Hello, and welcome to a very special meeting of the Wizard’s Court.
As you may all be wondering, we’ve come together to talk about the Mages of Mystralia, and particularly about a little redheaded girl by the name of Zia. She accidentally set her house, or rather her uncle’s home, ablaze and was exiled from her village. Cast out and afraid – for the inquisition that controls these lands particularly despises mages – she is found by an older mage who takes her in to refine her skills and allow her to become a true mage.
What we have here is an adventure-puzzle title that delivers the occasional fight and utilizes spellcraft as the main mode of solving puzzles. It has a bit of cinematic style, with the developers deciding upon a more fixed camera perspective for the viewpoint instead of giving players control of it. Most of the time Mages of Mystralia is presented as an isometric game, but there are a few shots, especially ones near the beginning of the game, where the camera is brought in for a much more cinematic and immersive experience.
The start of this story is one you’ve heard before, with the hero being similar to the ones we’ve seen many times over. But there is a special quality to this game. You’re not some overly powerful creature, and you’re really not even the hero, at least not at the start of the story. You are just some lowly little student who is trying to hone your craft well enough to be considered a mage by the council that exists in a place called Haven. Effectively, it’s kind of like you’re Hermionie, except you have significantly more potential for the spells you cast. That being said, the Mages of Mystralia has a special system for spell casting.
The spells you cast are all bound to the face buttons of the controller and each one is used for specific things. You’ve got the fireball, a projectile spell that deals moderate damage but can be useful for picking off enemies from afar, and you have the ice spell, which creates frozen patches on the ground, so as to assist in walking over water. The last utilitarian spell is the slashing spell, which does a quick little slash in whichever direction you are facing – useful for taking out a group of melee enemies in a pinch. The last spell you can cast is the shield spell, which is a directional ability that lets you prevent damage.
Now, the game doesn’t stop there with its magic. You get runes that help you determine the effects of the spells you cast. This means that your fireballs could curve right, or twist, or even activate another spell when they hit, just to name a few of the effects. These runes are found throughout the game world, and enable you to create some truly spectacular spells to help assist in battle, and also when solving puzzles.
In order for them to work, each rune has to connect to a power line in an interface, with each one showing which direction it can connect based off of black arrows on the sides of an object. It is a similar system to what some coding software has, where it allows novices to drag and drop commands that connect together via nodes on blocks, and therefore allow for a more palatable system of creating mechanics. This is how the spell creation in the game works, and so it really is broken down into more bite sized chunks, allowing anybody – of any skill level – the opportunity to pick up the game and get a general feel for the spellcrafting mechanics.
Now, that’s really the big gimmick of Mages of Mystralia, and it certainly is a commendable mechanic to have. I found myself fiddling with spells along the way and just fighting enemies with my creations, rather than continuing the plot. I found some of the secret puzzles that gave runes were silly, instead of practical, but that in turn shows that the devs knew that they didn’t need to just keep everything ultra-professional. Magic is fun and interesting, not always utilitarian, which gives even more credit to the development of this game.
Granted, I wish they had cut some of that goofiness out of the dialogue between the characters. There’s a point, right after the first boss, where you meet your tutor at a cliff. He’s looking at the sun, talking about how the moon is slowly eclipsing the sun, and how shortly after that all magic is going to get wonky. He then tells you that you need to go track down a sky crystal so that your observatory can work and study what is going to happen to the magic in the valley.
This sounds like a major thing that should be done immediately, but as soon as you get him the crystal, you’re given yet another fetch quest. Rather than them getting the observatory up and running to examine this eclipse, they send you out on a quest to get something from the Mad King’s tomb, which is described as being ‘something quite dangerous and should be left to the professionals’. The thing is, shouldn’t examining the eclipse be the first thing on anyone’s plate? What if the eclipse caused magic to stop working in its entirety, or what if it centered all of it on the tomb and would kill any living thing that entered the sphere of influence?
It just struck me that every character already knew what the eclipse was, and that they needed to specifically send their newest intern to further along the plot. From a logical view, there is no reason you should have left Haven after the first boss dies, even if you’ve proven yourself to be somewhat capable. You’re new to this whole magic thing, and the fate of the world could very well rely on you not screwing up this quest, and so it really just throws you out of the story as everybody suddenly thinks that you’re the best one for the job.
I get that they might not send the highest of their mages, what with most of them needing to do something in Haven, but they have recruits that have been casting magic for much longer than you, so there’s no reason why you should have been the one on the mission.
The most acceptable part of this game’s story though is found within the boss fights that take place throughout. The first big boss you fight is a giant tree that grows in a swamp, and so your fireball happens to be quite the useful spell. The fight is fun and is kind of self-explanatory, so you don’t have to rack your brain trying to solve it. There are those glowing video game weak points in place, but it fits the overall tone of the game. If it was some Dark Souls style boss, it would have been significantly out of place. Instead, the bosses all fit and are interesting, to say the least. For what it is worth, nearly everything gameplay related in this title belongs – it just feels like it could have used a more compelling plot/build up that could help support the gameplay.
Now, the story of Mystralia isn’t the most artistic thing, and that’s because that award goes to the visuals. The game is very pretty; in that innocent, color saturated style that seems to be indicative of adventure games. It causes a few stuttering issues at the start of the game, but generally there aren’t too many issues with performance. If there were any gripes I had about the game’s design, it’d probably have to go with the fact that the game reminds me so much of a Toon Link affair that I couldn’t ever shake the feeling that I’d throw on a green tunic and started playing another Legend of Zelda game.
But that said, Mages of Mystralia is original, however it does start to blend in with all the other adventure games out there. The story is a little generic, kind of feels like you’re shoehorned into being important rather than a generic growth, and the graphics, whilst of high quality, help blend the game into just another adventure game. That’s a shame, for it has such an interesting crafting mechanic that is really nicely fleshed out, whilst still being accessible to people who don’t really feel the need to customize all that much.
Overall, I want to like Mages of Mystralia a lot more than I do, for I see the potential. If the story were just a little more believable, like maybe spending some time on when you’re taught magic, before skipping to when you’re a little more established in the world, it would feel like a better tale. And that could well have made Mages something that is really unique, allowing it to support itself on more than just those brilliant magical times.
I like magic a lot, but even I need something unique to look at, or a fantastic story told, to really keep me interested.