Once in a while a game comes along that you’re not quite sure what to make of it. MJ II is just such a game. It is fully 3D with a 1st person perspective, except for cut scenes where 3rd person is used. The game worlds are lush, colorful and oddly charming. The worlds are fully explorable, and this is both good and bad, since it can be easier to get lost, but this was a small price to pay for the ability to go literally anywhere you want. This is not really a sequel to the Mysterious Journey (Schizm), since the only thing common to both is the floating islands. The feel of the two games is quite different as well. There is much less backtracking in MJ II, and it is easier to work with one protagonist.
MJ II begins as a young man awakens on a spaceship, and has no memories of who he is or even his name. A hologram tells him he is being punished, and that he was awakened to experience the first part of his punishment. The rest of his fate remains a mystery to both him and the player, as the hologram is destroyed before the message is completed. The spaceship is due to crash to the planet below in 16 days. He must find a way out, get to the planet, and find out what is going on. Throughout the story, you will learn who he really is and what he did to earn his punishment. You learn about the two tribes, the Ansala, the spiritual group, and the Transai, the technical group, and why they are warring with each other on the planet below. There are those from each group who will help you along the way, as well as several broken-down robots called “companions”. The story is another variation of the “young man who saves the world,” and is not very unique in its presentation.
Sen, as we discover our hero’s name to be, is a young man in a strange costume, reminiscent of a court jester during the Renaissance. He is anything but jovial, however. His expression is unchanged throughout the game, making him appear more robotic than the robots. On the good side, though, he does not exhibit the often used repetitive arm gestures that you come to hate in many game characters. On rare occasions he verbalizes his thoughts to you, but it would be better if this device were to be used more frequently, since he gives nothing away by his expressions. He is given camouflage disguised as a member of each tribe to enable him to walk freely among them (though he always looks the same to me!), and once a camouflage of invisibility to enable an escape.
Interactions with others
Every interaction with another being, robotic or person, is done via a cut-scene. These are executed so well that the flow is seamless. On the other hand, it also means that the player has no input at all regarding the direction of the conversations. Another issue is that there is no option for subtitles. Sometimes the background sounds drown out the conversations. All conversations are logged into a transcript found on the game menu. Sen interacts with many people, all of whom are as expressionless as he is. Through these conversations, you learn more about the planet and the people. Sen, in his amnesiac state, is unsure which faction to side with, and the player is also kept in the dark as to his intentions.
I cannot praise enough the care taken to make this game playable by all. First of all, once the game is installed you do NOT need the CD in the drive to play it. Second, when a puzzle is solved, you go directly into the cut scene – there is no question that it is done correctly. Third, there is a warp cursor which allows you to go to the next area without a great deal of walking. Fourth, the 3D maneuverability is cleverly done – there are no dizzying panned motions, and movement is by mouse, keyboard or a combination of both. I chose the mouse, and have found only one point where Sen needed to “jump up” a step, requiring only a tap of the spacebar to accomplish this. The forward, backward, up, down, left, and right movements are done with the right mouse button, and the left button is used for selecting or picking up items. The use of inventory is minimal and very easy to apply. This right button movement took me all of three minutes to become comfortable with, and I’m not terribly dexterous in a game environment.
The game world is used to the fullest. There is an entire town you can and must travel through, and you can examine every single bit of it up close if you wish. You can go to a cliff, and look off in the distance, look down on the scenery below, or look back toward the path you took. In a few scenes, you must look above you to accomplish a task. The 3D rendering is done beautifully, and with a great deal of attention to detail. The only down side to this artistic choice is that it can take up to a full minute to load a scene, leaving you staring at a black monitor while you wait. I felt this was a very minor issue, since the world view is simply stunning.
The range of puzzles in this game is from moderately difficult to horrific. The most difficult ones are what I will call “walkthrough-proof”. They are either randomly reset, or you are working against AI to get to your goal, or the solution is SO difficult to achieve even with a walkthrough to guide you that you must actually devise your own methods to accomplish the goals (or, perish the thought, get a saved game from someone else). Among the difficult ones are the laser pods in the spaceship. You must rotate the pods, which are lined up in series of rows, to converge the three laser outflows into one spot. Another is the skyport maze puzzle. This takes place in a football field sized area where you must view from below the placement of the walkway you will need to follow, since the level you will walk on above is covered with fog. If you miss, you will fall through and the maze will reset. This one is indeed diabolical. There is one timed sequence puzzle, but if the correct order of travel is chosen, it is not difficult to achieve in the limited time given to you.
As far as the puzzle integration with the story, all the puzzles enable you to move to areas that would be blocked from you otherwise. Some are of the “build a bridge” variety; others open a portal to you. The puzzles in the spiritual world are often plant structures or natural forces and blend perfectly into this environment. The ones on the technical side are more mechanized, and involve mathematics, optics, electronics and structures. Both areas require the use of security measures for passage, a realistic scenario in a region with two warring tribes. While some have criticized this game as being a “bridge-building” game, in fact the puzzles were really quite varied, and mostly integral to the storyline.
I must admit that I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this game. I kept wishing throughout that the story had been more original, and that the characters had some personality that you could care about and identify with, and I found that difficult to do here. The protagonist is as expressive and likable as a 2X4 piece of wood. The plot is another trite remake, like dozens of others. The voice acting is adequate, no more, no less. The sounds are well done, if a bit on the loud side. The music, where present is unobtrusive and forgettable. The cut scenes, though done faultlessly, take something away from the player. But to give due credit, this game shows what can be done with a 3D adventure game, and is executed brilliantly from that perspective. The environments are exquisitely designed, and a great deal of fun to explore. The movement is very easy and flowing, and gives the player a wonderful window into this world. Though the puzzles are very difficult, most of them were enjoyable as well as challenging.
Score 7.5/10 – It would have scored higher for what I consider to be groundbreaking movement control in a 3D adventure game and gorgeously designed worlds, but there were just too many mediocre areas.
Pentium III 800 MHz or Equivalent
(Pentium III 1.6 GHz recommended)
128 MB RAM (256 MB for windows XP)
64 MB Hardware T&L Direct 3D compatible Video Card with
DirectX 8.1 compatible driver (128MB recommended)
DirectSound compatible 16 bit sound card with
DirectX 8.1 compatible driver
Windows compatible keyboard and mouse
With special thanks for the editing skills of Bacardi Jim and Mystic Rainbow.
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