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Video Game / Magical Drop

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Puzzles, Tarot Motifs, and Fanservice

Magical Drop is a series of competitive color-matching puzzle games created by the now-defunct Data East. It is the company's swan song on several levels: Magical Drop III was their final arcade game, while Magical Drop F was their final major console game and one of the last games published by the company in general.

Like a certain other wildly-popular puzzle game, Magical Drop has roots in Russia: Data East employees came across a compilation of small-scale Russian computer games and noticed a puzzle game by the name of Drop-Drop. Drop-Drop is a simple affair where columns of tiles descend from the ceiling of the playfield, and players attempt to clear the field by grabbing and tossing individual tiles until several with the same picture are lined up vertically. Seeing potential in this obscure DOS game, Data East obtained a license and put their own spin on the title to create their entry into the competitive puzzle subgenre kickstarted by Puyo Puyo 2. Instead of as many as seven different unique pieces, there are four color balloons and "special" field-clearing balloons that correspond to each color. Instead of Drop-Drop's minimalist aesthetic, the game is drenched in Tarot Motifs, with a cutesy cast similar to Puyo Puyo's wacky stable of dungeon crawler characters. Instead of solo play, the game is a battle against the CPU or another player.

Part of makes the gameplay of Magical Drop stand out is its heavy focus on reflexes and continuous action, as opposed to Puyo Puyo and similar games that focus on the construction of a large chain and then doing nothing but watching once it is set off. While it is possible to build similar chains in Magical Drop, exploiting the fact that vertically matching three balloons of one color takes any horizontally-matching balloons with them, it is far from the most optimal way to play. Instead, players are intended to take advantage of the fact that they are free to grab and drop balloons while other balloons are disappearing to create chains on the fly. At the highest levels, be it the CPU or another player, stopping for any significant amount of time is a recipe for disaster.

The characters are not just aesthetic dressing in Magical Drop either; there are subtle changes to the way that the game plays depending on the character, from the special balloons at their disposal to the balloons that they drop into their opponent's field to even the "damage" formula in later games. But speaking of aesthetics, the first two games' respective final bosses are attractive ladies that tend to be what many people remember about the games.

Games in the series include:

  • Magical Drop: The original, initially developed for Data East's proprietary arcade hardware. As Fool, Chariot, High Priestess, Magician, Star, or Devil, players must defeat their peers before taking on World, the three-eyed goddess of Magical Land. It received an Updated Re-release named Magical Drop Plus 1! that adds an additional level of polish and a solo play mode where players can aim for a high score without having to worry about an AI opponent. Plus 1! was released in North America and Europe as Chain Reaction.
  • Magical Drop II: Jumping to SNK's Neo Geo, Magical Drop II features significantly different aesthetics while bringing several gameplay refinements such as a heavily-expanded solo mode, more lenient Special Balloon rules (they can now be matched with standard Balloons), and Rainbow Balloons that are similar to Special Balloons but works with any color that is used to clear it. Five of the six playable characters from the original game, plus World and a new heroine named Justice, battle their way to Dominatrix villainess Empress, taking down her lackeys Devil and Strength along the way. The Japanese version also includes a challenge mode named Flash Mode that is inexplicably dropped from the international versions.
  • Magical Drop III: Data East's final arcade game is a massive expansion of the concepts introduced from the first two games. Every single Major Arcana from the traditional Tarot deck is represented in the game, including a new version of Strength that is more accurate to the card's traditional depiction. The traditional Vs. CPU mode now contains branching paths and even more hidden bosses as players attempt to topple Fortune and her Dragon Tower. The last remaining control issues are ironed out, attack patterns are much more intricate, and attack rows now drop unevenly into the opponent's field adding an additional level of danger. Flash Mode is replaced by the board game-esque Adventure mode, as players race with the CPU to be the first to take their revenge on Empress. In addition to the original Neo Geo release, the Playstation port was translated and released in Europe. Magical Drop III inspired a trio of handheld games: the Neo Geo Pocket Color Magical Drop Pocket, Magical Drop for Wonderswan (which combines the gameplay of Magical Drop III with the artstyle and music of Magical Drop F), and the western-exclusive Game Boy Color Magical Drop.
  • Magical Drop F - Daibouken mo Rakujyanai!: The fourth game, released exclusively for the Playstation, features a more traditional anime artstyle and experiments with character-specific items that have various effects on the field. The game also features an RPG-esque mode starring Justice, replacing the Adventure mode of its predecessor.
  • Magical Drop V: Developed by French indie team Golgoth Studio and published by UTV Ignition, Magical Drop V released exclusively on Steam. It featured none of the traditional single-player modes beyond the standard CPU gauntlet, but implemented characters and gameplay from the cancelled Data East puzzle game Ghostlop. The game was delisted from Steam in 2020, meaning that it is impossible to legally obtain if you don't already own it.
  • Magical Drop VI: Developed by Storm Trident and Highball Games and published by Forever Entertainment, the sixth mainline entry released on the Nintendo Switch and PC (via Steam and In contrast to V, this game features versions of all five single-player modes from II and III; it also introduces "Instant Move", which allows players to immediately warp their cursor to the edges of the field.

