Like many of its contemporary “casual” role-playing games, Unseen World: Magical Lense is a title that’s almost entirely dependent on nostalgia. It does little new, but instead attempts to remind gamers of classics like Earthbound or Final Fantasy 3. And while the game recreates a lot of what made those games so memorable, the final product doesn’t quite measure up to the classics that it so desperately imitates.
The story is fairly standard as far as RPG plots go: a young girl named Kumiko wakes up on her birthday, and her grandmother gives her a present. It’s a magnifying glass. But unfortunately for Kumiko, the glass has been broken, so, naturally she decides to go and search for the missing pieces. Eventually, with the help of her friend Sema, she’s able to repair the gift, but once it’s fixed the pair are magically transported to an entirely different world. Kumiko and Sema’s journey to get back home is long and full of some interesting twists, as you’ll come across eccentric characters ranging from an evil dictator to a vampire terrorist. You’ll meet both friends and enemies and explore haunted temples and arid deserts.
It’s not particularly unique, but the characters are fun and the story doesn’t take itself too seriously (most of the time). The narrative progresses via conversations between characters, which, unfortunately, can take forever. The text scrolls very slowly and doesn’t give you any option to speed it up. And since many of the conversations are long and drawn out, this quickly becomes a major irritation. There’s also some issues with the writing itself, as the text features the occasional typo and an over abundance of exclamation points. Alleviating this somewhat are the rare instances of spoken dialog. These help break up the monotony of constantly reading text, though the quality of the acting is very hit and miss. Kumiko, for example, is well done and sounds as you’d imagine a 12 year old girl would. Other times the voices don’t match so well, such as Reage: a 15 year old boy with the voice of a gruff old man.
If you’ve ever played an RPG the gameplay of Unseen World will be very familiar. If not, it’s not too difficult to get the hang of. You’ll control your characters and explore towns, dungeons, and other areas. You’ll come across characters you can talk to, shops you can purchase equipment from, and plenty of enemies to fight. Battles in the game take place from a first-person perspective and are turn-based, which means that you and your enemy will alternate turns taking actions. All of this is done by selecting from options on a menu, though for the most part the only action you’ll actually need to use is attack. The majority of the enemies in the game — even most of the bosses — are very easy to defeat, meaning there is little strategy involved in the battles. In fact, you can get through most of them by simply hitting the space bar repeatedly until the battle is over. And you’ll win. These battles are plentiful but, thankfully, aren’t usually very long.
What’s most frustrating about the game though, is all of the constant backtracking you’re forced to do. Completing any task necessitates going back and forth between various places, often several times. This means that you’re trekking the same territory and fighting the same enemies over and over. It can get downright boring. And since there’s so little to do in the different towns and villages, there’s not much to distract you from the tedium.
But while the game doesn’t quite nail the addictive gameplay of its predecessors, it does nail the look and sound. Unseen Worldlooks like a game that was released in the mid-1990s, albeit with much more detailed environments. The characters are even slightly pixelated and the hand-drawn, anime-style portraits that accompany the dialog are absolutely charming. And the game’s soundtrack, likewise, is very reminiscent of classic RPGs, and in several places the game sounds a lot like Final Fantasy VII. The only problem with the music is that it doesn’t loop properly and it’s a little jarring when the song ends and then instantly starts up again.
Unseen World isn’t a classic RPG though. And while it may initially hold some nostalgic appeal for fans of the genre, it’s unable to capitalize on that first impression thanks to an underdeveloped story and repetitive gameplay. It’s not necessarily bad, more like generic. And for fans of the genre, it serves as a reminder of the golden years of the RPG instead of a return to them.