When I realized where to tickle my nostalgia, playing Ikenfell always returned me to playing Mario & Luigi RPG games. Ikenfell is a unique game, and while the differences far outweigh the similarities, there are some elements that are reminiscent of Nintendo classics. In this 8-bit style tactical RPG, you’ll play as a girl adventuring in a magical school, recruiting friends in the hope of finding your sister who has mysteriously disappeared.
The first comparison with these plumber RPGs is a turn-based battle system. The battle takes place in a small grid that allows up to three characters to cross the board, but with a few button presses you can avoid incoming damage.
Of course, you can get the timing wrong, and the animation may pop up to assist with the timing, or you may need to rely on the sound cue. There were strange moments when I felt fooled by the push of a button, but in most cases the timing was accurate. That said, there were times when the pattern was so complex that it couldn’t even start figuring out where the button was pressed. As you can imagine, it leads to moody gamers.
In general, Ikenfell is a very user-friendly game. Controls are easy to learn through tutorials, and introducing additional characters will make your gameplay more interesting. Then stop evolution. After getting used to having three characters, the game settles in that ditch and the battle begins to become a chore of moving chess pieces, especially around long and thin boards. You’ll notice that you’re starting to avoid combat, but if the story doesn’t progress particularly fast, you may start to run out of reason to play this game. But that leads me to one of its best features.
Strange to say, one of the best features of the game is that you can skip combat and focus on the story instead. You can also disable the timed button mechanism. If you’re a fan of tactical RPGs, that might be your preferred way to play. It deals with a smaller number of its health, damage, and of its nature. This is great for numerical challenges like me and doesn’t immediately track thousands of points of damage. This is definitely a game designed to be easy to understand, very similar to the theme of the story, and invites people of all game abilities to play.
Personally, this freedom was great. As the game progressed, I found myself wondering a lot about the fighting system and unknowingly overcoming the fighting and getting lost in my thoughts. Grinding is one thing, but the fun you have in this game really depends on what you want to get from Ikenfell. story? Fight? Artistic value? Maybe a combination of these elements?
Whichever you choose, music is the winner. The combination of acoustic instruments and 8-bit chiptune sounds is incredible and perfect for the mood of the game, but it’s not a particularly exciting battle theme. Aside from subjective opinions about music, the overall presentation of the game is great and fits perfectly into the mood of this epic adventure on a small scale.
Happy Ray Games has completely nailed the visual style they were looking for. It’s mostly done in schools like Hogwarts, but the landscape somehow changes and looks different enough without going outboard. Characters are chibi-like and cute in the world, but when you move into combat, they look more pronounced. One of the little bugbears is that the chibi character has no face. The face is displayed when the text is displayed on the screen. Adding personality to a small faceless sprite is very difficult and strangely leaves it blank.
Still, it’s a turning point for many. The main character, Marit, came to the world of Ikenfell in search of her sister’s witch. Not a serious story, she is a witch. The game is very progressive and feels like Steven Universe. This isn’t a bit of a complaint, but it doesn’t make everyone’s tea. Cute like hell, some types of monsters are very interesting, but most of the time I always hug them a little.
The character’s main cast needs to be praised for its inclusiveness and breakaway from norms, but it’s inclusive, but not very diverse. It’s an unusual lineup with no cisgender men, but four of the six playable characters are white girls, and the rest and non-binary are both black. It’s a bit subdued, but it’s still a great cast and feels progressive.
I personally found it difficult to understand what was happening with these characters and stories. For the most part, it was a fetch quest to find clues about the whereabouts of my missing sister, but if you don’t have much fun along the way, things can get a little more serious and dull in some places.
It’s difficult to express emotions and tell stories in an 8-bit top-down retro game without voice acting. You are constantly reading text from barely moving chunky sprites, and it can be a hassle. That’s why games like Mario & Luigi RPG rely heavily on slapstick humor and the best stupidity to keep players smiling and intrigued. There’s a deep story that developers want to tell in Ikenfell, but it can be done with a bit more nimble and fun along the way.