By Mathew Imfeld / July 5th, 2017
|Title||Mages of Mystralia|
|Release Date||May 18th, 2017|
Here is the story of Borealys Games’ first entry. The Canadian Media Fund assisted in the budget for Mages of Mystralia, to allow them to produce their premier entry as well as gain momentum with a comic. The comic detailed the backstory of the entire setting. However, we need to know about the game here. Does it pan out? That depends on how much you enjoy a formula likely inspired by The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
The story begins with a recap of the past with a narration about a plague, a mad king, and the eventual witch hunt of mages. Then, it fast forwards to how a mage is still born every decade, where our protagonist, Zia, comes into play. In order to start the events of the game, her magical potential went out of control and caused her home to burn down. Zia is then exiled from Greyleaf Hamlet, where her mentor asks her to come to Haven to hone her abilities. After a bridge collapses beneath her, she finds a lost tome that teaches her the fundamentals of magic—since mentors are useless at their jobs in this world, apparently.
After her detour, she arrives at Haven, the one home for all mages. The Enchanter of Haven’s first task for Zia is to clean Mystria Woods of evil. To be honest, the plot hardly becomes more interesting from there. This is mainly due to three factors: Zia’s character, or lack thereof, how the narrative uses standard tropes, and a particular problem with telling rather than showing.
First, the problem with Zia. She is incredibly reserved for most of the plot. She will be either directed on where to go or confused instead of making her own decisions. A story lives or dies by its main protagonist, so Zia not being proactive makes the entire game’s narrative feel disengaging. Everything is rather forgettable not only due to this issue, but also the aforementioned problem of the story being told rather than shown and played straight. For example, the game tries to mask who the true villain is by not fully stating the culprit behind a particular plot point. However, it’s immensely obvious who the main villain is. So when the game goes “this is the main bad, beat him up,” you’ll just shake your head.
There is also a lack of build-up due to how the game is structured into three parts. It feels rather mechanical in terms of pacing and not at all truly woven together. Essentially, you need to do three tasks during the beginning to proceed to the middle. Then, four tasks to proceed to the end. The middle and end plot points also just happen spontaneously, as if to be some kind of shocking revelation. What’s truly bothersome is that all of these tasks will result in some exposition that simply plays into how straightforward this plot is. Would it be difficult to ask for some variety in this kind of story?
Thankfully, the sound design and soundtrack stands out. Every sound made is rather authentic and life-like. A fireball sounds like it burns things to a crisp, for example. The soundtrack also enhances the tone to that of an adventure as a mage. You are not on some normal adventure, you are one with the very elements themselves. The instrumentation is genuine, sounds crisp and clean, and is just a joy to listen to.
Visual presentation could be better but is still good. Up close, characters look absolutely fine, but from afar can be rather generic, outside of Zia. The sages are an exception however. Their sporadic and owl-like animations are rather distinct and leave a true lasting impression. I wish I could say the same for everyone else. Everything else seems to have little character despite their on-point animations. There is a difference between character via dialogue, and character via their movements. The latter method is one of the best ways to show character and as such is very important to do.
Now for the biggest selling point, the overall gameplay. For the most part, it’s like a standard top-down action-adventure title. You explore the world to learn new abilities, complete dungeons, collect currency and resources in order to proceed, and so on. The biggest difference is how spells work in the game. You start off with the four elements at their bare form. The four elements are as follows: electricity, fire, ice, and (technically combined) wind/earth. Electricity starts off as a melee move, fire makes a floating ball of fire in place, ice covers a small area and makes platforms, and wind/earth acts as a shield.
However, you can collect runes in order to alter their behavior. For example, fire can become a projectile with Move, electricity can be like bombs with Detonate, and wind/earth can summon a rock clone to distract enemies with Duplicate. Runes are intended to aid both combat and puzzle solving—at least in theory. There is a problem of execution that is highly prevalent. Most runes are optional and only serve to unlock even more optional runes. The runes that actually mean anything, like Move, Duplicate, and other upgrades, are only important because they are mandatory. I never really had a true desire to use any of the optional runes. In fact, I simply used fire with Move, Duplicate, and Impact to copy my electric spell with Detonate for every combat situation, when I combined all those runes.
Almost all runes, however, suffer from underutilization, mainly due to how the game is structured. Dungeons that center themselves around a specific rune only do the absolute minimum with that rune. However, after the dungeon the rune, in terms of puzzles, is entirely forgotten. The only exception is fire and move since most optional puzzles revolve around them. Half of the bosses don’t even take advantage of the rune in terms of gameplay. Most of them simply involve waiting or attacking their weakpoint about three times. However, the true victims here are the essences. These are first obtained around halfway through. They change the element of spells, so ice is now earth, and you can use the spell to cross lava. Yet they are so far into the game that you only use them for puzzles within their respective dungeon and nothing else.
Outside of the runes, what else is there to speak of? Well, the puzzles themselves are not very interesting. Either they are very simple to execute or very finicky. My experience makes me suspect there is a lack of play-testing involved in the development of this game. The first brazier puzzle in the entire game was annoying due to how precise it wanted to be. It boiled down to activating a switch to make four braziers turn around, after which you have to plant a fireball in order to provide the time to hit each switch. This puzzle demanded me to be at near perfection, and was the first puzzle I did in the entire game. It never really improved from there.
Then there is traversing through the overall areas of the game. The map of this game, quite frankly, is rather unhelpful. It suffers from a similar issue to that of Megaman ZX, where it will just show the areas of the game instead of showing an overview of the area you are in. This is particularly an issue when looking for upgrades, if you want to know what path leads to what. It doesn’t help that there are only three warp-points in the game, so traveling can be rather inconvenient.
In terms of technical information, the game only provides low to high graphics for textures and shadows, as well as the ability to turn off post processing and V-sync, so there is little in terms of customization to balance performance and graphical fidelity. Though, speaking of performance, the game feels like it has an optimization issue, probably due to Unity. My computer may not be the best but it can certainly run games fine. However, the game’s FPS hovers around 22-26. My only improvement in regards to FPS was from turning off post-processing and lowering shadows. Nothing else made a difference, which is why I think it’s a problem with Unity.
Overall, the game had many ideas that worked in theory. However, most of the issues addressed are mainly due to sub-par execution. During the six hour adventure I grew more and more disinterested, to the point that I ignored optional chests and wands entirely after The Quarry. To be fair, I can see someone enjoying this game, but give it some time. At best, wait for a price drop if you’re curious.
Action AdventureBorealys GamesMages of MystraliaPC