Runes Magica Review – Ruined Ruins

    Title: RUNES Magica
    Developer: BONE MADE
    Release Date: June 28, 2023
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: BONE MADE
    Genre: 2D, Action Roguelike

Occasionally, you will come across a game that incorporates elements that seem to line up just right with your interests, only for you to get blindsided by confusion. BONE MADE’s Runes Magica puts you in the role of a girl entrusted with magic runes, pitted against a kingdom that seeks to extinguish her power.

In linear roguelike fashion, you will be fending off a mob of enemies and obtaining randomized equipment to assist her adventure into the kingdom. With a fairly standard premise, a lot rides on the shoulders of the gameplay, which does not offer the supporting foundation the game needs.

The gameplay loop of Runes Magica consists of collecting various types of runes throughout the levels. You can equip element runes onto the three types of Type Runes. Type Runes are essentially containers for your element runes, with each Type Rune fulfilling one key role in the move set. They cover a basic attack spell used in quick succession, a dash spell that leaves a damaging trail used to dodge attacks, and a complex spell that deals high damage at the cost of long cooldowns.

Equipping the same element rune in the three type slots allows the specific type spell to output varying effects. In addition to the three main rune slots, each Type Rune has a set of sub-Runes to equip independently, which upgrades each type of spell utility. Besides sub-Runes, equipment that falls outside the rune menu offers passive buffs. The last core mechanic within the system is fusion, which allows pairs of element Runes to be combined to create entirely new runes. These runes come into play within the gameplay, which consists of fairly standard action platforming.

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Before describing the execution of the gameplay and how I experienced them first-hand, I need to explain the delivery of the tutorial. Right from the start, there’s a multitude of factors that create an extremely confusing tutorial, which bled into creating an awful entry into the core gameplay. The English translation is awkward, causing confusing dialogue and descriptions during long portions of text.

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While this is not an issue during the exposition, it becomes apparent when you need to read item descriptions or tutorials. The tutorial did a horrible job explaining rune types and their corresponding functions. The explanation boils down to only teaching how to use the basic attack and movement spell, then sets up a bit of story exposition and seemingly ends. I say seemingly, as the game crashed right after the tutorial, which left me with no idea if more tutorials were available. With a re-launch, I found that the tutorial run had been reset, leaving me lost within the first few hours.

The menu tutorial, a side tutorial outside of the main tutorial, explains the menu in the context of older versions, leading to an extreme amount of confusion on my end. The tutorials given only complicated the user experience, and all understanding came after multiple run attempts. Most of the text offers so little context that it is better to forgo reading and skip straight to experimenting with the various equipment in-game. While these hindrances became manageable later on, they revealed outstanding issues with the gameplay.

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To describe the gameplay in short, it is floaty and stagnant. As expected with the concept of magic in correspondence to typical archetypes, almost all the spells have a range that will outrange every enemy type besides the archer enemy type. As the spell attacks are purely range-based moves, mashing the basic spell attack is the most effective method of clearing out each room, which is required to progress.

There is no benefit to getting close enough to any of the melee-based enemies, and health is an essential resource you should not lose during basic gameplay levels. The reason health is important is due to the floatiness of the movement. All bosses, no matter the stage level, are quick. Evading most of the choreographed attacks a boss initiates is impossible to dodge with basic movement, as the attacks are meant to be evaded with the movement spell’s invulnerability frames.

The issue with this is that the movement spells have a second of cooldown time, despite many boss attacks will come out in quick succession. If the positioning is correct, it can be possible to get away without taking damage, though it is more likely that the fight will end with you taking more than a couple of hits. Bosses are one big DPS check, as it devolves into a race to eliminate the boss before too much damage is accumulated.

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It’s a shame that the rune system is reduced to ranged button-mashing and that bosses’ choreographed attacks became damage-per-second checks due to the horrible movement instead of having the player learn and engage with the attack patterns. On top of the numbing experience growing worse with each rune upgrade, the game is prone to soft-locking itself, ending a run that can not be recovered if closed, as no save system exists.

There is also a lack of an overarching progression system, as starting each run with the same base randomized runes. While not a mandatory inclusion, having no decision over your starter kit makes the early game monotonous and rudimentary, as you only start to access more equipment after the first boss. Despite the rune system being intriguing and the player character animating well, the gameplay itself does not maintain a solid enough foundation within the scope of the game.

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Despite the myriad of technical and design issues, it’s apparent that the developers of Runes Magica had a clear idea of the kind of gameplay systems they wanted to create. However, the final product fails to capture the features of what makes action platformers engaging. While it could benefit from an update, many tweaks would need to be made to the core mechanics to capitalize on what is potentially engaging. In its current state, you won’t find anything enjoyable here that you couldn’t find done better in another game.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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