The magic action adventure
Mages of Mystralia is a fun RPG with live-action adventure and puzzle elements mixed in, creating an enticing journey of spell-crafting splendor. With big names behind it — it’s written by the Ed Greenwood, who created the Forgotten Realms world of Dungeons & Dragons,and the music is conducted by Shota Nakama and performed by the Video Game Orchestra — Mystralia has great potential and some really exciting features for an indie action single-player.
The story follows new mage Zia as she learns magic and saves the world. It isn’t a groundbreaking plot, and it probably won’t be the reason you can’t put the controller down. Instead, you’re more likely to keep playing because you want to unlock the next spell customization slot. Mystralia has a great magic customization system where you can craft your own spells, but these customizations are only unlocked as you progress through the story. Based on using four elements, you develop how a spell works and what benefits you want to it to give, and you modify the original purpose of the spell’s element, if you get far enough.
Mystralia first gives you some background for why Zia doesn’t want to be a mage, and explains why she goes on the journey she’s hesitant to undertake. This exposition includes the how-to-play tutorial, which you have to follow exactly to succeed (there and later on). However, some of the instructions aren’t clear and require a bit of imagination.
Throughout gameplay, you encounter puzzles where you line up circles with triangles on them to make specific patterns. There are also timed challenges and kinetic puzzles. This creates a fun variety that requires logic, time,and some quick magic-wielding skills. Often, completing these challenges grants new spell customizations, chests to loot, and life and health enhancing items. If you are locked against the challenge, you can pay in-game currency to receive hints of when you can access the challenge; it usually requires a certain amount of unlocked spell customization slots.
Character growth is item based. You can acquire items that increase your health and mana, and you unlock new ways to make new spells. As you complete challenges and defeat bosses, you’ll receive wand upgrades. However, you don’t level or increase skill points. Enhancing your damage and abilities all stems from how you build and implement your spells. The monsters and goblins you face increase in difficulty depending on the stage of the game. Not enhancing your moves and abilities allows the monsters around you to grow more powerful and ultimately make the game almost impossible to complete without crafting new spells to respond to the new challenges. Sometimes the game suggests these new spell changes, sometimes it does not.
Mystralia is well made, and it has solid functional graphics: I only saw one small glitch that disappeared almost instantly and could never trigger it again. As long as you don’t mind playing with a controller, either a Steam controller or on a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, the controls work well. Sometimes, the auto target capability targets other objects behind bosses or mobs, which can be frustrating if it causes you to die against goblins you should have easily killed [EN: Ah, the dreaded misclick], but you do gain a spell ability that enhances auto target further into gameplay.
Cute graphics but killer mechanics
Mystralia’s graphics are cute with a cartoony feel. Little red-headed Zia will charm your heart, and the spell effects explode a lot. Its appearance is great for players of all ages; however, the gameplay says otherwise. It’s filled with complex puzzles and challenges, intricate magic, and difficult fights.
With two levels of gameplay, Mystralia caters to the casual and the experienced player. Mage Mode is the normal version. Bosses are a bit easier and mob fights are more manageable. If you’re new to action titles, it will be challenging and frustrating, but playable. You have to use all your spells and in the way they are suggested to you. Bosses are typical bosses in adventure titles: they have high health and a series of abilities to avoid or exploit. Their movements foretell their strikes, and you learn to dodge or shield against them.
If you are already a pro at action titles, then Archmage Mode is for you. It’s mechanics are more strict. Bosses hit harder, and mobs are difficult to manage and survive; this mode is not for the casual gamer.
The story between both modes remains the same, which makes changing modes tedious as there is no new content, just harder-to-kill enemies.
A complex magic system with a lot of options
The intricate magic system is what keeps you playing Mystralia instead of other action titles. Once you’ve unlocked several customization options, you have the ability to make multiple versions of the spells for different purposes. You can change earth’s shield for speed. Fireball develops longer ranges. Spells last longer or trigger other spells. You can throw more ice discs on the ground to make bridges. Once everything is unlocked, the customizations seem numerous.
The spell interface is based off the puzzles with circles and aligning triangles. The spell board is a hexagon broken into triangles. As you craft your spells, you place the customization options on the triangle's’ vertices and rearrange them until the triangles match up and point to each other, just like for the standard puzzles during gameplay.
Adorable sounds and compelling music.
The music is amazing throughout Mystralia. From piano pieces to full orchestras, the music is well thought-out and matches the tone of each area and fight. With the original score being conducted by Shota Nakama and performed by the Video Game Orchestra of Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts fame, it’s not surprising it’s so good.
In contrast, the character sounds are more simple. Rather than using full voice overs, Zia and NPCs use typical grunts, squeaks, and non-words that remind me heavily of The Sims. The sounds are still adorable and match the dialogue in chat bubbles. So, if that’s your thing, enjoy the variety of grunts, ahs, and beeps.
Action, magic, puzzles, design your own spells — what’s not to like about this game?
If you like playing on a PC keyboard, then Mystralia is not your next adventure. While you are recommended to use a Steam controller (or some other version), it’s pretty much a requirement. There aren’t keyboard and mouse equivalent controls to match the variety of buttons on a Steam controller. This can make Mystalia more frustrating if you aren’t accustomed to controllers. In addition, the tutorials and advice for each new spell learned all reference the Steam controller buttons. Mystralia really doesn’t give you much of a choice to opt out of using the controller.
If you love using controllers, you’ll quickly find that A on the Steam controller does not jump like in other console titles. A has a different duty in Mystralia: to interact only with other objects or NPCs. This is annoying when your reflexes try to jump from a boss attack, and Zia stands still and dies. It takes some gameplay to get used to the non-jumping. There may be a jumping spell enhancement towards the end of the game, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for it.
While the storyline is only so compelling, it makes the wait for unlocking new customization options bearable. The storyline is fun, and you try to understand what magic is and who is creating problems and causing mages to be blamed. Quests are mostly to help other people, and through completing them you’ll receive typical rewards that sometimes benefit gameplay. At times, the in-game currency is never enough; at other times, there is nothing to spend it on.
The Verdict: Great
Mages of Mystralia is a challenge in more aspects than controlling mobs or fighting bosses. Between completing puzzles and crafting spells that work for specific situations, you use logic more than your typical RPG or action title, and you play to achieve more goals than simply killing bosses. If you like puzzles, taking control of your magic, and are comfortable using gaming controllers or enjoy using them, then Mages of Mystralia is definitely for you.