A frustrating combat system holds back what would otherwise be an entertaining adventure.
This January is turning out to be the month of the port. From 5-year-old Wii games to 20-year-old PlayStation 2 titles, what was once old is hoping to be new again on the Switch. Staying on this theme is Mages of Mystralia, a 2017 action-adventure title looking to expand its audience by releasing on a Nintendo platform. Even though its original release date wasn't that long ago, in the light of 2019 the graphics and the gameplay leave Mages of Mystralia feeling much older than its actual age.
The story certainly didn’t suffer from a lack of talent, having been written by Ed Greenwood, creator of the Dungeons and Dragons campaign Forgotten Realms. Greenwood created a whole history for Mystralia along with an introduction about why mages who were once a vital part of the kingdom are now considered a threat. The tale at hand begins with Zia, a young girl who becomes exiled from her village when it's discovered that she has the power of magic. Upon her exile she discovers a sanctuary for mages and under the watch of a mentor and a talking magical book, Zia learns to both control and grow her powers.
The backstory and mythology around Mystralia are interesting enough; however, the art design of the characters and environment isn’t quite on the same level. The environment is colorful enough, but all the objects and scenery has that mobile, flash quality that leaves everything looking minimally detailed. Zia herself has a rather forgettable look, coming across as a low-poly version of Merida from Disney’s Brave.
The best part of Mages is the well-designed spell crafting system. Zia has four basic spell types: close range, physical objects, orbs to move through the air (projectiles), and protection. Different spells can be equipped within these four options and are created by combining different runes that are collected through the story. For example, a fireball spell can have the duplicate rune added to it to conjure multiple fireballs. Add onto that a directional rune and those multiple fireballs can then move in an arc to get around obstacles or attack enemies from another angle.
This spell crafting mechanic allows for deep customization but unfortunately still can’t mask the weakest component of Mages: combat that just isn’t very fun. Enemy types widely vary, and the boss battles on their own are enjoyable, but the most common form of attack is to have weak enemies charge at Zia while long range enemies fire projectiles. Trying to battle multiple foes with close range attacks while deflecting long range projectiles with protection spells quickly becomes a chore and had me dreading the combat between boss battles.
Not everyone will have the same aversion to the combat style utilized in Mages of Mystralia, but on a personal level I felt that it overshadowed the rest of the experience. To get the most out of the gameplay the focus will need to be on the spell crafting, a unique and clever mechanic the developer deserves praise for. If you have a higher tolerance for cheap deaths than I do, it’s possible you could enjoy this action-adventure title much more than I did.