Review: Mages of Mystralia

Becoming a mage isn’t an easy task, but it’s one made much more difficult without a teacher.  Zia was keeping things under control until one day she couldn’t any more, at which point her natural affinity for fire magic caused her to accidentally burn down her home.  Mystralia had a serious magic problem years earlier when a mage-king went mad, destroying whole towns in his paranoia, and since that time anyone who can cast even the slightest spell is exiled.  Magic is a violation of the law of Mystralia, so Zia gets cast out of her village.  Luckily her home of Grayleaf Hamlet is isolated from the rest of Mystralia, and merely suspicious of mages rather than outright hostile, so she can get by even as an outcast.  As it turns out, however, magic isn’t completely eliminated from the land and she soon finds herself under the wing of a tutor.  One thing leads to another and Zia stumbles across a talking magic tome whose black text and gravely voice lead one to suspect it’s not quite so benevolent as it seems, and this, of course, leads to an adventure to save all of Mystralia and maybe even redeem the mages.

Mages of Mystralia is a classic action-RPG where you run through a fantasy kingdom as its troubles escalate from “mildly unstable” to “it’s all going to end in fire”.  As a mage, Zia has no combat skills, but she starts with a basic knowledge of four schools of magic and quickly grows in power and versatility as the adventure progresses.  Rather than learning new spells Zia gains new runes, which can be linked together to create whatever type of magic a situation might call for.  Immedi magic effects the staff, giving Zia as close to a proper melee attack as she’ll get.  Actus drops a ball of energy in the air, Creo effects the ground, and Ego works directly on Zia.  Every new rune opens up more possibilities, until Zia has an arsenal of spells ranging in power and capability.

A rune as simple as Move, for example, links up to the abilities in different ways.  It doesn’t serve any purpose on the Immedi staff-based magic, so doesn’t show up on that list, but wire it up to Actus’ fireball and all of a sudden it goes from being a burning mine waiting for something to walk into it into a flaming projectile.  Put it on Ego, though, and Zia changes from casting a shield spell into a performing a dash.  Put a Left, Right, or Reverse on there as well and all of a sudden Zia is far more mobile in battle.  Eventually you’ll find Trigger runes as well, which allow you to link up multiple effects in a single cast.  Want to have a triple-fireball where each one that hits segues into an explosive lightning strike?  Create a decoy made of fire that shoots ice balls to freeze any enemy that may get hit by one?  By all means, although it can drain the magic reserve quick.  Everything costs mana, and while it recharges it rarely does so as quickly as you might like.

In action-RPG tradition, though, Mages of Mystralia has almost as much in the way of puzzles as it does combat.  Purple spheres and magic runes need to be earned, and this is done in a number of ways.  The most common method of earning a new rune is by lighting a set of torches in a limited amount of time, and these require you to build a specific type of spell to get past whatever new obstacle is in the way.  You might not be able to shoot through a wall but you can cast a shield that repels items, pushing an explosive barrel into just the right spot.  As a rule, though, these puzzles require a very specific solution, and it’s easy to create a sprell that should have worked but somehow doesn’t.  Fortunately there’s a hint system near each of these where, if you’re stuck, you can buy a clue in the form of what runes are necessary to craft the right magic.  There’s nothing in the way of hints for the constellation doors, though, but those are always fun to solve.  The doors are a puzzle where you’ll need to build a constellation on a hexagonal grid from a set of pieces, linking all the arrows up without any pointing to a dead end.  Solve it and you’ll earn a purple sphere that can be spent on health and mana upgrades, although you’ll never have enough mana to fire off spells with wild abandon.

You shouldn’t have to, though, because the more you experiment with the system the more effective it gets as the possibilities in spell creation become clearer.  Enemies take a few hits to go down, and certain goblin tribes are resistant to some types of elemental damage, but once you’ve identified a problem there’s going to be a some combination of runes and magic type that clears it away.  The combat arena Trial of the Mages was kicking my head in due to the sheer volume of goblins and other monsters running around (and Zia’s recovery time from a hit making her a bit too easy for enemies to juggle) until I realized if I just attached a Reverse rune to my projectile magic I could shoot while running away. Link in an area-effect ice explosion and that slowed or stopped a good number of pursuers, allowing time to switch to a different projectile magic and do some damage to the ones throwing spears.  Goblins and other monsters usually come in single-digit numbers, but even in large volume there are multiple strategies to handle them.

It’s not all combat all the time in Mages of Mystralia, though.  There’s also a story running alongside, building the world and its history while Zia finds her place in it.  There isn’t a huge amount of personality to the townspeople, seeing as most of them repeat four lines of dialogue, but it’s enough to make the world feel lived-in and some people even have side-quests to chase after.  All dialogue is done via voice-style sound effects, which I’ll admit to considering a feature, so you can read what people have to say and get on with things rather than waiting for voice acting to play out.  The writing is as good as it needs to be to keep the action moving, and while the story’s twists aren’t particularly hard to figure out the world of Mystralia still comes to life nicely so it all works out.

Closing Comments:

Mages of Mystralia is an energetic and clever action-RPG, set in a vibrant and colorful land with a dark history.  The heart of the game is its magic system, and the puzzles for unlocking new runes and other goodies keep things from being too combat-heavy.  It’s easy to get lost in spell creation, pausing battle to dip into the magic tome to tweak a few runes or throw together something new as the monsters wait patiently for you to pull your head out of the book.  Zia is a fun heroine to play as, learning and growing as the story progresses, with a strong character design that never gets lost on the screen.  Mystralia’s history is making trouble in the present, but with an arsenal of spell components and the ability to wire them together together to best effect, Zia has a good chance of becoming the hero the world of Mages of Mystralia didn’t realize it needed.

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