It hasn't taken the Game Boy Advance long to emerge as a premier RPG platform, with a slew of classic and original games on the way to the handheld. Joining such franchise titles as Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis and Fire Emblem: Sealed Sword is Magical Vacation, the first release from the new Nintendo-funded developer Brownie Brown. Though the team is new, its members aren't: many of them came from Square, where they had contributed to the Seiken Densetsu games.

  Are we there yet?
Magical Roadtrip

   Magical Vacation stars a band of sixteen young mages attending a magic school. As in Legend of Mana, players are free to choose the gender and name of the lead character who will be joined by a variety of characters later. While on the titular vacation from the magic academy, the gang is attacked by monsters and is forced to escape into a parallel world, the Plane of Light. The students are separated while traveling to this new world, and it's up to the player to reunite then and find a way to return home.

   During their travels, the young students will go on many self-contained adventures and recruit new allies, including a build-it-yourself "magic doll" similar to the Golem in Legend of Mana. As the player recovers each of the lost students, new areas and scenarios will begin to open up. Brownie Brown is touting Magical Vacation as a "communication RPG" and the game will use the GBA's multiplayer capabilities to their fullest. Certain scenarios are designed specifically for multiplayer; presumably, friends can join in with the use of a link cable. While it isn't known exactly how this will function -- will the quest be "completed" in one game or both? -- the focus on multiplayer gaming should alleviate some of the aimlessness seen in other episodic RPGs.

   While the art style and picaresque plot bear a strong resemblance to Legend of Mana, the actual gameplay seems to be much different. Magical Vacation uses a grid-based, realtime battle system with up to six characters in the player's party. Though both the players and the enemies will act at the same time, each character's position and orientation on the grid will have a strategic importance for attack and defense.

In *magical* battle
In battle

   In keeping with with the game's premise, magic will be a key component in battles, due to an expansive system of elemental alignments. Leaving behind the single-digit number of elements in most RPGs, Magical Vacation sports sixteen different elements, ranging from the mundane, like fire and water, to the more creative, such as insect and sound. Each character and creature has its own elemental alignment, of course, but all the elements also have a unique Elemental Spirit. These spirits can be befriended during the course of the game and then summoned in battle for additional help. Players will also be able to "trade" their characters' alignments over a link cable to further customize their parties.

    Multiplayer RPGs are always a rare commodity. The members of Brownie Brown were partially responsible for one of the best, and the GBA may be the perfect platform on which to try it again. Though Magical Vacation has no direct connection to the Seiken Densetsu series, fans of lighthearted, whimsical RPGs will be able find out whether the developers can repeate their success when Magical Vacation ships in Japan this December. Americans will have to wait a little longer. Nintendo has announced the game for a North American release, but has yet to set a firm date.

Preview by Fritz Fraundorf and Zak McClendon, GIA.
Magical Vacation
Developer Brownie Brown
Publisher Nintendo
Genre Action RPG
Medium Cartridge (? mb)
Platform Game Boy Advance
Release Date  12.07.01
Magical Vacation hands-on impressions
14 screenshots
27 character designs