In the single-player realm, a game’s story is often the most crucial aspect of any immersive experience. The graphics, audio, and mechanics serve as augments that reinforce the narrative, all while adhering to the same standards set by gamers and the companies behind a title’s production. In Mages of Mystralia, however, Borealys Games achieves the opposite effect: a narrative that serves as an augment for a single-player game’s colorful graphics, cheesy audio, and simple yet entertaining mechanics.
From the moment a player reaches Mages of Mystralia’s main menu, a multitude of colors plaster the screen. As if plucked right out of a children’s book colored by an artist for a ’90s Nickelodeon cartoon, Mages of Mystralia ensures no row of the rainbow is neglected. The overabundance of color embodies the spirit of creative freedom rather than taking away from the experience. Trees with solid brown trunks and green leaves look more like body suits than foliage, but are nonetheless distinguishable as belonging to a vibrant forest. Similarly, Mages of Mystralia’s characters are equally bright, drawn with brilliant shades, among which even the darker hues stand out as pleasing to the eye.
The most notable portion of the visuals, however, is the detail given to each boss and miniboss. Normal enemies the player encounters during their magical journey are rather run-of-the-mill. Bosses, on the other hand, are where the developers’ artistic focus is apparent. When a gargantuan fir beast with a glowing fuchsia orb in its mouth emerges to spit gooey death and sprout savage tentacles from beneath the ground, the player’s sense of mortality is awakened. Given the claymation-meets-Super Mario-style visuals, the malevolence of the oversized plant boss is diluted by its cartoonish appearance. This oxymoronic creature is a prime example of what spawns when playfulness breeds with frightfulness. With such a mixed tone set by the game’s visuals, the game’s soundtrack being the most enjoyable section of the experience is unusual.
Appropriate for a world of magic and beauty, Mages of Mystralia’s soundtrack is an orchestral sensation. Using soothing melodies to evoke both a paradoxical sense of wary tranquility and immersive mystery, the music plays a key role in making Mages of Mystralia an endearing undertaking. During a playthrough, the world is somewhat lacking, despite amusing graphics and intriguing mechanics. However, the music playing in the background makes up for the lackluster storytelling and cheesy gameplay.
Voice acting is almost nonexistent, with the exception being the brief narration players hear before beginning their journey. The opening scene functions as a quick explanation of the world and an initial setup to the uninspired story. The voiceover provides some insight into the game’s lore and offers some interesting plot elements. Unfortunately, this opening is the only substantial voice acting involved in a playthrough, and the text appearing in bubbles above the characters’ heads to convey dialogue is corny and unimaginative. The uncreative dialogue takes away from a playthrough by breaking immersion, often making the player feel as though they are reading a comic book as opposed to playing a video game. While this storytelling device is not inherently bad, and is certainly not a jab at comic books, the device feels tedious given the subpar tale. Fortunately, the game’s mechanics make up for the prosaic fable.
Throughout the gamer’s adventure, they will come across different puzzles that block access to the next portion of a quest. One of these puzzles has the player lighting braziers with a fire spell within a certain amount of time. Adding challenge to this particular puzzle, the player must navigate around objects to acquire an open angle to ignite a brazier. If players do not kindle all the fires in the allotted time (countdown starts after the first brazier is lit), the flames extinguish and the process must be restarted. Another puzzle takes the form of matching orbs with tiny arrows on them to an appropriate position on a grid that has all the arrows on each given orb facing the points on another orb to create a fluid path. Once the path is created, the puzzle is complete and a door will open. This particular type of puzzle is untimed. These gameplay segments add depth to the game, giving users the opportunity to use problem-solving skills rather than basing the entire journey’s success on defeating enemies.
Naturally, the crux of Mages of Mystralia’s gameplay is the use of magic. Based on the elements (fire, water, wind, and lightning), different spells give the player different abilities. Some spells are offensive, used to defeat enemies and overcome bosses. Others are defensive, providing players with a shield that protects them from incoming damage. However, not all magic is combat-based. Throughout the campaign, more spells are added to the player’s arsenal, many of which are used to help navigate the world, such as the ability to freeze water to progress. In addition, basic spells can be modified using runes to create different conjurations. These modifications make the player’s magic more powerful, depicted by more damage and improved animations, such as enhancing lightning spells to create more arcs, affecting more enemies simultaneously for more efficient devastation. Mixing and matching runes into different magical slots allows players creative freedom, which props the game up on a more lovable dais, making up for the distracting, overabundance of colors; the lack of quality voicework; and the mundane story.
Overall, Mages of Mystralia is a charming game that could have used a little more funding to give the developers more options in production. Unfortunately, while the game world is beautiful, the colors are overwhelming and detract from immersion. As a single-player game, the rudimentary tale is disappointing, replacing crucial storytelling devices (voice acting, emotional animations, clever plot twists, etcetera) with annoying comic blurbs that float above characters. Luckily, the soundtrack is a wonderful addition to such an eccentric world. Moreover, the gameplay is an endearing, challenging, and rewarding venture. Hopefully, Borealys Games will receive more funding for its next project, because the team’s potential should not be squandered, and if the company improves upon its pitfalls, its next project could be far superior to Mages of Mystralia.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4