Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom follows the familiar yet instantly accessible theme of discovering friendship in peculiar places. However, where other similar stories - notably ICO - prevail at conveying this theme with grace and reverence, the Forsaken Kingdom takes the silly, awkward approach to building a trusting relationship with an unlikely companion. The game puts you in the shoes of a relatively agile thief who has the uncanny ability to converse with animals. In a world turned to darkness, the animals call upon the thief to befriend the Majin, a giant bumbling oaf with a heart of gold and the mind of a dimwitted four-year-old.
It takes little time for the thief to find the Majin, locked up in a castle and drained of his power. When the thief releases the Majin, named Teotl, from captivity, the pair quickly discovers they need to combine their efforts in order to survive. The entire world’s darkness consumes people, turning them into black gooey beasts, and while the thief (later named Tepeu) is smart enough to stay out of trouble, he’s not strong enough to fight enemies. Likewise, Teotl is strong enough to battle foes, but not smart enough to do so on his own accord. Thus, a partnership is born, with Tepeu promising to restore Teotl's power along the way in exchange for the lumbering giant's help.
The story advances as the pair’s friendship grows. While it never really reaches its full potential, it still manages to convey a classic tale of courage, and relying on those stronger than us for protection. Of course, the narrative is only one particular highlight on offer, as you’ll encounter a plethora of brainteasers and boss battles throughout to keep you distracted, the latter of which play out more like giant puzzles rather than epic bouts of strength and agility.
Forsaken Kingdom has a tendency to force you to backtrack. Once your Majin learns a new ability—there are four total—you’ll be able to enter new areas. Getting to those areas requires you to walk through the same environments over and over again, which quickly becomes monotonous. The Majin regains various abilities, strength, and stamina by eating fruit scattered throughout the land. The first ability you recover is wind, which allows you to blow over enemies and interact with various environmental objects. And this is the gist of the game: you help the creature recover abilities, which in turn allows you to interact with objects you couldn’t before, thus progressing you through the story. You’ll eventually acquire lightning and fire, and finally the ability to turn darkness into crystal.
Navigating the game’s puzzles is a simple task thanks to the control set-up, although the Majin can be a bit slow off the bat when performing rudimentary instructions such as follow, stay, crouch, as well as various interact abilities. Still, it’s easy enough to get to grips with - you simply hold a right trigger button to call up different commands for the creature, select the one you want, and bob’s your uncle. The ‘interact’ ability is extremely wide ranging, and generally has the Majin lifting giant stone doors or pushing over weak walls. As you acquire additional abilities, you’ll be able to blow objects or set up a string of electricity to power an object. One of the highlights to the game’s puzzles is the use of a catapult. The Majin is strong enough to launch you to areas once inaccessible, which of course allows you to find treasure or levers, again progressing the story. Everything in the game is laid out relatively clearly. While the puzzles offer some complexity, there are plenty of helpful hints along the way, including some familiar Zelda-esque tones when you discover the appropriate secret to advance.
One of the game’s biggest problems is the control reactions. Tepeu has a single jump, which is pretty unresponsive. As such, since this maneuver is typically involved in puzzle solving, you’ll have to allocate an extra half-second or so to perform to properly pull off your feat. It’s not a game breaker by any stretch of the imagination, but it is irritating nonetheless.
Similarly, combat falls victim to some ongoing issues. For starters, you are only given a small handful of attacks. While Namco Bandai emphasizes that the game’s true focus is on the co-op AI experience, we actually found this component to fall short. You do have command over your Majin, but it’s quite limited. You essentially tell it who to attack, and despite some additional abilities as the game progresses, this is essentially a button mashing affair affording little in the way of strategy. As mentioned previously, Tepeu’s attacks aren’t strong enough to cope against your enemies, so you pretty much always have to rely on the Majin to deal out the lion’s share of the damage, with Tepeu best left to call the shots from a safe distance. Those four abilities we discussed earlier can all be used in combat, so you’ll get some extra flair as you progress. Eventually your opponents are weakened enough so you can perform a deadly combo by tapping the circle button. These abilities help change up the combat, but there is little diversity to your combos so you end up just getting thrown in the air to pull off giant body slams.
From a technical standpoint, combat is pretty dull and frustrating, and from a pure aesthetics perspective, fighting is purely uninspired. We’ve played many games that have just as basic combat, but it doesn't help matters that the Forsaken Kingdom’s controls are so unresponsive. Tepeu doesn’t move forward as he fights and he usually doesn’t lock on to any enemies. Technically speaking, you can dodge, but it’s also quite unresponsive, leaving you rolling into enemies when you meant to evade an attack. Our biggest gripe however, is that the sheer amount of backtracking results in you fighting the same repetitive enemies over and over again.
Luckily your partnership with the Majin offers some unique ways to approach a battle. For instance, you can ring a loud bell to attract enemies into a secluded area, and then ask Teotl to drop a stone door, trapping them in the process. Even better, you can occasionally sneak up on a swarm of enemies and push over a stonewall, taking out the mass with one simple maneuver. Furthermore, Tepeu can also facilitate your combat prowess by throwing rocks to set off traps or to hit airborne foes.
Boss encounters are essentially more puzzles with choreographed combat. This offers a nice break from the monotony of regular battles. For instance, one occasion has you duking it out with a hulking spider-like creature, where you’ll task your Majin with swinging a giant stone bell to knock the boss far to the ground. Likewise, another fight will have you attempting to lure a boss in to the path of an electric current. The battles aren’t overly complex, but as mentioned, it’s still a refreshing break from scrapping with the usual gaggle of dull adversaries multiple times over.
Where the game truly excels however is through its combination of sumptuous visuals and compelling storytelling. Among the highlights include some beautifully-realised 2D cut scenes where you witness the Majin’s memories of the land that once was, while the game’s environments themselves are richly detailed and highly evocative. And, while there are some minor gripes in the form of shadow flicking and the occasional visual hiccup, it doesn’t detract from the fact Forsaken Kingdom offers an overall eye-popping graphical presentation.
Forsaken Kingdom certainly had heaps of potential, but it sadly falls short due to some glaring niggles. Aside from the repetitive combat and copious backtracking, the major problem rests in the relationship and lack of development between the two main characters. Tepeu isn’t fleshed out enough and doesn’t have much of any past to speak of, while Teotl, despite showing genuine concern for his companion, doesn’t ascend beyond the obtuse, fumbling sidekick persona that he frequently inhabits throughout the game. Had the pair been developed further, the story and underlining themes could have provided a more welcoming distraction from the game’s more prominent shortcomings. Having said that, Forsaken Kingdom still offers an engrossing tale and plenty of worthwhile distractions in the form of gripping boss battles, gorgeous visuals and indeed anyone interested in a forging a relationship with an awkward beast.
-The Final Word-
Despite some repetitive combat and unresponsive controls, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom's evocative visuals, epic bosses and neat puzzles provide more than enough reason to witness the relationship between a thief and a giant magical oaf slowly flourish