Negima! Magister Negi Magi! is one of Ken Akamatsu’s most recognizable works. Finished in 2013 after the manga concluded it’s nine year run, it tells the story of ten year old wizard Negi Springfield who as part of his training is forced to move to Japan and teach at an all-girls school. The school itself, Mahora Academy, actually holds a lot of magic secrets that are seemingly isolated from the public at large. Negi is put in charge of thirty-one students (and fans of Idolm@aster thought they had to keep up with a lot) who over the course of his tenure grows to not only become well acquainted with each but also helps each student individually with their own obstacles.
The story of Negima! attempts to be a raunchy fan-service comedy, but as it progresses it more comes off as a seinen “boys” series, with a focus on one-on-one fights and large magical battles. Part of this stems from the narrative itself, where Negi’s goal is to find as many “partners”, as in individuals to boost his magical power, as possible. Early the heroine of the story establishes herself as Kagurazaka Asuna, who becomes the first ‘normal’ person to see Negi use his magic, and the eventual story sees her playing a large role. The fan-service and humor moments are plentiful but also take a seat directly next to most of the action and narrative at large.
So how would a video game of this sort of series potentially function? That’s right; we’re playing another visual novel.
Well, rather it’s not completely a visual novel. The game was released around 2004 – a key point to consider, as this game released very early in the manga’s life prior to the action oriented direction the series would take in later years. It’s gameplay is a combination of a tactical visual novel RPG. Possibly the most terrible way to describe it but the only logical way I can place it into genre. Once you pass the IN-CRE-DI-BLY LONG introduction sequence – trust me; it DRAGS on – you get to actually play the game.
The game itself is split into three segments; a third person action sequence, a teaching life element, and visual novel events. If you have played Rockstar’s Bully, the action sequences are very similar (surprisingly the game’s world is well constructed and moves smoothly, unlike Bully did sometimes). You move Negi around and interact with the students of Mahora academy. For Negima! aficionados there are over one hundred and fifty students to interact with, including Negi’s core thirty-one students. The action sequences are pretty simple. You walk up to a student, initiate conversation, and are presented with responses. They’re the type of responses in agreeing vocally, agreeing with body movement, or changing subjects entirely. The game gives you visual clues as to which to pick, with some sequences being ambiguous. The more sequences you get right the more points you score, raising that student’s trust level towards Negi. Some students, like Miyazaki Nodoka, already have a strong deposition towards Negi and are easier to converse with. Negi can also forcibly change depositions with his magic, and his magic antics are fairly faithful to the manga. Many spells remove clothing or cause issues for everyone around Negi, as side effects of sort, or he can cast a love spell and when everyone gathers let loose his trademarked sneeze(TM).
The teaching life sequences are as they sound; teaching Negi’s home room sessions. At first they play out rather simply because the player will not have many choices available to them. Progressing into the game unlocks more options and responses, with many of these being driven by Negi’s interactions in the action sequences. The students in class are also responsive to one another, which forces the player to try and raise stats all around. If one student is particularly ignorant on a subject or slacks off, students around them will notice and do the same. It’s near possible to make the entire class fall asleep if you simply do not interact. The obvious goal is to have all the students have a fairly high deposition towards Negi, but some of the ‘stats’ can leave you scratching your head (one is literally labeled ‘sexiness’, which somehow can change with Negi’s interactions).
The visual novel sequences are your run-of-the-mill visual novel interactions. Most of them are forced, and often present choices for the player. In some cases the sequences will have small mini games, and this is where the game’s Cero 18 rating primary comes into play. These mini-games and side sequences are laden with fan service. They range from buttoning a students’ shirt, measuring busts, using the analog thumb pads for… interesting purposes. There’s a good deal of cringe. Honestly though, for something like Negima! it’s not completely out of place.
These cycles just repeat themselves over and over until the story runs it’s course.
My biggest gripe with the title is with the rather large stat and tracking information; there is a LOT of information you have to keep up with as the player, and part of me thinks a good deal of this is bogged down by the massive amount of interaction that can take place. If the game focused more on the core thirty-one students in Negi’s class and just everyone else as pure NPCs it would have increased the pacing some. Part of that pacing is dragged down by that there really just isn’t a lot to do in the action sequences. Mahora academy is well modeled and it’s fun to just explore the locations… a few times that is. After a while you realize it’s the same sort of play every time a particular sequence loads. There’s nothing that could really give incentive to really dig deep into some of the minor areas like side quests, which is unfortunate because Negi’s character deals with a lot in the story and it would have been interesting to explore some of the early sequences in the story such as when he constructs the love potion for Asuna.
As the Negima! story progressed two sequels to this title were created, and they both expand upon the narrative established here while bringing in more features and gameplay. None of these games would have ever released in the US, and had they not had the Negima! focus I’m not sure they would have functioned well as a stand-alone title during that time. As to how this title is played, I have a PS2 slim with a swap disk. It works decently to play PS2 imports. I bought this game not long after it released in Japan, so I have had it for some time.
My final thoughts are I think there was a missed opportunity with Negima!, with the series becoming more action oriented it makes me wonder if a game of this sort with say some side scrolling action sequences included would have worked better, similar to Little Witch Academia on the PS4. Unfortunately we won’t know, and with Negima! finished the series is unlikely to be explored further.