What happens when you throw some magic, school students, and, most importantly, cats into a cauldron? Likely nothing good, but Ikenfell hits all the nails and combines them into one. Developed by Happy Ray Games and brought to the Nintendo Switch by Humble Games, find out if Ikenfell is a game that stands its ground among the many other tactical RPGs.
When your sister goes missing, it’s up to you as the responsible sibling to seek her out. Ikenfell tells the tale of Maritte searching for her sister, Safina, in the magic academy she has been enrolled in. Little does she know of the events that’ll unfold and the surprises they’ll bring. Your search will extend throughout the different areas of the school, all providing a new problem to iron out.
The game’s story is a beefy one. There’s enough to keep you engaged and the cast is filled with enchanting characters, some of whom are gay and trans. Some of the acting could have been better executed to amplify the emotional effects they emit. Story cutscenes can be skipped, which makes jumping into rematches a smoother experience after switching off the console.
Ikenfell is a turn-based tactical RPG with retro pixel-styled graphics. What sets it apart from other RPGs are its real-time timing mechanics and the occasional lyrics sung during battles. It makes up a large portion of the game’s charm. The basics of the game are no trouble getting down, but the gameplay itself will have a lot of room for trial and error.
The enemies in the game are visible in the overworld. They do chase you on sight, which has been established as a normal aspect in modern RPGs. It’s no trouble avoiding them if needed, but some do make it tricky. One specific enemy, for example, blends in with the environment. Some others are crammed in small areas, which makes dodging them tougher.
The map of Ikenfell isn’t large, but the game will make you take your fine time exploring all of it. The majority of the game will take place in the school of magic and you’ll be jumping from screen to screen with the school’s many connecting areas. As you progress further in the game, more areas of the institution will become accessible.
Casual players will feel at home with a map that informs you of where you must go next. There’s no small mini-map on a corner of the screen, so you’ll have to constantly open it up for the information. Memorizing the different parts of the school isn’t too difficult with how small it is. Fast travel options are available, making it more convenient to travel to previous locations; this will be necessary to acquire special items from a saleswoman who has set up shop away from the chaos.
Even though Ikenfell is a game about magic, there’s no sighting of MP. Instead, it uses timing mechanics and magical skills for its combat. There’s no limit to how often you can use these skills, as long as you’re still standing. Fast reflexes and steady focus will be the key to slaying the massive number of enemies in this game. It can also be a source of frustration when you mess up the timing. There’s no restart option midbattle after a bad play. You’ll have to intentionally let your characters perish or restart the game. Save points are abundant in Ikenfell, so you won’t lose progress often when doing this; at most, you’ll lose time waiting for the game to reload.
You fight on a small grid-based screen with a maximum of three party members. Characters can move a specific amount of tiles during each of their turns. Skills they learn are dependant on their level and each has its own unique animation. The damage each skill inflicts on foes and the damage you receive are determined by how properly you mash a button while performing the respective action, either it be attacking or defending. How you perform is judged by a three-score merit system: oops, nice, and great. The enemy’s HP is hidden during battle, making combat slightly more difficult. Occasionally you’ll wonder how much more damage a monster can withstand before retiring.
Poor timing and distractions will be your downfall in this game. Twenty-five seconds away to answer the door could meet you with a wiped out party upon returning. Each skill is unique and requires proficiency in effectively timing them. You’ll need to get accustomed to their animations to time them right; an enemy shooting a projectile at you requires precise timing on impact to reduce its damage, for example. Excelling at this helps end battles faster in your favor; however, battles can sometimes drag on despite this. Even though grinding is not a necessity in the game, higher stats can shorten fights where you still come out as victorious.
Each area provides a new face and a set of new enemy skills to defend against. You’re definitely not going to find ‘copy and pasted’ opponents with different appearances in Ikenfell. It shows how much effort the developers have put into the game. These enemies will keep you on your toes with their different attacks that wait for no one. With over 100 enemies and 22 bosses, there’s never a stale moment with these new encounters.