Compare Money Puzzle Exchanger, a Neo Geo game that is Magical Drop WITH COINS AND MAGICAL GIRLS. So much so that Data East actually took its developer to court.

No relation to Magical Doropie.


  • Anti-Frustration Features: Most of the games lower the difficulty whenever the player uses a continue.
  • Art-Shifted Sequel: Every mainline game except Magical Drop III (which is a straightforward Art Evolution) features a noteworthy aesthetic shift:
    • The character design of Magical Drop II is closer to an evolution to a full-on shift, retaining similar massive eyes, spherical heads, and slightly Super-Deformed proportions. Everything else about the game's graphics, on the other hand, is much brighter and more colorful than its predecessor.
    • Magical Drop F swaps to a more traditional anime artstyle, completely leaving behind the super deformed artstyle of its predecessors and employing a more subdued color palette.
    • Magical Drop V embraces super-deformed character design once again with very simple colors employed.
    • Magical Drop VI features relatively lanky character designs with matured faces, while simultaneously being as colorful as the Neo Geo games.
  • Artificial Stupidity:
    • For some reason, the Magical Drop AI in Magical Drop V regularly dips into this (to the point where Death outright breaks most of them in under 10 seconds). Unfortunately, the Ghostlop AI goes to the other extreme and edges into Perfect Play A.I. (especially if the rank gets jacked up from defeating Black Pierrot), forcing fights against them to go to quota.
    • The AI in Magical Drop VI is insanely dimwitted, often moving at a glacial pace and making obvious errors even on higher difficulty settings. It's more surprising when the AI actually manages to string together a decently-sized chain.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Some of the characters' wishes upon the titular Magical Drops go horribly wrong. For example, Hanged Man (who is perpetually hanging upside down) asks to be normal for a day; his wish is granted and he finally gets to walk on the ground...while everyone else hangs in midair.
  • Competence Zone: Much larger than many of its puzzle game brethren. Even excluding the Really 700 Years Old characters, the roster's ages range from 1 to 75 years old, with less than a third of the cast being teenagers.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: In higher difficulties, your opponent moves via teleportation. III in particular absolutely loathes the idea of a single-credit clear. On the standard difficulty, the game makes the player face 2-4 characters that are almost mathematically-impossible to beat without dumbing down the AI via continuing, with the exact number varying based on how well you've played up to that point. It doesn't help that three of those four characters are ridiculous regardless of their AI.
  • Depending on the Writer: Due to the series' checkered localization history, the way the characters are presented vary wildly. Data East consistently and aggressively scrubbed any dialogue that implied that the cast has characterization beyond being eager tournament participants in their in-house localizations, the Aeon Genesis translation of the Super Famicom port of II gives the cast a variety of verbal quirks (such as Fool meowing, Star being a Valley Girl, and High Pristess speaking in old English), Magical Drop Pocket and the Swing! Entertainment translation of PSX III are more direct translations that only translate a few of the characters' quirks, and V plays with the characters' personalities based on what the developers read on the Magical Drop wiki of the time.
  • Difficulty by Acceleration: Played straight in Puzzle Mode, but downplayed in competition-based modes where Quota prevents matches from going too long.
  • Difficulty by Region: Whether intentional or due to something going wrong in the PAL conversion process, the European PSX version of III moves at a much slower pace than the Japanese version.
  • Dynamic Difficulty: In addition to the Anti-Frustration Feature mentioned above, Magical Drop III attempts this by sending the player to different opponents based on their clear time.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The ability to manually drop lines wasn't introduced until III.
    • The player had to match three item balloons in order to activate them in the first Magical Drop. In II, the player couldn't hold item and normal balloons at the same time.
  • Easter Egg: Pressing certain buttons on the character select screen in for WonderSwan causes the highlighted character to perform their battle animations.
  • Epileptic Flashing Lights: Magician's Magical Flash animation in III is a textbook example, with an incredibly intense flashing effect that can easily disorient even non-photosensitive gamers. Death's victim animation, which rapidly cycles through multiple colors, also deserves mention.
  • Fake Difficulty: Path of Destiny in VI is difficult for all the wrong reasons. Getting punted back to the start of the board for losing a duel is a extremely tough but ultimately avoidable penalty; the AI using items to drag you back 10 spaces or swap spaces with you is completely unavoidable and turns the whole mode into a Luck-Based Mission. The rules are also ill-explained and sometimes contradictory: Puzzle spaces don't explain that they require the puzzle to be solved with zero wasted steps, nor does the game explain that failing a challenge by filling the field is a Game Over while running out of time merely results in skipped turns.
