Mages of Mystralia - This Spellbinding Adventure is One of the Year's Best | A Short Pause Review
When I attended PAX South in San Antonio earlier this year, I had two objectives in mind: (1) To be one of the first people to play the Nintendo Switch, and (2) To discover some cool indie games that I could talk about on the podcast. It wasn't until Sunday evening, about 30 minutes before the show floor closed, that I happened upon the booth for Mages of Mystralia by Borealys Games. It was described to me as a mix between Harry Potter and The Legend of Zelda, so naturally I was intrigued. I spent those last 30 minutes of my time at PAX playing this game, and when it came time to leave I did not want to put the controller down. Ever since then, I've been awaiting the day when I could experience the full adventure. That day has finally come, and it was well worth the wait. Mages of Mystralia is a unique title that blends solid gameplay with some fresh ideas that keep things interesting throughout the experience.
In Mages of Mystralia you play as Zia, a young girl who is gifted with magical abilities in a land where those abilities have been outlawed. Under the guidance of a secret alliance of mages, as well as a magical talking spell book, Zia must defeat the dark forces that threaten the land of Mystralia in order to save the very people who fear her. The game's narrative moves at a good pace, and it features some fairly robust lore courtesy of fantasy writer Ed Greenwood. The art style is colorful and cartoony, and the game is played from a top-down perspective akin to classic Zelda titles. All of these elements, combined with some fun combat and puzzle-solving, form a nice cohesive package.
The real hook of the gameplay for Mages of Mystralia comes in the form of the spell-crafting system. There are four categories of spells — Immedi, Ego, Actus, and Creo — each mapped to a different button on the controller. Immedi spells are close-quarters attacks that happen when you swing your wand. Ego spells only affect the user (like a shield or a dodge maneuver). Actus spells are attacks that can be deployed, like mines or projectiles. Finally, the Creo category allows for spells with a durable effect, like ice bridges that allow you to walk over water. It doesn't stop there, though. As you progress through the world, you'll find runes that can be attached to your spell book that enable your spells to take on different behaviors. For example, the default Actus spell is a stationary fireball. However, after you apply the Move rune to that spell, it becomes a mobile projectile. In time, you'll find more and more runes that further increase the effectiveness of your spells. If you apply Move, Duplicate, and Homing to the Actus spell, your fireballs will now split into three and lock onto enemies, making you a force to be reckoned with. All of this may sound a little complex, but it's actually very intuitive. There are dozens — if not hundreds — of spell permutations possible once you find all of the runes. I was very satisfied with the sense of progression I felt each time I obtained a new rune, as well as with the subsequent period of experimentation as I discovered what kinds of cool new spells I could craft with said rune.
The variety of spells allows for a lot of personalization in the way you approach combat. You can really craft your spells to match your own personal play style. Would you prefer to have a shield, or a sliding dodge? Do you want your wand attacks to be quick strikes, or slow and powerful ones? Would you rather freeze your enemies, or rain fire from the heavens? All of these options become available to you as you progress and turn into a more powerful mage. This kind of adaptability will be vital in your quest, because many of the enemies will be resistant to a certain element, or they may just require a different plan of attack in order to defeat them.
In addition to attacking enemies, your spells can also be used to solve a variety of puzzles found throughout the land of Mystralia, as well as to find hidden items and collectibles. One thing that I really appreciated in regards to the puzzle-solving was the hint system. Many of the puzzles involve lighting a series of torches in order to obtain a reward, but they often require you to have specific runes in order to solve the puzzle. There are hint terminals that can be consulted that will simply tell you if you currently posses the necessary runes to solve the puzzle. If you need more help, you can spend in-game currency to get an additional hint. These hints are completely optional, but I found it to be immensely useful to know whether or not I was wasting my time trying to solve a puzzle that would have been impossible with my current collection of runes.
The land of Mystralia is home to a variety of environments including towns, lakes, ice-capped mountains, and an active volcano. As you explore, you'll have to complete a number of dungeons — complete with their own puzzles and challenges — as well as fight a variety of bosses. I found the boss battles to be well-designed and fun, and each boss you defeat rewards you with an elixir that increases your maximum health and mana. There are other collectibles as well, such as Purple Soul Beads — which can be exchanged for additional health and mana upgrades — and a variety of wands, each possessing different perks in combat. Some of the collectibles can be obtained by completing objectives for the townspeople. There is a lot to do to keep you busy for a good while, especially if you are going for 100% completion. The only real complaint I have about Mages of Mystralia is that the game suffers from some frame rate issues on occasion when there are too many things happening onscreen at once. This is an issue that was noticeable, but it wasn't so egregious that it hampered my enjoyment of the game as a whole.
Mages of Mystralia is a game that is right up my alley. It features solid gameplay, upgradable abilities, engaging puzzles, a fantastic musical score, and an interesting story. It takes elements from classic Zelda games, but gives them a fresh new spin with its brilliantly-designed spell-crafting system. Despite a few performance issues, I'm confident that this game is going to be on my year-end list as one of the best things I've played this year. I sincerely hope the fine folks at Borealys Games will continue Zia's saga in a future installment.
Note: I backed this game via Kickstarter during its initial fundraising campaign. While this has in no way affected my opinion of the game or introduced any favoritism or bias, it’s important to note this in the interest of transparency.
Mages of Mystralia was reviewed using a digital copy of the PS4 version graciously provided to us by the fine folks at developer Borealys Games.