One of Bandai Namco’s many anime tie-ins is a very obvious case of ‘cash-in’ yet there is still a decent amount of fun to be had underneath initial disappointment.
(For anyone wondering, the English version of the title is “The Irregular at Magic High School: Out of Order“)
World-building & Story
Like with many games based on manga/anime, there is an assumption that you’re aware of the characters; setting and overarching themes before playing the title. A large number of faces you’ll recognise return from the series and the majority of the game takes place within First Magic High. As with the anime, there will be a lot of exposition and confusing terms at first and I definitely think you’ll be struggling if the game is your only entry point into the world of Irregular at Magic High.
The setting of Mahouka is one of the most interesting thing about the series, a futuristic world where magic is a science and magicians are a resource which each nation tries to use. It remains an interesting backdrop throughout the game, but it is never really used much as the majority of the story focuses on character interactions.
One of the areas from the anime that does remain developed here is the CAD (Casting Assist Device) – a physical object which allows a magician to cast their spells. The CAD needs fine-tuning by another magician which allows the concept of the series to really come through – reaching a level of bonding that is strong enough with another character that allows them to tune your magic up to a powerful level.
The actual story, from what I can understand of it, wasn’t particularly special. You’ll get an opportunity to play as the majority of the characters from the anime in various battles against each other alongside their CAD tuning partner and they’ll chat about various events. There’s a ‘true’ ending storyline that goes a bit further and brings in an extra character from the anime, but it’s really nothing worth writing home about. Even if you can understand what’s going on and are a massive fan of the anime, I wouldn’t say the story here was essential in any way.
Presentation & Sound
Presentation-wise, the game fares slightly better although is still a mixed bag. To start off, as with many Japanese games of this kind, there’s really two distinct areas in the graphics – the visual novel-style sections for conversation and the in-game battle sections. The VN portions are fairly average – there’s not a particularly advanced level of animation on the 2D portraits but there’s nothing offensively bad either – it’s just as you’d expect.
Worth noting that the game’s only fanservice presentation comes from the CAD tuning sections. Here, your player character will eventually strip down to their underwear in order for the device to be fine-tuned further – however, it’s never anything more to it than this and there’s definitely no mini-games involved in this like you’d find in other series.
The other element of the game is the battles and these are the most mixed in their presentation. Character models themselves are decent enough – they’re at a level that you’d expect from a budget Japanese game really, in that they’re PS2-era but animate decently and certainly are good enough for a game like this.
In-game effects are also fine – there’s a few incredibly flashy spells (that tend to cause a lot of slowdown when used) but most of the time you’ll be casting more standard stuff that’s far less visually impressive, although is tonally consistent with the anime series which is something I appreciated.
The most confusingly mixed-in-presentation area of the game – for me at least – is the environments. Like many games of this kind, battles take place in small arenas based on different themes – in total there are nine different zones you’ll do battle in, although four of these are just dusk/night versions of existing places. The arenas are a mix which is quite difficult to describe – on the one hand, I quite enjoyed duking it out in daytime cityscape full of buildings to scale or a night time forest with trees everywhere to obscure your view of the enemies. On the other hand, environments are pretty uninspired and nothing new for a 3D brawler – they’re also full of copy-pasted assets and would be difficult to call anything close to impressive.
With the speed you’ll zip through them, I can’t say it’s anything too off-putting. Personally, I quite liked the environments – they may be generic, but they still work very well for the type of game this is.
What I will say works flawlessly throughout is sound – voice acting is fine; but the sound effects and particularly the OST are stellar. The noises made when your spells connect with an enemy are straight out of the anime and fit in very well. The OST is on a whole different level – full of memorable songs; fitting music and is just generally a tier above everything else in the game.
Gameplay & Content
The bulk of the game is in the combat system and I’ll come to that later, but it’s worth just briefly discussing the other elements of the title. The Visual Novel sections to progress the story are exactly what you’d expect from a game like this – linear but functional. They’re basic but they work for showing character interactions.
One extra element this game has over similar titles is the CAD tuning mechanic – as previously mentioned one of the main elements of Mahouka is the idea that each magician has a device through which they realise their magic. In order to boost the power of this, there is a mini-game which takes place between your playable character and their assist partner where the partner will fine-tune the device. This manifests itself as a slot-based minigame – you have three stats you can boost and basically have to stop the slots on a positive number in order to boost that particular stat – although you can land on a negative number too. Nothing mind-blowing or particularly interesting, but a nice little extra to the game.
On to the combat system – which I could sum up as “a good effort but has a number of issues”. The game is a 3D brawler and battles will involve either 1-4 people. You can zip around the arenas using magic to speed up your movement, and when you encounter an enemy you can either choose to melee attack or cast spells. Melee combat doesn’t involve anything more than mashing the attack button which results in some rather clunky animations, but magic has a little more nuance to it.
For starters, your CAD has multiple layers and you can switch between these to access different spells. Once you’ve chosen what you want to cast, you have to ‘charge’ it – basically press the button and wait for it to be ready (you can still move around while it is charging). Press the button again to cast the spell, but your ‘charge’ can be broken if you’re hit by any attack. This is useful as all spells have a casting animation so effectively you can stop enemies from attacking by using your own attacks if timed correct.
It’s at this point that problems start to appear, as certain attacks are just much better than others. A fast homing attack causes too little damage to be useful for anything other than breaking opponents cast, while a similar slower homing attack can cause incredible amounts of damage. It doesn’t help that the camera flits all over the place while you’re locked onto the opponents making it difficult to get your bearings a lot of the time.
But realistically, this isn’t meant to be a serious competitive fighter, and as a mindless flashy brawler it pretty much succeeds (it somewhat reminds me of Destrega from the PS1 era). The special attacks are a particular high point – filling the screen full of effects and often causing you to get a full-screen clear of enemies. It’s a shame, then, that these attacks nearly always cause massive amounts of slowdown.
Aside from brawling, the game has two other modes – ‘territory collapse’ and ‘psion flag’. The former requires you to locate and destroy a sphere before your enemy, while the latter is ‘capture the flag’ where is flag is a certain piece of territory that you need to stand next to in order to control. Neither of these modes are as enjoyable as the fighting and both are fairly easily won – normally by following the AI and beating them once you get to the sphere/flag.
Content is another area the game lacks in – story mode consists of merely playing through the three game modes and then replaying one of them, with a final free-for-all battle to finish it off. There is a ‘true end’ mode which has some additional battles, but it’s nothing substantial. Outside of story mode you can take part in free battles or CAD tuning, but this doesn’t add much to the game.
Ease of understanding
Compared to something like Gundam Breaker, there’s a lack of English available for in-game text – menus are all in Japanese. With that said, it’s fairly easy to grasp the fundamentals of the game – there’s a tutorial before you start anything that teaches you about the combat, and the aforementioned CAD tuning is done through slot machines which are universally understandable.
While you may be lost on the story, I wouldn’t say this is a particularly difficult import to get a grasp on and enjoy like I did with a poor understanding of the language.
As a cheap game based on an anime series, Out of Order is exactly what you’d expect – some what of a cash-in. Despite this the title is more than functional and there’s definitely fun to be had with the game if you’re willing to give it a try, just don’t expect anything you haven’t seen before.