released on Oct 08, 2020

A turn-based tactical RPG about a group of troublesome magic students. Use timing mechanics to power your spells and block attacks, explore the twisted halls of a vast magic school, fight challenging monsters and bosses, and uncover dark secrets never meant to be found.

Reviews View More

so cool to see non-binary characters in media

There's a lot I could talk about when it comes to Ikenfell, a lot of things I loved. I could ramble on about the almost casually effortless way it handles queer themes, its excellent music, the well-executed and rare GBC aesthetic. I could point out how its world is focused, interconnected in a way that makes it painless to traverse, how its secrets are accessible or how it manages to forge a unique identity during a time when it is very easy for a lot of indie RPGs to feel very of a kind.
But that's not what I want to talk about. When it comes to Ikenfell, what makes it a game I have come to adore is the personal and the mechanical.
The personal side of Ikenfell isn't a new one. It's not the first RPG to elevate its characters beyond the plot, to treat them as more than tropes. But the way it does so, the pervasive nature of the interpersonal development of these characters, is difficult to approach. Each one feels like a person, someone with a life outside of this story and whatever moment of time they are inhabiting. Ikenfell spends as much time on the relationships between these characters, the exploration of this personal space, as it does on the plot itself. And it does so in a way that does not disrupt the flow of the game, coming as a very natural ebb and flow of plot, mechanics and introspection.
The growth of these characters, catalyzed by a plot that pushes them into uncomfortable personal realities, is as much the focus of the game as the moment-to-moment story developments. A rarity in a genre that is often propelled by grand, sweeping themes and ever-increasing stakes. It's tempting to talk about the details, the ways it subverts expectations, how it handles its serious moments with a rare dignity. But it's a game I refuse to spoil, as the act of discovering these moments is the emotional core of the journey.
That alone would be more than enough for me to like the game. But the fact that the mechanical side is so polished, and in a way that suggests a keen understanding of the pitfalls of games that pull from the JRPG well, is what elevates the game to one that is, for me, an instant classic.
Moves. Skills. Think of the RPGs, particularly the JRPGs, you've played. Ask yourself how often you used the entire skillset on a regular basis. How about half of it? How many skills were simply different flavors of the same. Fire for ice enemies, ice for fire enemies. Raising magic defense when fighting spell casters, physical versus melee. Spells that are strict upgrades, rendering the previous version obsolete and thus not being new at all. Rote responses to rote situations and, in many cases, ones that aren't even required, with combat that favors brute efficiency over dynamic choices. Systems that are, ultimately, prescriptive, difficulty curves that expect average play and thus punish those who fully engage with the tools provided by dropping all pretense of a challenge.
Ikenfell does not have this problem. Each character has eight skills, with the last one earned notably before the endgame. In most cases, the very first skill will be the strongest. Everything else is a sidegrade. A weaker attack, but one that hits an area and clears traps. A stronger attack, but with severely limited range. One that allows you to approach from a different angle. An option for movement, or limiting that of the enemy. Healing spells with actual differences that genuinely matter. Every single skill you earn, beginning to end, will be useful on a regular basis throughout the game. There is no chaff at all, no extremely niche choices.
Movement in combat is best described as SRPG-lite, with a limited field and enemies that are quite mobile. Your opponents will also have specific ranges they prefer as well, attacks that hit in spreads and lines, near and far, and it becomes increasingly difficult to find optimal positioning as the game goes on. This is compounded by the lack of random encounters, with each mob pack having a unique combination of enemies. No two battles are the same, a dynamism that is sorely lacking in so many entries.
That dynamic nature is furthered by the timed hit system. All skills, offensive and defensive, and all incoming attacks are subject to this. But unlike other timed hit setups, they are of critical importance here. Hits can be bad, good or great. Buffs and heals will fail to take on bad, debuffs can be avoided with great. The difference in damage is very notable, both coming and going. And every skill on both sides has a different, uniquely animated timing to it, making the occasional mistake all but inevitable. To the game's credit, the tuning on the numbers is so solid that those mistakes will often cause you to change your plan, leaving an enemy alive or a character in peril.
But what about gear? Too often, gear is a series of largely linear upgrades, with accessories allowing a bit of variety. You arrive in a new town, you buy your new gear. You go into a dungeon and root around for a few ahead-of-the-curve pieces. You give a relic to this person, a bracelet to that one, to tweak their build just a bit or to prepare for a specific battle. Most of these decisions don't matter, so long as the number goes up and obvious mistakes are avoided.
Not so in Ikenfell. Gear that you find is of equal use to the gear that you buy, with every piece being a trade-off in some way. As in combat, the numbers are kept low and fine-tuned to such a degree that you will absolutely notice the difference dropping speed for an extra move makes, the defense you sacrifice for power. Meanwhile, special equipment is largely limited to collecting gems from secret areas and trading them in for items in a shop. You know what you're getting, and what you're getting isn't a strict upgrade. These, too, offer trade-offs, special effects at the cost of stats. Even the tired trope of ultimate weapons hidden in obtuse ways and bringing game-breaking stats and abilities is absent. Your best weapons will be acquired in the final area, through character specific trials and in time for you to make use of them in the ending hours.
There's more. A soft cap on leveling and an EXP curve that tops out perfectly just from fighting the enemies you find along the way. An economy that forces actual choices if you intend to use all of the characters. Three roles, with two options each that play out quite differently while providing you all the freedom you need to make an unbalanced team. Secrets that are both worthwhile and which want to be found. Consumables with multiple effects, and the need to use them if you choose not to rely on the (arguably too) generous save points to recover.
All of this is just to say that Ikenfell does more than provide a compelling plot and characters to care about. It builds systems to drive you forward, systems that feel like they require your engagement instead of simply shuttling you along. Dungeons aren't slogs, they're exciting opportunities to learn new enemies and expand your strategies. Itemization isn't fishing for the highest stats, it's an active decision with tangible impact and inevitable sacrifices. Numbers are small enough to easily track the differences made when one goes up or down a bit, and the choices for them are diverse enough that you feel like even small choices will change how a battle flows.
Everything matters, from the plot to the personal to the play of the game itself. It was the first time in a long time I felt I wasn't simply along for the ride in an RPG, part of a visual novel with just a bit more mechanical depth than usual. Ikenfell is a game in a genre where many titles are just stories that check to make sure you're still awake between cutscenes and, for me, a breath of fresh air that reinvigorated my waning love for RPGs.

