Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
Genre: Turn-based RPG, Retro, Pixel Art
Why is it that no one’s ever made a Harry Potter RPG? Sure, that Hogwarts Legacy game is coming next year, but it’s taken them all these years to finally make one. Well, indie developer Happy Ray Games has beaten Warner Bros. to the punch with Ikenfell.
Ikenfell is a nostalgic trip combining turn-based and tactical RPG elements with gorgeous 8-bit pixel graphics and phenomenal music. This game is more than just a retro game evoking pointless nostalgia; it’s a throwback to simpler days of classic RPGs.
What It’s Like To Be Muggle
For non-Harry Potter fans, a Muggle is what a non-magical human is called in the Wizarding World of the franchise created by J.K. Rowling. Instead of featuring a protagonist like Harry Potter, Ikenfell subverts my expectations from the very beginning, as I assumed control of Maritte. She is an Ordinary (Ikenfell’s equivalent of a Muggle) in a magical world.
The game begins with her searching for her missing sister, Safina, who is a gifted but troublesome student at Ikenfell; a school for magic users. Despite being an Ordinary, Maritte suddenly manifests magical fire-based powers. This mystery, and that of her missing sister, fuels the central premise of the game’s plot. Along the way, you’ll meet five other playable characters who will join your party.
One of the best story themes explored in Ikenfell is how estranged Maritte feels as an Ordinary in a world of magic, despite having manifested her own powers. As we progress through the story, she realizes more and more how little she knows about her own sister, let alone this strange magical world.
I’m also impressed with how much personality and depth the developers have managed to instil in the characters featured in Ikenfell, despite being limited by 8-bit pixel art. These characters feel unique and diverse without coming off as forced or stereotyped.
The game is further bolstered thanks to its great music, which is composed by aivi & surasshu, best known for composing the music in Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe animated series. The music in Ikenfell is atmospheric and complements whatever’s happening in the game.
Music can be one of the most important aspects of an RPG game in order to convey emotion and tone. This is especially true for games without voice acting, like Ikenfell.
For instance, there was one unforgettable boss battle in the game that was elevated by its great accompanying track. This one (It’s Showtime! – Gilda’s Theme) even had vocals. However, this is the exception (rather than the norm) since most of the music in this game is instrumental.
Wizarding World Meets Final Fantasy Tactics
Some gamers tend to find turn-based combat outdated and boring (I don’t personally share that opinion at all). Therefore, it’s worth pointing out that Ikenfell introduces a few twists of its own to the tactical turn-based RPG combat system (as popularized by franchises like Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem).
Just like those franchises, battles take place on a small space of grids. You’ll have to position your characters and choose their actions, each of which has its own finite range. Still, that’s not a new mechanic by any means.
What does spice up the turn-based combat in Ikenfell is the timed reaction mechanic. Every action (be it attacking or getting attacked) requires the players to in a QTE of sorts. You have to press the A button (I played on PC with an Xbox controller) at the right cue and timing for it to be more effective.
Timing your attacks will result in either Oops, Nice or Great. Great will obviously result in the most damage, while Oops will often result in just one measly damage. This timing mechanic also comes into play when your characters get attacked by enemies. Timing your button press correctly will result in less damage inflicted, or in some cases, avoid getting detrimental status effects like poison.
It’s actually pretty simple to pull off, but it can sometimes be frustrating when getting distracted for even a second can mean an Oops. The combat system is made even more complex considering that every attack has different animations and features unique timing cues.
That can make the process of getting new abilities and encountering new enemies frustrating due to the amount of trial and error involved. However, all of that goes a long way towards avoiding the game from becoming too passive or stale.
Most importantly though, the developers added several game-changing accessibility options so that everyone can enjoy the game. You can turn on Instant Victory in the options and win every battle. If you still want to experience the game’s combat but can’t get used to the timing mechanic, you can turn that off too and play the game more like a traditional turn-based RPG.
I can understand why the developers added those accessibility options in. While the timed action mechanic can be exciting when it works in your favour, it can quickly become annoying when the opposite happens. What is a game if it’s not fun and you can’t enjoy it?
Besides the game’s combat system, everything else in Ikenfell‘s gameplay is pretty simplistic and true to its retro RPG roots. These include a simple inventory system and gear/clothing that affect stats, as well as basic puzzles in dungeons. The dungeons never overstay their welcome, and I experienced several “just one more dungeon” moments (you know, like those “one more turn” moments in strategy games).
A Treat For RPG Fans, Old And New
Happy Ray Games has certainly succeeded in making an indie retro RPG that’s a must-play for both old and new RPG fans. It blends classic RPG elements with a refreshing timed mechanic and charming characters, as well as great music to boot.
With a single playthrough ranging from 20 to 30 hours, Ikenfell will hit the right notes for RPG fans looking for a more bite-sized experience. They can’t all be 100-hour odysseys like Dragon Quest or Persona, and that’s perfectly fine, especially when they’re as good as Ikenfell.
- A diverse cast of characters oozing charming personalities.
- A decent narrative that’s sort of a parody of Harry Potter.
- Beautiful 8-bit pixel art.
- Tactical turn-based combat with a unique timed mechanic twist.
- Phenomenal music.
- Probably not for gamers who don’t like RPGs in general.
- Combat can be tedious and frustrating.
Final Score: 80/100
Ikenfell was reviewed on PC.