Developer: Borealys Games
Publisher: Borealys Games
Genre: Action, Adventure, RPG
Rating: PEGI 7
I take great pride in keeping my Steam discovery queue up to date, going through at least the standard dozen games per day, doing two queues for make-up if I miss a date. The benefit is that when just about any high-potential new game is either released or close to it, I see it. Mages of Mystralia is one such game. However, it did not come out of seemingly nowhere, as Borealys Games was founded back in 2014 for the purpose of developing this project. it did benefit from not only the Canada Media Fund, but also a short Kickstarter: having finished the game, Borealys realized that their project could use more polish, and requested from fans a modest ~$20,000 USD. Apparently, a game of this kind was long overdue, as fans raised ~$174,174 USD!
If I could be funny, I would rate this game “K” for Kamek. The only type of person who would find this game offensive is the same kind who of person who would quit playing Mario upon sight of him. Enemies simply flash when taking damage, and skeletons are among possible foes. That is the gist of it.
Unfortunately, those sort of ultra-reactionaries will miss out on the positive messages Mages of Mystralia purports. “One bad apple spoils the bunch” might be an appropriate cliche for fruit, but this game demonstrates the pitfalls of discriminating against an entire culture(s) because of the actions of a few. Completion of a sidequests oftentimes wins the favor of certain denizens who afterward realize that not all mages are bad. Alternatively, several mainline missions will require the protagonist to travel through areas where mages are banned, and she will hide her wand and spellbook to avoid arousing suspicion, passing for normal. For segregation is the law of the land in Mystralia, and mages dwell isolated in Haven, honing their craft in preparation for an unknown conflict to come, ready to put their lives on the line not only those of their order, but also any who reside in the kingdom.
Mages of Mystralia is a game that strictly adheres to the rule of simplicity as a comprehensive design methodology, and it is effective overall. The visual rendering of the terrain, structures, characters, and enemies are reminiscent of an amalgam between Torchlight and Yooka-Laylee, with map and encounter design taking cues from The Legend of Zelda. Low texture density is offset by colors whose vibrancy are enhanced not by a exhaustive color palette, but by the stark contrast between a strong contrast between selection of hues. The game looks just as what one might imagine the result of an incantation for animating an children’s fantasy book from its illustrated pages into three-dimensional space.
The story is unquestionably Mages of Mystralia‘s weakest facet, as it merely meets expectations. The land of Mystralia is introduced as knowing centuries of peace while being ruled by Mage-Kings until tragedy strikes—a (troll) plague consumes the kingdom, indiscriminate of class or gender. Most importantly, the monarchy seated on the throne at the time succumbs to this wave of death. Because no throne room can remain empty, a mage among the caste is crowned, but this particular mage happened to dabble in forbidden magics. As a result, he is driven to madness, destroying entire villages in his wake. He had to be subdued, which afterward brought forth “The Age of the Marquis,” where one who does not wield magic occupies the throne, and spellcraft is banned throughout the land. However, once every decade, a child is born with “the gift.” Here enters Zia, the game’s atavistic protagonist, who immolates her house as the gift awakens within her. She flees, banished because of a trait she cannot help, and is found by an acrimonious and introverted member of Haven who vows to teach her how to hone her gift.
Execution of the primary gameplay elements adheres to a traditional ARPG formula of using the d-pad or W,A,S,D, to move, while clicking attacks. Compliments to Borealys Games (“Borealys” is clever heterography for “borealis,” the most famous of which being the Northern Lights, giving a clue as to the developer’s fascination with the celestial.) for experimenting beyond the traditional fixed-camera perspective. Blizzard, for example, with all of its pedigree and near-inexhaustible war chest only has a zoom function to show in Diablo 3. The camera pans and shifts in Mages of Mystralia, dampening the potential for boredom that could be generated via gameplay from a singular perspective.
That said, there’s nothing revolutionary about a flurry of left clicks to dispatch a foe. Here, however, is where Mages of Mystralia is deceptively complex: spell crafting is so easy that a caveman could do it! The opening portions of the game are hasty in the provision of the four base elements that will be used to forge spells, but these are not “elements” in the traditional sense of earth, fire, wind, water (but no heart!); instead, the spell trees are Immedi (melee), Actus (active), Creo (create), and Ego (self). Each of these spells in their basic form comes with one traditional element; in the later stages of the game, Zia will be required to unlock multiple elements for each base spell tree. Besides these four base incantations and elements, it is up to players to discover additional components which enhance or modify their properties when cast. Nevertheless, here I am at the beginning of the game, using my wand as a flyswatter, dangerously hot incense (fire), a walk-on-water-like-Jesus-parlor-trick (ice) and a shield (earth) like an amateur magician. The qualities of Mages of Mystralia are expressed most strongly when players cross oceans on foot, conquer timed puzzles requiring lighting cisterns ablaze, or piecing together constellations to unlock secrets which either lead to colored orbs that can be traded to expand health or mana ( believe me, always take Manta) or a new spell property.