Ikenfell is the gayest game you're going to find in a long time, and if you can't handle that, then you might want to try a different game. Moving past that, I'd say its an extremely polished and competent turn based game, with little secrets and optional things to do sprinkled everywhere. The accessibility options are also great, and surprised me with an option to just skip the battle if I so chose. I can understand that now however, after playing the game.
This game is a challenge the whole way through, with a difficulty so fine tuned that it nearly completely eliminated my hoarders mentality that I had developed from other games. You will NEED to use items to survive some battles. This, combined with the game's interesting and varied combat range system, makes for very good gameplay. I was repeatedly challenged throughout my playthrough despite finding many secrets.
In regards to the story, my feelings are a little more mixed. The reasons the characters have for doing things are always explained eventually, but sometimes the explanation can be a little lacking and shoehorned IMO. Despite this, the overarching story (when not getting sidetracked) is good. The ending is satisfying, and when paired with everything else the game has to offer, no one should really be complaining about the story. It does its job just fine.

Un juego simple, pero muy efectivo y adorable.
PD: Me encantan todes les protes, pero especialmente Maritte, Hilda e Ima. Mis hijes...

I don't like to go hard on games like this, but as someone who is ostensibly the exact target audience for this(ex-tumblr lesbian jrpg fanatic), its awful and basically the exact opposite of what to make a faux-jrpg as.
To start, lets get the combat out of the way. Its a mix of Paper Mario and Battle Network, except somehow lamer and significantly slower than either of them. Even trash encounters take 3-5 minutes because you spend an inordinate amount of time walking up to hit the guy only for them to jump away immediately. Combined with the generally low combat numbers and high HP pools of enemies, in addition to the action button combat making it so you can't speed up combat its just a miserable slog. By the halfway point of the game, I just turned on the "instant win all combat" button, except that STILL makes you wait until the protagonist's turn in-combat to activate so you're still sitting there 30 seconds each fight waiting. That alone killed any momentum in the game for me.
Next, the world. You'd think a Magic School would be a slam-dunk setting for a jrpg--lots of fun themes and tropes you can choose from, quirky npcs to encounter, etc etc. Ikenfell does a very bold move here and makes the entire map a dungeon. Besides one tavern at the start of the game(and ceases to be relevant 10% of the way in), there is no real "towns" or calm places. You walk into the school courtyard, which is a dungeon, which leads you to the dorms, which are a dungeon, which leads you to the botany labs, which are a dungeon, and so on. There is functionally no "downtime" from the combat portion of the game, you are just shuttled from dungeon to dungeon to dungeon. There also aren't really any npcs to deal with, no sidequests to handle, nothing of the sort. Just large dungeons bereft of anything interesting or exciting. This game is honestly a masterclass in how not to pace your game, the constant slog of enemy encounter after encounter just removes any tention or interest the game could have.
But surely, I thought, this game should be heartfelt. Perhaps to someone younger, it might be, but I could not connect with any of these characters. The most interesting one is the hot-blooded lightning lesbian, in part because she does something besides mope around the entire game. The writers focused so much on either the grander Plot stuff or the traumas the various characters have that any sense of comradery or fun is lost. And like, you can make characters who just mope around all the time--I recently played Tales of Berseria, where the main character is a deeply traumatized young woman who spends 80% of the game with coping with that trauma, but there she's surrounded by people who don't take things as seriously and the game isn't afraid to clown on her from time to time. The plot itself is also generally whatever, its basically just a collect the macguffin plot to lead you from place to place. It doesn't even really use the setting in any interesting way.
