You save your game by petting a cat, its purr restoring your health to 100%. That's it. That's why you need to play this game.
Ok, I'll reign it in a little bit and give you a bit more context. Ikenfell is an enchanting, wondrous adventure about a girl named Maritte who goes looking for her sister Safina at Ikenfell, a Wizarding School for the magically inclined. Being what is deemed an Ordinary her whole life, Maritte, upon getting close to the campus, mysteriously gains a set of pretty intense magical powers. As you slowly begin to unfold the mysteries within Ikenfell, between the hilarious dialogue and some classic puzzle solving, you fight baddies in a timing-sensitive, turn-based RPG system that is confined within a grid. What starts out as a simple quest to find out what happened to Safina turns into a thrill-ridden, emotional roller coaster. The campus of Ikenfell is truly magical, pun only slightly intended, with so much to explore and so many fantastic characters to meet. Between its captivating narrative and well-executed accessibility options, I haven't been able to put this game down.
Combat in Ikenfell is an interesting combination of mechanics. Your party members, as well as the enemies, occupy spaces on a grid once a battle sequence has commenced. As per turn-based RPGs, you... well... take turns choosing various actions to execute - attacks, use items, change location, etc. Each of your party members has a variety of unique skills that they can cast, but the catch is that each action has a specific pattern they can be executed in, so you need to make sure you are placed accordingly in order to use them. For example, a powerful skill you learn later can only hit enemies that are exactly 3 spaces ahead of you, or behind you. Since lining up with enemies in that particular location isn't always possible, you have to bide your time until you're in a place to execute it. The skills have a wide variety of patterns that they follow, which adds a whole other element to the battle system. It's not just a simple task of selecting attacks and making sure your health doesn't drop to zero, but an exercise in your strategic abilities to be as efficient as you can in battle. Overall, that mechanic alone is what kept me so interested in the combat. Battles can vary quite a bit since enemies are constantly moving and you can't always use the same attacks. I wouldn't say that each battle is absolutely unique and 100% different from the rest, but it's enough to add a bit of flare to an overall straightforward battle system.
Now the first thing I did before starting the story, as I always do, is check out the settings. Usually it's to turn on the subtitles for the dialogue, but in this case (since there is no voice acting) it was to see how the game will let you customize your experience. The two settings that struck me the most were "Timing Mode" and "Victory Option", which both relate specifically to combat. An extra piece of the combat puzzle I haven't elaborated on yet is the timing component. As you and the enemies execute their actions, you have to press the A button just at the right time in order to have the action succeed. The better your timing, you can take a standard attack (denoted with NICE) and turn it into a GREAT attack which does extra damage. The same mechanic goes for the enemies as well - but in the case of defense. I.e. a GREAT defend will land the least amount of damage on you, compared to a NICE defend or no defend at all. This is where the first setting, Timing Mode, comes into play. If timing-based gameplay isn't your forte or of interest to you, you can modify the gameplay to accomodate for that. You get three choices that allow you to change the Timing Mode:
- Manual: You must manually time all actions in battle. (the default when you start the game)
- Semi-Auto: Battle actions will always be NICE, but you can attempt to manually get a GREAT.
- Auto: Battle actions will always be great, so no timing is required.
I thought this was an excellent addition as I am one of those people who does not like timing-based things. I did give it an honest attempt at the start but eventually once I felt I had challenged myself enough (and let’s be real, wanted to watch TV while I played), I did eventually change it to Semi-Auto, and then completely Auto. Having spent most of my game time at this point in Auto Mode compared to the other two, I can say that it hasn't taken much away from combat for me. I personally wasn't looking for that extra layer of challenge.
