Montreal has been making pretty big waves in the videogame industry this last decade or so. Big names like Eidos, Ubisoft, and Bioware, just to name a few, all have studios here. Big AAA blockbuster series such as Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and Assassin’s Creed were all created here. It’s safe to say that the videogame industry in Quebec is thriving. And it’s not just AAA titles: Montreal’s indie game scene is just as strong, pumping out excellent games like We Happy Few, Child of Light, Jotun, and Sundered. Today we’ll be taking a look at Mages of Mystralia, an action/adventure game developed by the newly minted, Montreal-based Borealys Games. Will it proudly take its place among the pantheon of indie excellence, or will it fall by the wayside and be promptly forgotten by the cruel flows of time? Read on, my intrepid audience, read on! Or, you know, skip to the end summary. Whatever floats your boat.
Mages of Mystralia follows the journey of poor, hapless young girl named Zia and the trials and tribulations she faces on her journey to becoming a full-fledged mage. The Kingdom of Mystralia used to be ruled by Mage-Kings until one day a plague of trolls appeared unexpectedly and attacked the kingdom, killing many commoners and royals alike. After the death of their current Mage-King, the crown was passed on to a young untrained mage named Aetius. Aetius became obsessed with practicing forbidden magic, which culminated in him going mad and burning down villages until he was stopped by the last of the mages. Skipping to the current time in which the game is set, the Valley is now ruled by the Marquis and all magic is forbidden. Mages are hunted down and killed. So one day when Zia’s powers uncontrollably manifest and her house burns down, she is forced to flee the tiny village of Greyleaf before the Marquis’ soldiers can capture her. She meets a mage in the woods who takes her under his wing, thus setting the game’s events into motion. An interesting fact here is that the story of Mages of Mystralia was written by Ed Greenwood, the man who created Dungeons and Dragons’ famous Forgotten Realms game world.
Now you think that would mean that the story is dark and gloomy, and you wouldn’t be completely wrong. Darkness covers the land; mages are hunted and killed; villagers are under constant threat of monster attacks: sounds like dark stuff. However, much of this darkness is offset by the use of an extremely vibrant color palette and overly cartoonish character and monster models. Quite a few of the character interactions you will have are goofy as well, giving a rather light-hearted air to the whole affair.
In addition to having a story written by such a famous storyteller, the soundtrack comes with a fine pedigree as well. The full orchestral soundtrack was conducted by Shota Nakama and performed by the Video Game Orchestra, who also recently performed the soundtracks of huge titles like Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD ReMIX. It’s a beautiful score full of good tracks, but it never manages to become more than just the sum of its parts. When people think back on their favorite videogame soundtracks they always have one or two songs that really pop out: Mages of Mystralia doesn’t have anything memorable like that, at least not to me. But what makes Mages of Mystralia so special, so unique, is not the music or the story, but the impressive spellcrafting system.
As a mage-in-training, Zia starts off the game with the most rudimentary of spells, which she learns while traveling through a tutorial area in the beginning of the game. There are four base spells. Immedi serves as a close-range melee type of spell. Actus is geared more towards spells with a longer range. Ego is for support spells that focus on defending Zia by creating a shield, a decoy, or allowing her to dash quickly. Creo is a spell that can create a solid surface for Zia to traverse but can also be used offensively in certain circumstances. Each base spell type is bound to a specific button on the controller so you can quickly use them for whatever situation. As you advance through the game you will uncover all sorts of ways to modify your spells via behavior, trigger, and augments runes. Take the basic Actus spell, for example. With no modifiers, it is a stationary orb of fire. Slap on a certain group of modifiers and you can end up with a spell that shoots three homing fireballs at the same time. Across the four spells there are countless variations to play around with, tweaking and experimenting until you can come up with the perfect spell for the situation. You can then save your custom spells so you can switch to them on the fly. My only complaint about this system is that it takes some doing to find and collect all the various runes. Even after I finished the game I am still missing a few. It does make sense that they wouldn’t want to overwhelm players with so many options right at the beginning of the game, though. Plus it also serves as a way to block off certain areas of the game so the players get herded to where they need to go.
Spells aren’t just for combat, either. Mages have to be as smart and clever as they are strong, so you’ll encounter many puzzles and challenges. Challenges can be found scattered around Mystralia and often you will need a specific set of runes/spells in order to clear them successfully. If you have trouble, there is always a mystical talking brazier nearby that offers hints in exchange for green soulbeads (the in-game currency. I have no idea what a talking torch would need money for). Players should make sure they clear as many of these as they can because they offer up important rewards, such as the special purple soulbeads that you can use to purchase health and mana upgrades and special modifiers to be used in spell customization. You will also come across sealed doors that require you to solve a special kind of matching puzzle in order to open them. They also reward you will useful things, wands included. Zia can find and equip different wands in order to gain special augments to certain types of magic. The Aqua Wand, for example, ignores an enemy’s water resistance while adding a slow effect to aqua spells.
Mages of Mystralia is a game that is as easy on the eyes as it is on the ears. Combine that with a meaty spell system and plenty of secrets for those of you who like to plumb the depths and uncover every item hidden in the game and you’ve got another excellent indie title to add to the pile. In other words, there are plenty of good reasons to stick around and explore the Valley.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review.
Final Score: 8/10
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