7 Aug

Academagia: The Making of Mages

Filed under: PC Games No Responses

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The call to adventure!

I’ve wanted to buy this for the longest time ever since I learned about it but wasn’t willing to pay full price for it. So I put it on the watchlist on Gamer’s Gate and waited and waited and waited. It never went on sale once. So when Gamer’s Gate recently sent me a discount code because I haven’t bought anything from them for a very, very long time, I went ahead and used it on this. It’s essentially a life simulation game with an interface that is a barely veiled spreadsheet. The premise here is that you’re a First Year student at the Academagia, the premier school for magic in the land. The similarities with the Harry Potter franchise are obvious, including choosing a house to belong in, forming a clique with friends and having magical sports events. The main difference is that this is set in a medieval fantasy world which has its own fairly extensive background lore.

  • Be prepared to do a lot of reading. Seriously, there is a ton of text in here. The credits contain a very extensive list of all the writers who contributed to this game. It’s way longer than I expected. I was surprised to see how little background art the game contains. I thought they would at least have commissioned 2D drawings for some of the more important adventures, but it looks to me that the game reuses the same pieces of art over and over again. You don’t even get many choices for your character portraits, only two per gender. So you better love reading and be using your imagination to sketch out the scenes in your head for this one.

  • The user interface is frankly atrocious. The central part of the screen is of fixed resolution with the rest of the screen space filled in with background art. You can’t even set the game to run in windowed mode. On my computer, the text was a little too small to read comfortably. The only remedy for that seems to be to manually set your native resolution to use fewer pixels before you start the game. Various windows pop up when you click elements but their modal nature makes it hard to get the correct information when you need it. For example, when you want to perform the Befriend action, you need to choose a fellow student as a target. But you can’t navigate from this selection window to the area that shows profiles of all of the characters. So you need to back out of the action, browse through the profiles and read the ones you want, choose who to Befriend and then remember that choice as you go through the Befriend action again. But the worse thing about it is the slight pause whenever you click something. Seriously this is a 2D text-based game. You’d think it wouldn’t be resource intensive and therefore creating an interface that responds instantly would be easy. But nope.
  • One oft touted feature is the incredible variety of skills, attributes, events and choices in this game. This is very much true. In fact, there are so many things going on and such a bewildering array of choices that even reading the manual won’t help you much. Then there’s the fact that the skills system seems badly organized. Why is Diplomacy, which is used quite often, a subskill of Heraldry, which is used hardly at all? Do you really so many different skills that all have to do with talking, e.g. Conversation, Rhetoric, Oratory, Persuasion, the individual language skills and probably many more than I can remember? Similarly the list of actions that you can take starts out quite long but then grows spectacularly as you learn more skills and explore more of the areas around the school. Eventually there are so many possible actions to take that just navigating through them is a real chore!
  • Playing through this game, I was torn between trying to role-play my way through it or power-game through it. Eventually I found that the randomness of the events, the arbitrary nature of the choices you’re given to resolve situations and the difficulty of seeing other students and professors as actual characters, made role-playing feel really silly to me. So I restarted and unapologetically went for the min-maxing route and discovered that this game could be seriously broken. Magical buffs stack. Some friends give way more useful bonuses than others. In fact, attending classes actually seems pretty weak compared to the other types of actions that you can unlock later. Going on adventures is unbelievably rewarding. Having a clique is important but they’re just passive bonuses. Supposedly they help to complete events and adventures but the text never mentions them so it never feels as if they are really there.
  • There a certain kind of satisfaction in the min-maxing play-style and seeing your stats keep going up but it makes a mockery of the flavour and the story and frankly isn’t really that fun. I think it would make more sense if the adventures weren’t so much like slot machines that you decide to play whenever you feel like it. The game should have kind of main plot that you must always somehow resolve. Theoretically you could go through a whole year (which takes a long time!) doing nothing but attending class, studying and taking exams but that would be an exceptionally boring way to play.

In the end, while I did make it though the entire school year, I ended up liking this game a lot less than I thought I would. The spreadsheet-like nature is just too naked and the temptation to min-max too great. There are too many choices. A smaller number of choices that differ more meaningfully would I think be more enjoyable. Having a main plot would help a lot to flesh out what actually goes on and who all these people are. The same company is still busy working on Year 2 but I don’t think I’m going to buy it. I don’t regret buying this one to satisfy my curiosity over how these types of games work, but it doesn’t make me feel like playing more of the same.

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Written on August 7 2014 and is filed under PC Games. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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