This video is a developer demo of how spellcraft works. Check it out!
Combined with the base spell trees are tiers called behaviors, augments, and triggers. Without complicating this into a FAQ, Actus, for example, which is at first the basic intense/fire spell, becomes a projectile fireball when the “move” behavior is discovered. This fireball can increase in mass with the “size” augment. This fireball gains a burning effect with the “mastery” behavior (igni). This fireball becomes an on-target strike with the “teleport” behavior. This fireball becomes an ice, electric, or rock ball when players unlock and swap elements.
The combinations are theoretically infinite, however experimentation is suppressed by two properties: enemies are generally easy to dispatch, and spells can become obscenely mana-thirsty. For the first part, Mages of Mystralia follows a Zelda-like formula recipe, presenting enemies of various types in the beginning portions of the game, some of them possessing elemental resistances; the game then shifts toward tougher, color-coded enemies. No matter how tough they are, they still can be kited, bringing me to the second flaw: it is unclear how spell chains affect mana consumption. I once modified a spell to shoot four homing fireballs at once, but it was cheaper than a “trigger” spell that turns the ground to ice, then shocks enemies who dare walk across this obstacle. For every enemy that engages this “trigger,” my mana would drain, forcing me to quaff a restorative item or wait for my mana to recharge. Better balancing would consume a fixed, but large sum of mana for a single cast no matter how many subsequent triggers are activated. Because of these limitations, I only aspired to be an intermediate mage rather than one who leaves storms of fire and ice in my wake. Still, in the span of 10 hours, the evolution of Zia’s power is palpable and delectable.
Worthy of its own paragraph, and arguably the highlight of Mages of Mystralia beyond the core mechanic of spellcrafting, is the soundtrack. Not since Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze has a soundtrack arrested me because of its magnificence. “Grimoire“and “Mystral Woods” flawlessly exhibit the themes of aspiration, mystery, and wonder. Even the supposed-to-be-creepy “Weeping Swamps” features a waltzing melody beginning at 01:35. The theme of Zia’s hometown, “Greyleaf Hamlet” captures that down-home bluegrass feel. If I were to superimpose “The Rise” into DKC:TF, hardly anyone would notice. “Haven ~ A New Home” playfully emulates what one would expect from an ensemble rendering wizardry with its strong chimes and piano accompaniment, one might sprout the beginnings of a Gandolf beard just listening to it—and oh how those woodwinds (I want to guess clarinet but I may be mistaken) make me swoon at the 01:04 climax! Speaking of strong pianos, “Water Quarry ~ Aqua” might knock folks down with its power; it is reminiscent of that featured in the music of I am Setsuna. With mastery, “Sky Temple” expresses both wonder but also mourning as Zia explores a fortress where mages of the past once conducted their studies and experiments in peace; its emotional impact is not unlike Aang’s sadness in discovering that the air nomads tribe have been exterminated In Avatar: The Last Airbender. “Star Cluster” reprises this song later in the game when players discover more about Zia’s magi ancestry. I did not even get frustrated during my two deaths because of the melody that plays during “Grim Omen.”
But wait, there is more! All of the area-specific music get combat-themed accompaniments, a feature that some may recognize from the FTL: Faster than Light soundtrack. I dare anyone to try and listen to “Mystral Woods ~ Learning to Fight” and fail to sense the frantic anxiety brought forth when one’s life is endangered, from the strings now playing in forte to the percussion instruments making their presence known at 1:13, and a section solo (okay, the bass keeps the beat) at 03:10. I am not going to describe all of the area-specific songs as I did in the previous paragraph, but readers should know two things: this is my favorite song, and that I love this soundtrack so much that I purchased it even though Borealys Games generously provided GUG with a Steam key for this review.
I do think that the price point of $25 is on the high side, despite the promises of a harder difficulty, a survival mode, and a speedrun mode to enhance the total package. I have personally never been a fan speedrunning even though I have nothing but respect for the kinds of gamers who pursue perfection; for hardcore mode, I imagine that enemies will simply become more hit spongy, but that would only exacerbate mid-late game mana issues, and more kiting while waiting for mana to recharge is the opposite of entertainment. I would love a survival mode as an extension of a special mission in Haven. Notwithstanding, those looking for some good old-fashioned innocent spell-flinging that respects the player’s time by rewarding the usage of brainpower to progress instead of grinding need not look farther than Mages of Mystralia, which will provide plenty of amusement with enemies that provide plenty of target practice by regenerating when players return to an area and a massive but easy to learn spellcraft system.
The Bottom Line