Ikenfell has a variety of items, from consumables that recover HP to raising/lowering stats. The game has no shortage of supplies, other than the lack of equipable weapons; they’re scarce, and most shops will frequently sell you weapons that are already in your possession. This does change in the latest chapters of the game, but a large portion of your power will normally rely on your level, boosts, and the other gear you’ve obtained.
The large variety of items in the game allows for better strategic decision making. If a boss is too tough, you can lower their defense while raising your own with the usage of items to deliver optimal damage. If used efficiently, it can be effective, but it’s not always straightforward to execute. Bosses can make using the items you intend to utilize tricky, preventing a viable opportunity.
Sometimes the results may not even be favorable. The early-game items can leave false impressions of how important they are. As you continue playing, you’ll eventually discover more effective items and learn how critical they are during combat. Not stocking up on sufficient amounts can set you at a major disadvantage, especially when you’re against the late-game bosses.
During your search for your sister, you’ll encounter puzzles that require solving before you can progress further. The game has provided some leeway during its early stages, so you won’t find them until midway through your journey. Even so, most are straightforward; however, there are a few complicated puzzles that will leave you guessing.
The tougher puzzles usually present hints. Some of them will require careful observation because their hints are simple to miss. You may even be surprised by how it was looking you straight in the face, yet you still missed it all that time. The other puzzles the game throws your way aren’t meant to challenge your capabilities. They aim to be more entertaining rather than brain-busting, and that goal is a success.
The game has six playable characters in total with a maximum of three in your party at any time. You’ll begin with the protagonist, Maritte. As you progress further, more playable characters will become available. They each have their own set of unlockable, unique skills as they level up. All characters gain EXP regardless of who wins the battle. There’s no going back, having to grind solely to level up abandoned characters. It is noticeable how new characters overshadow the old, but it becomes tempting to retry benched characters when they’ve acquired new skills.
As you’ll inevitably exceed three characters, you’ll have to decide who you wish to use for your party. Unfortunately, the only way to do this is by finding one of the common cats in the area and setting your preferences. It’s not much of an inconvenience because of the accessibility of these furry friends, but sometimes avoiding the trip will seem more worthwhile.
Ikenfell has definitely been made with the LGBTQ+ community in mind. There’s a fair amount of content stuffed into the game that would receive positive responses. A lesbian relationship and a consumable item named “queerberry” are just some of the things that await you. Most of it is displayed visually rather than expressed through dialogue.
You Can Pet The Cat in Ikenfell
Apparently, petting animals is a vital feature in games these days. Although it’s not visually shown, you’ll be able to rest well knowing that you can pet the cats in Ikenfell. Cats are spread widely throughout the game, but not without their purpose. You’ll have to make do with reading the automated text each time when interacting with a cat to save your game or adjust your party members.
Graphics and Soundtrack
While the game looks pretty in some areas, it can seem unusual in others. A character can look almost identical to the famous red Angry Bird from the popular mobile game by Rovio Entertainment thanks to its blurry pixilated form. Visuals aren’t always clear; a head nod can sometimes make you wonder whether it’s a glitch or part of the game that you just want to facepalm at. It’s strange, but tolerable. Clothing options also don’t reflect on the character even though they all have their distinctive appearance in the inventory. You’ll be stuck with the default style throughout the game.
Ikenfell features a stunning soundtrack from the duo composers of Steven Universe. Fans of the series will be met with songs of similar quality. The majority of tunes you’ll listen to will be sweet and calming. Some fights will have their own theme songs played during matches; the remarkable singing never becomes repetitive thanks to a pause between the lyrics where you’re met with the beautiful background melody. The lyrical music sets Ikenfell apart from other RPGs, but the inclusion of more songs would have made the experience even further entertaining.
Ikenfell makes its name as a wonderful turn-based tactical RPG with outstanding timing mechanics and an engaging story that’ll grip you by the sleeve. There’s always a fresh set of enemies to defeat, the soundtrack is filled with majestic tunes fitting for the composers of Steven Universe, and the little puzzles the game offers are always a delight to solve. Combat can sometimes be daunting when dragged on longer than expected and the graphics aren’t the most noteworthy, but $19.99 will net you 15-20 hours of gameplay and a special place in your heart for this game.
Ikenfell gets an 8/10.