An odd note as well is that there's three vocal themes in the game, all of which belong to later-game party members who's function is just not plot-critical. Which, its fine, I love hip hop and am a huge sucker for vocal themes but its a weird choice. None of the main characters, just these three weirdos. It feels like a bit of a waste of dosh, but like sure why not.
What actually gets me is one of the songs has a lot of references to real life figures like Martin Luther or Bob Ross, and it took me out so much. Like, the game pretty expressly does not take place on Earth so..???? Petty concern, for sure, but its actually funnily enough the thing that stuck with me the most.
All in all, a waste of talent and time by all involved. I feel bad because every lesbian-themed western indie jrpg seems to disappoint(even Christine Love's Get in the Car didn't hit the marks it should have), and I don't want this to be the case because, well, thats me.
But that's the world we live in. Its a pity.

Upon my initial playthrough of Ikenfell I was left less than impressed. There are very few games that change my opinion from bad to good upon a second try, and if I'm being entirely honest, nine times out of ten, it's usually the opposite. Ikenfell must have left an impression on me because after playing it I couldn't seem to forget it and every time I saw it in the Gamepass catalogue I would have a strange urge to do another playthrough. Finally seeing it go on sale for Playstation I gave in and bought Ikenfell.
After finishing my second run of the game, I was left with a completely different experience than the first in almost every way. For starters, I wasn't too keen on the characters originally and felt they were kind of stereotypical and didn't have much to offer. I also didn't care too much for Ikenfell's narrative and that I felt it was a little over the top, melodramatic, and immature. Now, I feel the opposite because I find the characters charming and endearing. Even though I don't think they were written with great depth, the game does show the characters to have their own flaws and struggles to make them feel relatable. As far as the story, I still find it somewhat exaggerated and a little silly, but I grew to like it a lot more this time around.  Ikenfell's storytelling is a little simplistic, but also has more emotion than I gave it credit for.
Sadly, the only the thing I really didn't change my opinion on was the battle system, though I did give it more of a chance by playing legit this time. Being honest, I did turn off the timing for the attack/defend prompts because I found it to be tedious. Since I didn't choose to skip all the battles in a rush to get to the story, I was able to go through the all the characters spells and attacks which the games give you a lot of. The spells were something that I enjoyed experimenting with and it was fun to see what magic did what. Most of the battles are not that bad and can be finished somewhat quickly, especially if you know how to utilize your attacks, but as the game goes on the more the battles seem to draw out due to a lot of the enemies calling for reinforcements. About three fourths into the game I did turn on auto-victory because I just didn't want to spend a lot of time fighting random enemies.
There is a lot about Ikenfell that I came to appreciate while playing this time and I might not have if I didn't give the game another chance. The game isn't perfect, but it's still a nice little indie game filled with heart.
+likable cast of characters
+decent story
+charming art design
+fun world exploration and puzzles
+in game cheats to skip battles
+nice catchy soundtrack
-characters/story can be a little over dramatic at times
-battles can be boring and drawn out