Back in 2011, Madoka Magica took the magical girl genre by storm as they deconstructed the whole genre by making it dark and filled with drama. As expected, the show received so much critical acclaim that it eventually received three featured length movies, a bunch of manga spinoffs and even a licensed video game, both were made by Bandai Namco. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica The Battle Pentagram is a sequel to the first portable game, which swaps the rogue-like dungeon crawling for a hack and slash gameplay on the PlayStation Vita.
Warning: Contains some spoilers from the Anime and movies.
The story starts from the first timeline when Akemi Homura got released from the hospital and transfers into a new school. She is a timid girl who lacks self-confidence. On the way back from school, she finds herself in a witch’s barrier with no way to defend herself until Madoka and Mami comes to rescue her. Being moved by their abilities as magical girls, she eventually makes a contract with Kyubey to become one.
Before she knew it, she experienced several traumatic inducing events from the various timelines with Mami getting eaten by Charlotte, Sayaka turning into a witch, Kyouko sacrificing herself to defeat Oktavia. Shortly after, Walpurgisnacht Night came. After she defeats it with Madoka’s help, both girls were on the verge of becoming witches. Madoka clears Homura’s Soul Gem and asks her to go back in time and have all 5 magical girls work together while strengthening their bonds so that they can beat Walpurgisnacht Night. Shortly after Madoka turns into a witch, Homura goes back in time again where the actual story begins.
The gameplay is split into two sections, a visual novel gameplay where you experience character events during the daytime and nighttime, which focuses on witch hunting, retrieving items or defeating familiar bosses. You can basically choose any character event to view and depending on the one that you select will determine how much bond value (絆値) will increase (events involving just one character will not increase it). When you reach a certain bond level (indicated by the big hearts), it will unlock a special event to view. Having a partner accompany you when playing a stage can also increase these values too. Also, if you have 4 to 6 big hearts, it will unlock the ability to use combination magic through an event. Lastly, increasing the bonds can unlock stats boosts when partnered up with a particular character. As expected, these levels will also determine the endings. In total, there are four.
As for the combat, it’s what you would expect. You go around beating up familiars and witches based from the anime and the movie as a magical girl. After clearing the prologue, you can play as any of the five girls, each uses a different weapon of choice.
There are several types of attacks. First is the melee attack, which is your basic attack. If you perform a melee attack while in mid-air, you can perform an aerial attack along with other special attacks by tapping the control stick in either direction while pressing the attack button, which consumes MP. Additionally, each character has a set of special magic, which has different ranges and power. Some magical girls also have magic that have special effects such as Homura’s ability to stop time for a few seconds and Madoka summoning Kyubey, which gets used as a decoy for enemies to attack. Of course, using special magic not only uses MP, but also has a cool time period. The cool-down period can be reduced through a support skill.
If you bring a partner, you can perform special attacks involving the player character and your partner. As time goes on, the tension meter will increase, enabling you to use combination attacks and magic. Combination attack is a special attack that uses 1 tension, which allows the player character and partner to launch an attack at the same time and deal damage to enemies surrounding the character. Combination magic is the most powerful attack that not only deals a lot of damage, but also has a larger damage radius. This can be useful for large hordes of enemies, but it also drains the tension meter at the same time. Combination Magic can only be unlocked after viewing a special event tied to a character’s bond levels with someone else. Nonetheless, HP, MP, time and tension can be replenished by retrieving items dropped from defeated familiars. Of course, you can also fill your MP meter and revive yourself by using Soul Gem points. However, if it drops to 0 and your character gets knocked out, you will fail the stage.
As you progress, the stages get progressively difficult. I have to admit that the second half of the game gets really difficult depending on what stage you choose to play (four or five stars being the most difficult). There were some instances where I couldn’t finish a stage without getting knocked out multiple times. To make life easier, there is a gameplay mode called Samara of the Witches’ Bai sema (輪廻の魔女結界). This is basically where you can level grind by playing stages you previously beaten along with extra stages such as Oktavia von Seckendorff’s stage, which are not present in the main game. However, you can only raise levels and Soul Gem levels (from defeating witches) when you clear stages in this mode, not bond levels. The grade will determine how much experience and bond levels you will gain and is dependent on the difficulty.
Like the last game, each character has their own level, which determines their stats. When your characters level up, not only their stats will increase, they will also gain the ability to unlock higher-level special magic and learn new support skills. Unlocking stronger special magic and support skills requires spell books, which you can get from clearing a stage. In addition, you can gain strength points. You can use these points to raise a specific stat on a specific character to deal more damage, take more hits or move faster.
Overall Madoka Magica The Battle Pentagram is a very enjoyable magical girl action game. I think the developers have done a good job making the gameplay faithful to the actual show. However, it’s not without a few flaws. While the lock on features work great most of the time, there were some rough edges when the player’s character pushes an enemy that you locked on off the stage. Also, the graphics look a little dated, which is expected. At least the witches, their barriers and familiars look and behave exactly like they do in the anime. Aside from these flaws, the story and gameplay was very enjoyable even though I felt that they could have done more if it’s not restricted to the movies. Otherwise, I would definitely recommend this game if you enjoy action games and the Madoka Magica franchise as a whole.
Strengths: The action gameplay is well-executed, enjoyable story, very good depiction of the magical girls and witches/familiars from the series. The difficulty is good, but later stages can get really difficult.
Weaknesses: Mediocre graphics and some flaws with the lock-on functionality in a few instances. Also, the focus primarily on the movie source material (despite being an original story) somewhat limited the amount of new content such as new witches compared to the previous game.