On the surface, Ikenfell looks like one of the hundreds of existing RPGs on the market, more so with the retro pixel art style. With more indie developers making use of this aesthetic, rarely does a game like this stand out in the current market. I would likely scroll past it on the Nintendo eShop or on Steam due to its ‘on the surface’ appearance, but I’m so glad I didn’t. What makes Ikenfell so spellbinding is its attention to its character’s worth, and how that transcends into the world we live in today.
You play as a girl called Maritte, someone known to magic insiders as an ‘Ordinary.’ Her sister Safina has gone missing from Ikenfell Magic School, and as the world around you starts to become enveloped with magic and monsters, you realise that your sibling might be in grave danger. There are many similarities with Harry Potter and Hogwarts, yet it never feels like Happy Ray Games has copied and pasted the concepts or ideas that made those books and films so fantastic.
In fact, the recent news circulating its creator J.K. Rowling has put a sour taste in many people’s mouths, and that is why it is so refreshing that characters in Ikenfell are gay and trans, without the need to make a big deal about it. They just are, and nobody cares. These characters aren’t defined by the way they identify, but by the actions and decisions they make. The emotional story can sometimes take you by surprise, and that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with the game.
In its turn-based gameplay, battles take place on grids. Ikenfell manages to mix up how each fight goes down thanks to the variety of enemy types and the powers you unlock as you gain XP and level up. Some enemies jump on your head, spawn creatures to fight alongside them, and fire laser beams, and with each attack, you have a chance to reduce the damage by pressing a button at the right time to mitigate the damage. Likewise, when you use an attack, you can increase the output of the damage done by pressing a button as the spell makes its impact.
Battles require skill, and no two are the same; however, some of them go on for longer than necessary. Boss battles are the main offender for this, and after spending ten minutes in a gruelling encounter only to die and have to start again, it can become a real pain in the ass. Ikenfell allows you to buy and find certain items that can be used to improve your defence or attack, and health is always freely available, whether that comes from collecting mushrooms or saving your progress by stroking a cat, replenishing your entire HP. Your party will also grow as you play, and having new friends with a range of different attacks help to give you an edge in battle.
With great power comes great responsibility. If you use an attack and the range of which encompasses a party member, then it will do damage to them. Being cautious or taking risks adds more depth to these fights. Do you risk hurting a friend if it means wiping out a couple of enemies, or do you retreat only for a bad guy to inflict death upon you? Sometimes, enemies might take little damage, but hurting their minions can cause them to explode and severely injure them in the process. For such a simple-looking game, Ikenfell provides plenty of options when it comes to its turn-based gameplay.
Because Ikenfell has such an intriguing and heart-warming tale at its core, these battles can take the fun out of the entire experience. Without the need to do so, Happy Ray Games offers plenty of help to ensure you can just enjoy the story if you prefer by allowing you to win every fight instantly. The option to defeat enemies without having to even press a button is pretty cool, so if you begin to find things too hard, the option is there to skip these fights in favour of enjoying everything else Ikenfell has to offer.
The environments are beautiful for a style that restricts the visuals, and that’s a testament to the developers. The music is also excellent, thanks to the team behind the Steven Universe soundtrack. Everything about Ikenfell is charming, but it never pulls any punches when it comes to presenting an honest and raw narrative.
Ikenfell is an enjoyable RPG with an interesting story, fleshed-out characters, and a dense turn-based battle system. Whilst it may look like any other pixelated RPG, it offers so much more, and the fact it includes so many different people from all walks of life without any need to single them out or explain their inclusion gave me a warm feeling in my stomach.
Enjoyable battle system
Plenty of great characters
Some battles go on for too long