What Madoka Magica fans should expect from Magia Record.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica is one of my favorite anime series ever created, and I’ve been genuinely hyped to play Magia Record since its English localization was announced.
Mind you, I wasn’t as excited for the typical mobile gacha gameplay as I was the story. After all, Magia Record is no ordinary spin-off game. Since its original 2017 release in Japan, Magia Record has gotten a manga adaptation, a stage play, and a full-on anime adaptation due this year. For Madoka Magica fans, Magia Record is a big deal. This is clearly the immediate future for the franchise, and it’s finally time for Western fans to see what all the fuss is about.
But now that the game is finally available on our mobile devices, is Magia Record actually worth your time? After diving into the content that’s available at launch, I can say that many Madoka Magica fans will love Magia Record… and some are going to absolutely hate it.
What is Magia Record?
Magia Record is a free-to-play, hero-collector mobile RPG set in the Puella Magi Madoka Magica universe. The game followed Iroha Tamaki, an original protagonist who is searching for her mysteriously forgotten sister. Along the way, she will meet a cast of new magical girls and familiar faces from the Puella Magi universe. This includes characters from spin-off manga such as Oriko Magica and Tart Magica.
Magia Record does require players to have watched Madoka Magica to understand the plot. However, there are no other prerequisites. Key plot points from the manga spin-offs can be easily inferred by context.
What Magia Record does right.
Magia Record‘s aesthetics are absolutely fantastic. The visual style is perfectly consistent with the anime, as are the new magical girl designs. The story is told through visual novel style sequences, and characters animate using a pleasing Live2D artstyle. There’s even fully original anime cutscenes that play when you summon new characters. More importantly, labyrinths and witches use the same paper puppet theater visuals that look just as unsettling as they did in the Madoka Magica anime.
The battle system gets the job done for the most part. Which is good, since Magia Record is virtually nothing but battles. Combat draws a lot from fellow anime mobile game Fate/Grand Order, though Magia Record brings a few key innovations. You’re dealt a “hand” of five discs that dictate which party members can attack each turn, and mixing and matching those attacks is crucial to succeed. Do you run out the gate with the strongest moves your hand has to offer, or do you prioritize setting up a stronger combo next turn? Magia Record does a good job of being accessible while remaining mechanically deep for hardcore players.
This is all tied together with a spectacular, albeit limited soundtrack. The tracks lifted from the Madoka Magica anime are stellar as always, but the new tunes are no slouch either. Even if you prefer to grind your mobile games while listening to podcasts, make sure to pop some headphones into your phone once in a while.
But what about the story?
Of course, the meat and potatoes here for Madoka Magica fans is the story. So how does it measure up?
Magia Record technically has good writing. The characters are likable and fun, if not a bit tropey in execution. The mystery of Iroha’s sister is a great hook that will leave you eager to discover how it ends. Aniplex’s localization work is also overall solid, despite a few minor editing blemishes. There’s a lot for anime fans to love.
The issue is this: Madoka Magica was no ordinary magical girl anime. This is a show fans love because it is unrelentingly dark and a brilliant deconstruction of the magical girl genre. Madoka Magica goes to great lengths to show that being a magical girl is a fate arguably worse than death, and these poor girls are considered cattle to the fiercely cold universe that dictates their existence.
Sure, nearly every episode of Madoka Magica ended with a twist that proved things can, indeed, get worse. But there was real commentary here underneath the grimdark storytelling. Even if the power of friendship can’t fell witches, the love magical girls share for each other is powerful in the face of how otherwise expendable they’re considered to be. This is why every tragic twist is so heartrending to the viewer. The characters don’t fight on behalf of the universe, they desperately struggle to maybe, just maybe, save the friends they have left.
There are so many moments from Madoka Magica that I want to dive deep into, but this is a review of Magia Record. And if you’re hoping for that same nihilistic tone from Magia Record, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
There’s no “Mami Moment” in Magia Record.
As of launch, three episodes of Magia Record‘s story are available. Madoka Magica fans know that three episodes is all it took the original series to hit us with the “Mami Moment,” arguably one of the most dramatic and shocking tonal twists years before Doki Doki Literature Club popularized the whole hidden horror gimmick.
Conversely, Magia Record ‘s three episodes fail to establish any tangible tension. By episode 2, the main characters functionally use the power of friendship to save themselves from a dire situation. By episode 3, we’re hit with a deus ex machina so massive that it becomes hard to take any danger the main characters are in seriously. I won’t spoil more than that, but I will say it takes a piece of existential horror for magical girls and basically turns it into a Persona.
Perhaps it’s too early to judge Magia Record so harshly. It flirts with darker themes, but it never hits levels that Madoka Magica fans will expect. And while my research of later Japanese episodes indicates things do get intense, a “Mami Moment” never happens. This is even uncharacteristic of the various spin-off manga from what I’ve read. Because of this, Magia Record often feels like a generic magical girl anime about eating sweets and making friends in between the occasional battle sequence.
If you are okay with this, the story is actually quite enjoyable. I normally wouldn’t criticize a mobile game spin-off so much, but Magia Record is primed to be the face of the franchise in the immediate future. I hope future episodes deliver the narrative hooks that Madoka Magica so effortlessly hit us with originally.
How’s the gacha?
Not gonna lie, getting your favorite characters in Magia Record is tough.
Magia Record uses a gacha system that’s typical in mobile games by this point. It’s easy to pull most of the Magia Record protagonists, but fan favorites like Madoka and Mami are locked behind a scarce four star rarity tier. Four star magical girls have a 1% chance to appear per pull, and even a rate-up for a particular girl only boosts her to a .6% chance.
There is a pity system here, which guarantees a four star magical girl to appear after 100 pulls. However, this counter is only active per rate-up banner and will reset once it is expired. Only chase a particular character if you’ve collected enough resources to snag the guaranteed drop.
To make matters worse, yes, you will need to roll dupes of magical girls to max out their power. This fortunately doesn’t make for that dramatic of an increase, so you shouldn’t feel pressured into getting 4 copies of a character necessarily. More importantly, according to veterans of the Japanese version, the game is balanced around common magical girls.
In other words, four star magical girls are not required to succeed. However, if you only care about using your favorite characters from the anime, this game’s low drop rates are going to burn you hardcore. Unless you got serious cash to burn, it’s going to take you a long while to collect your favorite characters and build your dream team. I recommend following my gacha game survival guide and rerolling if there’s a character you really want.
Your enjoyment of Magia Record depends on what kind of Madoka Magica fan you are.
If you enjoyed Madoka Magica for its deconstruction of the magical girl genre, Magia Record is going to be a huge disappointment. Similarly, if you dislike mobile gacha games for either their gameplay or monetization, Magia Record follows the usual treadmill of casual grinding and team building. In fact, it’s arguably the gacha game format that weakens the tension in Magia Record‘s plot, since you can’t realistically kill off characters that players spent good money to get.
On the other hand, if you love the larger Puella Magi universe and learning more about your favorite characters, there’s a lot to like about Magia Record. The art and music is on point, the characters are lovingly animated, and the original Japanese voice actresses are all here reprising their roles. The gacha gameplay is admittedly on par with “good” mobile gacha RPGs on the market, though not as generous as games like Dragalia Lost. If you like what Magia Record is offering, there’s hours of original content here to immerse yourself into.
As for me, I’ll continue to enjoy Magia Record despite my misgivings. It’s the video game equivalent of a filler episode: fun, flashy, funny, but of decidedly less substance. Yet it’s still more of a world I love, and I’m holding out hope that future episodes will reward the time I’ve invested. Until then, for my money, the best magical girl RPG is still Sailor Moon: Another Story.