I know we’ve had it up to here with magical schools lately.
JKR being a TERF has put a pretty solid wrench in any nostalgia we have left. But, there’s good news! Ikenfell exists, and packed into all its pixel charm is a host of diverse characters, a story about handling your feelings even when they hurt, and a series of mechanics that make this game playable even for the newest of gamers!
Are you ready to meet some witches and save their school?
On the surface, Ikenfell has a very straight-forward plot.
Though you can ultimately play as six different characters, you begin the game as Maritte Hildegaard, a girl with no magical powers who has come to Ikenfell in search of her witch sister, Safina, who has disappeared. As the story develops, so do Maritte’s powers, and her circle of friends. With every step deeper into her sister’s absence, Maritte discovers new secrets woven into the fabric of Ikenfell’s halls, and must decide if its worth saving the school that has done its share of harm these days.
But Ikenfell is so much more than just that. Each character that joins your party has their own backstory, their own gifts and flaws that bring them to life. Some have more incentive than others to discover the truth behind Safina’s disappearance, but all of them have a rich set of stakes in the overall game. The result is a plot that has its strengths, but reaches its fullness through the characters and their relationships with one another.
I could go on for AGES about the characters, if I’m telling the truth.
By the time you meet the entire playable cast, three of your six characters are POC, three of those same six are non-binary in some fashion, another three of those six are sapphic, and there’s still more! One of my favorite characters is disabled and comes to own it, and she also packs some trauma that leads to one of the kindest, most realistic portrayals of a nasty anxiety attack I’ve ever seen, complete with heartfelt apologies for the boundaries crossed along the way. Another of my favorites uses ze/zir, holds a position as a respected academic in Ikenfell, and has some of my favorite magical attacks in the game.
Without spoiling the ins and outs of how these six come together as a team, I have to say that I adore them all. They’re fun, they’re complex, and their dialogue feels so layered and full at every turn! In particular, I have a soft spot for Petronella, the nonbinary aroace alchemist. They’re shy and lacking in confidence, but I love them so very much. Who says supporting roles aren’t important?
And to cap it all off, again without spoilers, I am floored by the way Ikenfell handles each character’s feelings. So much of this game concerns the way characters treat one another, especially when they’re experiencing particularly strong emotions (positive or negative). In a way, this is a game about confronting your biggest, scariest feelings, but it’s also a game about how to start repairing the damage you’ve done when those terrifying emotions take control. And while not every story has space for characters doing the right thing, Ikenfell is precisely the story that requires it. Since bad actions created the problem, it’s heartwarming and even comforting to see genuine corrected behavior and apologies move the story forward.
On a technical level, too, Ikenfell shines!
First, let me point out the music. If you liked the music in Steven Universe, I have basically the best news for you: aivi and surasshu are part of the music team for Ikenfell! There are others involved, yes, but this electronic composer duo is part of the magic behind the music, and it shows! Each track is beautifully fitting of the area or character in question, and a couple more specific themes have a particularly outstanding resonance. A little bit of good music goes a long way in a game!
Additionally, Ikenfell boasts some of the best gameplay mechanics I’ve ever seen. As a turn-based RPG, you expect some degree of battle strategy from the start. What shocked me was a toggle in the options menu that allowed me to automate timing so that I always dealt full damage, and then another toggle that allowed me to automatically win! Not only did this remove the draining prospect of grinding for experience points, allowing me to focus on exploring the school grounds and enjoying the story, it also struck me as an awesome way to allow players who may struggle with the traditional controls to progress smoothly all the same.
There are a couple other neat options to toggle as well. You can reduce the frequency of flashing graphics, especially important for epileptic players, and you can turn on content warnings. The game does sometimes approach matters of self-harm, low self-esteem, and other topics that some players may wish to either avoid or at least receive advance warning of, so it’s nice to see that the devs took this into account. I personally didn’t need these features, but I think they should be an important standard going forward, always available for those who need them.
There are so many ways you can play Ikenfell!
Whether on the Switch (my console of choice), Playstation, or XBox, or even via Steam, Ikenfell is widely available! Humble Games has links to each retailer on their official page for the game, along with a few more details on the features included, and some gameplay footage.
Really, if all that can’t convince you to give Ikenfell a try, I don’t know what will. Though it took me only some 12 hours of gameplay to finish it, the story has been on my mind since the credits rolled, always rolling around some corner of my brain. It boasts such a gorgeous visual style, along with a brilliant narrative, and I’m more than happy to let it live in my head rent free. Hopefully you’ll feel the same, if you give it a chance!
So, what are you waiting for? I recommend picking up Ikenfell today! You’ve got so many platforms to choose from, and a truly lovely story awaits.
And if you’ve already played, let’s chat! Who’s your favorite character? What’s your favorite part of Ikenfell’s campus? Personally, I’m partial to Ima and the library, though I have to give a shoutout to Maxim, the NPC witch who makes sure you know that he’s an expert in sharks. Me too, buddy. Me too. 🌟