Developer: Happy Ray Games
Release Date: October 8 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Humble Games
I’m a huge fan of tactical RPGs, but I totally understand how a newcomer to the genre may find their introduction a bit overwhelming. At worst, titles with overly complicated gameplay systems can become overwhelming even for the most seasoned veterans without adding any real substance. Ikenfell by developer Happy Ray Games and publisher Humble Games presents a turn-based tactical RPG with a more accessible system and presentation without losing the strategical enjoyment the genre is known for.
Ikenfell begins by introducing players to Maritte, a teenage girl searching for her missing sister Safina, a witch last seen at a special school for those with magical powers. Maritte, on the other hand, is an “ordinary,” the term given to those without magical gifts. However, early in her search, she realizes that she is just a late bloomer and can cast fire spells. Along your quest, you will run into other students that know Safina and will join the party to help unravel the mystery of her disappearance.
The majority of Ikenfell takes place directly in or around areas surrounding the school. This might seem like a limited location, but appearances are a bit deceiving especially when magic is involved.
Enemies will attempt to ambush you while traversing, and many times can be avoided if you’re quick enough. If you choose to engage them, a battle screen is initiated where you are given several squares that you can move your characters each turn. Upon first seeing this layout, I was worried there wasn’t enough room to move around with a party of three; however, even though it can be a bit claustrophobic at times, the smaller grid does a good job keeping the action contained. Without all the empty space sometimes found in other tactical RPGs, you are assured that contact will be made with opponents at almost every turn.
Timing is essential to successful battles in Ikenfell. Each skill that you perform, or an enemy performs against you, will trigger a timed sequence. These timed sequences are quick and are typically indicated by a circle or by the point-of-contact with a character. Timed perfectly, you will have the word “Great” appear overhead. This is the maximum advantage you can gain in battle. “Nice” means you weren’t perfect, but the move is still slanted in your favor. “Oops!” Means you totally missed your timing. If your attack includes a status effect, it usually will only take effect if you manage a “Great” or “Nice” timing. This timing keeps you on your toes at all times as it determines how much damage you receive or inflict.
It’s a fun system and one that works really well at keeping you engaged. Thankfully, not all timed sequences are created equally. Every skill performed by your party or opponents has unique timing animation sequences, many of which vary drastically. Some are much trickier than others and might take a while to get the timing just right. I found this extremely refreshing as you encounter several different opponents for every area, each with their own moves.
Although it might seem like this would make Ikenfell difficult, it does a smooth job of easing the player in by making the consequences of missing timing not as vital at first. If you are unsuccessful during a battle, you also have the option of restarting it or, if things are really dire, loading from a previous save point.
This isn’t to say that Ikenfell is a pushover, though. Late game battles can last a while and give you several opportunities to mess up your timing. Leveling up can also take a bit longer compared to many others in the genre. It took about an hour of gameplay for every level achieved. Still, Ikenfell is pretty accessible and forgiving. Most seasoned players probably won’t need to grind much if they encounter passing enemies they see. There are also plenty of items and equipment to give your party a boost through some of the tricker boss fights.
While you are given the freedom to explore as you like, your mission is always pretty clear. A message in the pause menu will direct you where to go next, and it’s even highlighted on the map itself. Ikenfell does have less straightforward moments, however. There are several puzzles you must solve to advance the plot. While they start fairly simple, I was admittedly stumped a bit later on. A mildly cryptic puzzle involving fireflies and another involving ice made me feel like a complete idiot until I understood what the game wanted me to do. They aren’t ridiculously tough by any means, but it does stand out as a bit of a contrast compared to how user-friendly the rest of the game is.
Every once in a while, your party will come across memory crystals which show you visions of the past. These moments are what interested me most regarding the story. Giving little hints through flashbacks felt pretty effective and motivated me to keep going until I fully understood what happened. These cutscenes actually interested me more than my party and their conversations. While they are by no means badly written, I just couldn’t emotionally connect with them as much as I would have liked in a narrative-heavy RPG. That being said, the overall story is enjoyable, especially quirkier moments with NPCs and monsters.
Ikenfell is presented in a simple pixel art style, and while it doesn’t stand out, everything is extremely clear, and there are some downright cute enemy designs. However, the soundtrack is amazing, blending several different genres and perfectly fits the game’s feeling. It’s surprising how quickly it can switch from acoustic to electronic instruments and still feel cohesive.
Ikenfell provides players a charming adventure with an engaging battle system that is both fun and engaging. Accompanying it is a superb soundtrack that immerses you in its silly bizarre world. While I didn’t get fully invested in some of the characters, I still enjoyed unraveling the mystery. If you’re looking for a cute tactical RPG that’s accessible to new players but also provides some unique systems for genre lovers, you shouldn’t have a problem with letting Ikenfell work its magic on you.
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