  • Fun Size: In II, a miniature version of themselves is the cursor. The dialogue scenes in both II and III have chibi interpretations of themselves.
  • Gameplay Grading:
    • Magical Drop V has this on each match, going from D to S. Originally, it was tied solely to speed in Story Mode and score in Versus mode, but the first major patch changed it to where you have to fulfill 3 conditions while winning to get an S rank (Get a 10 combo AND over 20,000 points in the stage without the match lasting more than a minute). Presumably, this was done because of the sheer difficulty of getting to the 200-balloon quota in under 20 seconds that the Ghostlop characters usually force you to do.
    • In a bizarre take on this trope, the Japanese version of Magical Drop III has the "Today's Fortune" segment at the end of arcade playthroughs, that grades the player based on ill-explained criteria and provides the player with a fortune based on their grades.
  • Guest Fighter: In Magical Drop V: Bruce, McCoy, and Mushman from Ghostlop
  • Inconsistent Dub:
    • Are the puzzle pieces Balloons, Drops, or Jewels?
    • Is High Priestess interested in astrology or astronomy? (Japanese materials are clear that it's the latter.)
    • The puzzle-solving mode in Magical Drop II is named Flash Mode in the ACA NeoGeo ports' manual and "Ah Hah!" Mode in the Aeon Genesis Super Famicom translation.
    • Is the little girl Strength named Daughter Strength, Strength II, or Strength-ko? For that matter, is her pet Gao-Gao or Rawr-Rawr?
    • The European PSX version of Magical Drop III changes Wheel of Fortune to Luck despite all other versions, including the European arcade version, sticking with the Japanese name. Likewise, the European PSX version renames Temperance to "Modesty" virtually everywhere except the actual character select screen.
  • Instant-Win Condition: Quota. The game keeps track of how many balloons have been cleared; when one player meets the Quota, the match ends right then and there.
  • Interface Screw: The nature of many items in Magical Drop F. Examples include Emperor's (slows down the opponent's clown cursor) and Empress's (flashes her character portrait on top of the opponent's field) items.
  • Luck-Based Mission: Dedicated Magical Drop fans have discovered that there is actually very little randomness involved in the competitive modes, with the fields being made of preset strips of balloons and attack patterns in the first two games being easily-recognizable. The intricate attack formula introduced in Magical Drop 3 appears to be a way to make damage lines far less predictable.
  • Magical Land: The setting of the series is literally titled Magical Land, existing within a magical book titled Magical Drop.
  • Market-Based Title: Played straight for Chain Reaction, the name that Magical Drop Plus 1! went under internationally. Heavily downplayed with the sequels; the international titles use Roman numerals while the Japanese versions use Arabic numerals, but that's the only difference.
  • Match-Three Game: A rare "launcher" type puzzle game.
  • Night and Day Duo: The Good path in VI's story mode ends with the player selecting one of Sun or Moon to convince Fortune to join forces with World. The duo is also unlocked simultaneously for Versus mode after beating Puzzle Mode on Hard.
  • Oddball in the Series: The Playstation and Saturn ports of the first Magical Drop ditch the Tarot Motifs in favor of completely unrelated characters and prerendered graphics. One of the selling points of the Magical Drop 3 + Wonderful release for the Playstation is an actual faithful port of Magical Drop Plus 1! instead of this "3D" version.
  • Optional Boss:
    • In Magical Drop II, Black Pierrot is the True Final Boss (reached by 1-credit-clearing the game)
    • In Magical Drop III, Black Pierrot occupies a "Special Stage" slot immediately before Tower, accessed by having 150,000 points and 3 consecutive victories before fighting Tower.
    • In Magical Drop V, Black Pierrot occupies an Extra Stage slot between Empress and Ghostlop character mushman, and requires you to get above a certain score and maintain a high rank to access. Unlike his two other appearances, he can be unlocked in this game by defeating him and finishing the game at the heightened difficulty rank.
  • Perfect Play A.I.: At release, the Ghostlop AI in Magical Drop V would either be defeated in the first 5 seconds by sheer luck or never miss its target forcing you to go to quota, which basically prevented you from obtaining an S-rank in Story Mode on stages 9 and 11.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation:
    • The Super Famicom ports of the first two games use six columns in their playfields instead of the arcade version's seven, as the only other option would be to shrink the puzzle pieces in order to fit the console's resolution.
    • Magical Drop Pocket and Magical Drop for Wonderswan emulate 1P vs CPU by having the CPU character represented as a fluctuating gauge and giving players the victory once that gauge is filled. Pocket has a much smaller field size to accomodate for the NGPC's screen, while For Wonderswan uses the handheld's vertical orientation and emphasizes the pieces' emblems to smooth over issues caused by the lack of a color screen.
  • Reformulated Game: The Saturn version of Magical Drop III is very different from the arcade version beyond graphics: the game is slower, the 1P vs CPU mode has an entirely different structure and uses single player-exclusive balloons like Bubbles and Bombs, and Adventure mode is likewise modified. The Japanese Playstation version uses this version as a Arrange Mode alongside an alleged arcade port of III, but the European version removes the Arcade mode playing this trope completely straight again.
  • Secret Character: In III, Hermit, Hanged Man, Moon, Temperance, Tower, Fortune, and Father Strength can be played as through a secret code. Press C three times quickly when the timer matches the highlighted character's arcana number. Father Strength requires holding the C button while selecting Daughter Strength.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: If another character gets to Empress's Castle before the player in III's Adventure Mode, the game ends without the player's character getting their revenge on her.
  • Some Dexterity Required: As the player's clown can be controlled even while pieces are clearing, Magical Drop is less reliant on the traditional "gravity" chains than Falling Blocks games like Puyo Puyo. The trade-off is that Magical Drop instead relies on very fast reflexes and split-second thinking. Good luck getting to the end of Magical Drop Plus 1, much less getting past the blatantly-cheating AI of II or III, without moving about as fast as the game will allow you to.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": The series goes back and forth as to whether or not characters are referred to as "The _____" like the Tarot cards that inspire them. An easy example of this discrepancy are the respective character select screens of Magical Drop II (which does use "The") and Magical Drop III (which does not).
  • Stalked by the Bell: Flash Mode in the Japanese version of II challenges players to clear preset puzzles as a timer counts down. Should the timer reach 0, the ceiling will rapidly descend in an attempt to eliminate the player.
  • Stripperiffic:
    • The World wears only a floating toga strip. The funny thing is the game actually covered her up. If you look at the artwork on the Rider-Waite tarot deck, of which the character designs are based on (see Tarot Motifs below), you'll see that her costume is even more revealing.
    • The Empress as well. A Leather clad Femme Fatale with a Noblewoman's Laugh, bouncy breasts, and a whip...
  • Stylistic Suck: The arcade endings in III, as well as the endings in V, are depicted as crude doodles.
  • Tarot Motifs: Each of the characters is named and modeled after a Major Arcanum. Exactly how close they are to the actual card depends on the character.
    • The Empress does double duty by representing both the reversed and upright arcana. Her default, dominatrix persona is the reversed arcana, which twists motherly love into smothering and controlling. Breaking her free from that corruption in II will revert her back to the original motherly persona associated with the upright arcana. Her personality swap is also integrated into her victory animation in III.
    • The Lovers, on the other hand, is a five-year-old girl who rides around on a pig — try figuring that one out.
    • The Strength is a virtuous and courageous tomboy with a pet lion. Funnily enough, their first iteration of Strength (a huge, masculine brute) was the complete opposite of this. He still exists, but as a secret character.
    • The Hanged Man is upside down. Constantly.
    • The World, who is not only Ms. Fanservice, but, ironically enough, the ribbon that strategically covers her is a slight departure. The original tarot card typically depicts her chest exposed, The World here has it covered.
    • Heck, even the game pieces count too. The symbols for each color represent the Minor Arcana. (Red, Wand; Yellow, Sword; Green, Cups; Blue, Pentacles)
  • Tournament Arc: Most of the games are centered around a yearly tournament whose grand prize is a wish-granting Magical Drop.
  • Updated Re-release: The first Magical Drop received one named Magical Drop Plus 1! that introduces an "endless" single-player mode alongside a bit of aesthetic polish. The English version, Chain Reaction, is based on Plus 1! rather than the original.
  • Verbal Tic: Many of the characters have them in the Japanese version, for example:
    High Priestess: "______ zamasu~!"
    Magician: "______ de aru~!"
    Star: "______ desu~!"
    Temperance: "______ kana~"
    World: "______ desu wa"
    • Lampshaded in the Japanese version of II; the difficulty levels for the Puzzle and Flash modes are labeled by character, and a given character's Verbal Tic is shown when they're highlighted.
  • Victory by Endurance: V trends towards this, with the game generally requiring larger chains to send lines than its predecessors. By comparison, it's not uncommon to see matches between two high-level players in III last for 20-30 seconds.
  • Welcome to Corneria: Each character only has one or two pre-battle lines in the arcade version of III. This is taken up to eleven in the non-Japanese versions, where there are only a handful of pre-battle lines in general regardless of the characters involved.