We seem to be in a time loop of time loop games. 2021 gave us The Forgotten City, Deathloop, Lemnis Gate, Returnal and Twelve Minutes, while there are plenty of other games that take notes from Groundhog Day, including Minit and The Sexy Brutale.
There must be some psychological underpinnings for it. Perhaps we all feel like we’re stuck in our own time loops, many of us working from home, or there is temptation in the possibility of a ‘redo’, a return to a previous checkpoint in life.
Whatever the reason, time loop games aren’t going away, because we’re here to present Kraken Academy!!, one of the latest inductees to Game Pass and an unashamed loop game. The world is ending in 72-hours, and it’s your job to avert it.
Kraken Academy!! starts with your first day at the titular academy. You are driven to the Academy by your mum, who is excited that you are finally going to the same school as your sister, Nadia. But while she’s the talented one, you are clearly considered to be the runt of the litter.
You have been enrolled in one of the Academy’s four schools. You are a member of the Music School, while your sister is in the illustrious (and well-funded) Drama School. Art School and Sports School round out the others. But on arriving on campus, something is clearly wrong: it looks nothing like the brochure, as everything looks derelict, and supernatural gubbins keep happening. Crocodiles emerge from sewers, tentacles appear out of toilets, and cultists roam the halls. The world of Kraken Academy!! is consistently colourful and kooky, and – particularly in the 2D characters – extremely well crafted.
While trying to figure out what’s happening, you’re taken aside by an actual, size-of-a-football-pitch Kraken. They lay out the situation: in three days, everyone will die (crocodile invasion, everyone’s hair on fire), and the only way to stop it is to find the guardian animals of each of the four schools. They’re individually possessing four of the pupils, and you will need to exorcise them at a very specific time. With all four guardians, The Traitor, a mysterious entity who is behind the shenanigans, can be confronted and defeated.
Getting all four animals in three days isn’t possible, so the Kraken has a killer app: a kraken amulet that can reverse time back to the Monday morning (apocalypse is midnight on Wednesday). You retain all of your guardian progress, as well as the items in your inventory, so you can make headway against the time limit.
It’s a simple structure that has you enrolling in each of the four schools, attending their classes, getting to know the students, and eventually reaching their denouement – a party, a performance, a gallery – where the guardian can be reclaimed. Most of the time, you will be doing it in a single time loop, although you might stretch to a couple to get everything done.
Around the sides of this main quest, you get to do a spot of side-questing. You can date three of the pupils, taking them out to the cinema or a water park. And there’s a dozen or so students who can be befriended, completing a task for them so that you earn their trust. These might unlock some new furniture for your room in the Music School dorm.
The gameplay initially looks like it might be aiming for a JRPG template. It’s a pixel art game with a near top-down view, and you could imagine swapping out the schools for inns, making it look something like an early Final Fantasy. But it soon becomes clear that Kraken Academy!! doesn’t play that way.
Kraken Academy!! is closer in feel to a point-and-click adventure. It wants you to complete its quests by figuring out what each character needs and then fetching it for them. The complication is often knowing where they will be at a given time: you can normally guarantee that a student will be in their dorm in the evening, but – at other times – you have to memorise their appearances, so that you can time-loop back to them when you need them. One student has a birthday party during the day on Wednesday, so you’ll need to bring them a cake at that specific moment.
Outside of the time-based fetch-questing, there is a sprinkle of gameplay. Mostly this is in the form of QTEs, as the classes require you to pull off a small feat in the form of a swinging, golf-style power bar, or repeatedly pressing a button against a time-limit. Thankfully, they’re infrequent and you can change their difficulty. The Sports School also offers a few events for you to get involved with, which are more on the minigamey side.
You can probably sense that Kraken Academy!! doesn’t have much in the way of things to do. Some of the gaps are filled with Lego-style destruction of vases, bins and dumpsters to get the game’s currency, but most of the time is spent talking – and lots of it – to find new characters and their proclivities.
It’s not a bad way to spend said time. The campus is neatly compact, and there is plenty going on. But Kraken Academy!! constantly stops short when it is on the brink of something special. The quests, for example, are mostly simple fetch quests, and there’s no puzzle to what is needed: it’s all spelled out neatly in your journal. There’s clearly a fantastic scenario at play, too, but the dialogue and characters never quite reach funny, edgy or interesting, and stay somewhere near ‘quirky’.
But, most of all, the time loop doesn’t feel essential. The best games in the genre take advantage of the ability to refine a run, using your acquired knowledge to create a masterful playthrough. But Kraken Academy!! could have been twelve days long rather than three, with each school done in sequence, and it wouldn’t have lost much. Sure, there are moments where you’re checking your clock to ensure you’re in the right place at the right time, but it’s often a negative rather than positive: they are so far apart and rare that you are mostly skipping time at phone booths until the moment arrives.
But though we might mark it down for its lack of gameplay and the safe approach to its time-loop premise, it gets a solid B for being charming, quirky and a fine way to wile away six hours or so. We never regretted enrolling into the Kraken Academy!! – in fact, we found ourselves mopping up achievements by the end. We just felt that it had the potential to be an A+ student.
You can buy Kraken Academy!! from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S