Happy Ray Games
Ikenfell is one of those games that sunk its hooks into me early on and didn’t let go once for the entirety of its roughly 20-hour story. Every time I told myself I’d take a break at the next story beat or save point, something new would happen that made me go “okay, maybe a little more…” and before I knew it I’d finished the game. For those who don’t know, Ikenfell is the latest title published by Humble Games, first funded via Kickstarter in 2016. The premise is that the game’s protagonist Maritte travels to the titular magic school of Ikenfell to look for her missing sister. The initial mystery quickly opens the doors to more and more questions, and that’s about all I can say without divulging spoilers.
In terms of gameplay, Ikenfell is a turn-based RPG with a combat system mainly inspired by Paper Mario with a few drops of Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea thrown in for good measure. Battles take place on a grid 3 tiles tall by 12 tiles long, necessitating a decent but not overwhelming degree of positionally strategic thinking to win. At the same time, abilities all have a timing system – again, similar to Paper Mario – where you have to push the button at the right time to either maximize positive effects or minimize negative ones. Overall, it’s very engaging and enjoyable, and the periodic introduction of new enemies with new attacks keeps it from getting stale. I did find the timing requirements to be a bit unforgiving and/or unintuitive on some attacks, but the game isn’t hard enough that it ever punished me too much for not being able to block everything all the time.
Though I mentioned earlier that I can’t say anything specific about the story, I do still have some praises to lavish upon it. Overall, it’s a very positive tale, a story focused around friendship, compassion, and caring about the world around you. It was deeply cathartic to see what it had to say about complicated topics such as PTSD and anxiety, and the ways that people can find to cope with them. On the other end of things, the many moments where the game isn’t quite so serious and reflective are completely charming, from a few wacky enemy designs to the cat-based save system. The characters are richly realized and compelling as well as intensely likable and sympathetic – not to mention there isn’t a single person in the whole game that isn’t LGBT+ in some way, which to be clear I say as praise. Especially now, given recent developments around a certain other magic-school-based story of questionable moral and narrative character, it does my heart good to see stories that are so wholesome and welcoming to all manner of people.
In addition to and just as important as being welcoming, Ikenfell is probably the most accessible game I’ve ever seen, with a range of options that I can only think of Celeste as having even come close to. There’s an accommodation for photosensitive individuals, an option for turning on content warnings, the ability to set timing to automatically have the best result, and even an “instant victory” option to bypass battles entirely if you’re more interested in the (once again, extremely compelling) story than gameplay. The user interface is simple and friendly, though I do wish equipment stats could be seen directly in addition to by comparison to what a character currently has. In fact, the game’s visual aesthetics are very pleasing overall, as is the bangin’ soundtrack.
To be frank, Ikenfell may very well end up being my favorite game of 2020. It’s impossible for me to completely rule out that this is a factor of recency bias at the moment, but the fact that it’s in the running at all is already hugely indicative of its quality. There was not a single aspect of Ikenfell I out-and-out disliked, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it in the couple of days since I beat it. Its story and characters will stick with me for a long time, and the joy it has brought me is no small thing in these dark times.
Ikenfell is absolutely packed with reasons to love it.