit balling here, because there was time when I really loved what I thought this game promised me, and I enjoyed playing it so much that I didn’t hesitate to start it over after round 1. However, once you see the strings, I can’t unsee them and the mystery of what I will need to do, how to upgrade my character and where to focus my time makes each subsequent playthrough, for a game built around subsequent playthroughs, less and less engaging.

Is this the greatest game of all time?: no

Where does it rank: Believe it or not, the first playthrough of the Magister is a lot of fun. You don't know what to expect or what random stuff is going to come up, you don't know how to prepare for clues or the best way to navigate the world. It is truly an interesting and anxious playthrough, however repeat playthroughs are where the game really suffers. While that is true of most games (I don't want to start Sparkle 2 over again) this is a game that is designed around mixing up playthroughs to make them all seem unique, and that is where the cracks really start to appear. If I played this once for 2-3 hours and then never again, it would be higher on the list, but that would be against the spirit of things (also I lost my first playthrough). I have "The Magister" ranked as the 79th Greatest Game of All Time. This sits between Goldeneye 64 (78th) and Lonesome Village (80th) out of 163 total games.

Anyone looking for it: here is the link to the list and more if you are interested in following along with me (this is not a self promotion).Here. I added links on the spreadsheet for quick navigation. Now if you missed a blog of a game you want to read about, you can get to it quickly, rather than having to scroll through my previous blogs wondering when it came up.

Thanks for listening

Future games coming up 1) Mario Golf (n64) 2) Voice of Cards: Isle of Dragon 3) Hitman: World of Assassination

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