The second interesting combat option was the Victory Option. The exact quote from the options menu is "If enabled, battle menu will contain an action to trigger an instant victory." and it does exactly that. There is a new icon added to all of your party member's menus that, when selected, prompts a pop up asking if you would like to initiate victory. If you decide not to, you can say no and return to the menu, but if you select yes, the enemies activate their defeat animation, show the exp. they're worth and the victory screen ensues. This one surprised me at first but as I started the game and thought about it more, I realized how genius it was. I can't tell you the number of times I've burnt out on games due to the combat. Not that I didn't enjoy them, but because my terrible focus can only sustain me for so long. Throw in the classic difficulty increase that comes as you progress further into any narrative, I just don't have what it takes sometimes to finish things. This simple toggle was a game change for me however.
It wasn’t until about the halfway mark I would say before I even turned the option on, let alone use it. I was determined at first to stick it out and not give in to its temptations, but then I thought to myself.... why not? Why not rely on it when I'm starting to feel that exhaustion? Yes games are usually meant to challenge you but why should that make or break whether you play it or not? To compromise with myself, I decided to use the Instant Victory only on enemies I had encountered after a few times. Entering a new area and finding something new to fight, I would stick out the battle and learn the various moves they had and how their combat patterns worked. Once I felt I had a good grasp on it, I would instant-win my way through the rest . This miniscule toggle tucked away in the settings menu has made this game feel so stress-free, and has allowed me to blindly (and lovingly) follow the adventure that the story has taken me on. Without the obstacles of combat threatening my progress, I can pick and choose what challenges I'd like to encounter and set the pace of the game as I need, all the way until the end.
An extra little tidbit worth mentioning that is just so nice, is that when you eventually swap out party members, even ones you didn't have active still get experience - thank god. On this blog, we stan Exp. Share. Ikenfell doesn't necessarily feel like a title that you want to, or really even need to grind in. Having that luxury late game of choosing from any of your still viable party members is such a nice touch. They do get the experience at an ever-so-slightly decreased rate, I'm talking 40 exp for active party vs. 38 exp for in-active, but that's so negligible you barely notice.
Taking a step away from combat talk, which has somehow been like 80% of this post, the other thing I wanted to touch on was the representation. It's just... so refreshing to have a bounty of different LGBTQ+ characters with so many different unique character designs. You've got multiple non-binary people who use standard pronouns, a non-binary person who uses neo pronouns, and straight up just a blatant lesbian. It's so uplifting to see these characters exist and thrive without the usual doom hammer of bigotry and tropes that unfortunately tend to get tied to LGBTQ+ individuals in media. You can tell that the creative team was comprised of these exact individuals, and the love and care they injected into carrying their experiences through the narrative shines so brightly. If you are looking for a game with a wide set of representation that doesn't make a huge ordeal out of any sexuality or pronoun set (for better or for worse), you need to play this game.
Now while I've been singing Ikenfell's praises with a megaphone, it doesn't go without its qualms. To be honest, these are not make-or-break items but just smaller nitpicks I couldn't entirely shake off along the way. The sort of, wish-they-had-beens if you will. The first one is that it would have been neat to have seperate Timing Mode options for attacking and defending. The opportunity to challenge yourself to get those GREAT attacks but not have to worry about defending, or vice versa, I think would have added an extra layer of personalization to the gameplay. Being able to finely tweak how involved the combat is would allow the player to really refine the type of challenge they're looking for. The second one, which is 100% my own preference and not really an actual critique as game design is a subjective art form, is that you can't see how much health the enemy has. While the baddies you fight against are by no means Monster Hunter levels of health, it's still a bit frustrating (to me at least) that there's no discernable way to gauge what point of the fight you're at. Even a subtle system like a color indicator of some kind could give you the tiniest, yet useful, glimpse into how effective your attacks are and roughly what your enemy's health is looking like. As I said, this is entirely my own preference, but it's a strong one.
Well there you have it. Ikenfell has been an endearing escape from reality as of late, and I'm so excited to put in my final couple hours to wrap it up. I'm not even going to bother with a "you should check it out if you...." statement. Ikenfell will cast a spell on you if you give it the chance, and you definitely should.
Want a sneak peek at what you'll be getting into? Check out this early musical trailer for the game below. It gives you an accurate feel of your upcoming adventure, as well as the hella-catchy lyrical theme for one of the characters: