While many have been inspired by the more eclectic Mother series, not many have been able to recapture the same mystique and energy given off by those titles. More often than not, there have been massive flops when recreating that formula, and fans have not been able to enjoy them nearly as much. There is nothing wrong with paying homage or being inspired by a certain style of game, but the Mother franchise has proven to be an incredibly hit or miss foundation for a game. (See Undertale and YIIK: A Postmodern RPG) That being said, Ikenfell is a pleasant jaunt through what seems to be the most modernized version of this formula, albeit with its own few unique qualities. The systems and style of Ikenfell prove to be a nice starting point for people looking to get into a new RPG, even casually.
As the game begins, you’re introduced to a very cut and dry plot that serves as the foundation for not only the story, but the world. Ikenfell does a very good job in crafting a world using few words and not much exposition. There are ordinaries and magic users, there’s a school for magic users, your sister has gone missing. It’s simple and clean, honestly for the best. Rather than boring you with long-winded text boxes, Ikenfell gets straight to the point. This allows the story to flow quickly even after longer segments of puzzle solving and combat. That being said, the simple story is enough of a foundation to build from when constructing a complex story, and Ikenfell doesn’t disappoint on that front either. Leaving much to mystery, Ikenfell encourages you to talk to NPCs and learn about the world around you, rather than having everything spoon-fed through main story dialogue. The NPCs are fun to talk to as well, each feeling like they have a personality and place in the world. It’s an interesting way to go about it, as both the player and the player character are brand new into the world of magic. This allows you to share a perspective with the main character, without having her be a silent protagonist.
The visuals are simple and charming, while still maintaining a lot of depth with battle animations for the player characters. I was honestly expecting cut and dry attacks, but the magic, while it might seem simple, was much more well done than I expected. Casting my first spell honestly felt magical, and there is a clear separation between your character and the enemies. It feels like your magic is special, and all the effects are very satisfying to see. To speak on the combat, it is somewhere in between Paper Mario and Megaman Battle Network. While it is turn based, you have to position yourself on a grid and your spells take up certain spaces on the grid. This encourages strategizing how you’re going to plan your next move, and how enemies need to move to get close to you. While this system is unique and brings a fair amount of depth, it can drag out conditional fights much longer than they should be. Sometimes, you need to destroy enemies next to each other in order to do damage, but there’s a good amount of time where the enemy that needs to take damage will just move away, needing you to reposition for multiple turns or luck out with enemy placement.
This is also the case when starting battles; if you can’t get in range on the first turn it becomes either a dead turn or a turn to wait out how the enemies move. While I enjoy the grid system for the depth it brings, it has also been my biggest gripe with the game. The Paper Mario-esque timed hits are actually very fun and engaging. Instead of slogging through grindy combat, timing your hits (and your defenses) keeps you invested in the fight and encourages learning mechanics. While it might be fun for some players, there is an option to ease up the difficulty or have everything land with max efficiency all the time. This level of accessibility is nice for those who just want to run through the story without having to learn all the spell hit-times and enemy hit-times.
Ikenfell has been nothing but a pleasure to play through and I have honestly spent quite a lot of time with it. What seems like a very simple retro game comes with a lot of depth and charm, along with an ample amount of innovation and accessibility. Ikenfell is a great entry point for those who want to get into more long-form games, with just enough to satiate even veteran RPG players. If you want a retro RPG to spend some time on this holiday, Ikenfell is a really solid pickup.
Score: 8 out of 10
Reviewed on Windows PC