Ikenfell Review: Charming and Diverse

What does it mean to be Ordinary?

Ikenfell is an adorable 2D indie RPG brought to us by the developers over at Happy Ray Games and published by Humble Games. Don’t be fooled by its cute exterior, however, Ikenfell has a lot to teach its players about relationships and false appearances. With an interesting narrative that slowly but surely sinks it claws into you, Ikenfell is sure to have you spending a couple of nights staying up late to solve the mystery of the missing witch.

Maritte’s Journey to Ikenfell

How does one describe the world of Ikenfell? To begin, we view it through the lens of Maritte, our red-headed heroine that has set out for the magic school of Ikenfell in search of her sister Safina. Strange things have begun to happen over the past few days, including the school taking it upon itself to isolate the school grounds and students from the rest of the world. 

Hostile flowers aren't the only things amiss at Ikenfell.

Hostile flowers aren’t the only things amiss at Ikenfell.

Powerful spikes of magical activity have also been observed and we get to see evidence of this firsthand with Maritte, an “Ordinary” (non-magic user) who has all of a sudden gained magical powers as she nears the school. She’ll have to come up with another way to get inside the school if she wants to find her sister and figure out what’s going on. There’s a lot of familiar themes that feel like they’ve been mixed in to create the world of Ikenfell. The best I could come up with as a comparison is a mixture of Harry Potter, Steven Universe, and Undertale

Combat and Movement

As with most 2D RPGs, Ikenfell is turn-based, and generally lets you operate in two phases: movement and action. Characters move first, and then use their main action to either consume an item, use an item on another character, or cast a spell. Probably one of the most noticeable and defining characteristics of Ikenfell’s combat, is its time-based blocks and attacks. Each attack is different and spits out a pixelated graphic that you’ll have to watch carefully. If you press a button exactly when you’re hit by an attack, you can negate a vast majority of the damage. Likewise, if you time an attack on an enemy, you can deal a big chunk of damage to their health. This also works with buffs and healing spells, as “Great!” crits restore more health or buff your power to deal more damage.

Party members take turns moving and casting spells in Ikenfell.

Party members take turns moving and casting spells.

On your journey through the halls of Ikenfell, you’ll make new friends and add more colorful characters to your party. These characters will also be added to the turn order and have their own unique spells specific to their background and story. In addition, as you level up your party, your characters gain access to new spells they can use in battle. Each character has their own set of stats that you can improve through the finding or purchasing of items from various NPCs in-game. You can also stock up on mushrooms to snack on during a fight to top off your party’s health. 

Hidden Victory

While the game doesn’t explicitly state this, there is an “auto-victory” skill that you can enable from Ikenfell’s options menu. This skill will let you skip through tedious minion fights if you just want to get to your objective or finish off a boss if it’s taking too long. I still feel a little conflicted about this option, because while I love the addition of it for quality of life purposes, I feel like I’m cheating. 

Declare instant Victory in Ikenfell if you'd like to push through some of the more tedious fights.

Declare instant Victory if you’d like to push through some of the more tedious fights.

There are actually several functions that aren’t exactly mentioned at first. If you’re playing on a controller, you can hold down the ‘B’ button to run faster, or you can just enable auto-run for the entire party in the options menu. 

Pet the Cat if you Want to Live

Scattered throughout the world, you’ll find cats of every fur pattern and color. Witches and wizards love cats, right?  Always, and I mean always, pet the cat. Each time you pet a cat, your party’s health is restored to full and you can save your game. I love this feature so much because you can save your consumables for when you actually need them in a tough fight.

Saving your game in Ikenfell is easy.

Saving your game has never been so satisfying.

Ikenfell doesn’t advertise itself as a difficult game, but its turn-based fights start to ramp up pretty quickly once you start adding characters to your party roster. It’s nice to have frequent save opportunities, in addition to auto-saves, in a game that doesn’t seek to punish you for failing at a fight. You can always go back to your last save to buy more supplies or just restart the battle again.

Colorful but Confusing Personalities

The characters in Ikenfell give me a lot of mixed feelings. First, they’re kids, or teenagers, that much is obvious, so you would think they’d behave in a way that kids generally do. All of the characters have pretty distinct personalities, but they feel like just that: characters. I don’t generally have a feeling of attachment to them because they kind of felt emotionally immature, to the point where it just didn’t feel natural-even for kids. On Maritte’s journey to save her sister, the only thing that kept me really going initially was the sense of mystery behind her disappearance. Usually, it’s my love for the character. 

I wasn't sure what I was expecting the Alchemy professor to look like, but slime monster was one of the furthest options in my mind in Ikenfell.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting the Alchemy professor to look like, but slime monster was one of the furthest options in my mind.

Part of me wishes that Maritte would have stayed as an “Ordinary”, instead of gaining magical powers right at the start. That would have made for a much more interesting story in my opinion. I genuinely like the characters, but I just had a difficult time connecting with them at the beginning of the game. Thankfully, this starts to pick up a little later on and develops into some genuine and heartfelt character development.

With that being said, I did enjoy Ikenfell’s self-aware dialogue. It’s always a welcome change when characters say something to break the fourth wall or reference the real world, and there’s a lot of those silly bits here and there throughout the game. 

Catch all the Spells

Something that did catch my attention was the beautiful 2D art and how the appearances of the characters differed between their dialogue sprites, battle sprites, and overworld sprites. In some ways, it reminds me of Pokemon a little. Coupled with the random enemies in the world that you could run into and fight, I can definitely see where they might have taken a little inspiration from the series.

A list of Maritte's spells that she has at her disposal at level 4 in Ikenfell.

A list of Maritte’s spells that she has at her disposal at level 4.

The overworld sprites are little squashed friends that move through the world, while the dialogue sprites provide more specific details on what the characters should look like. The battle and equipment sprites though are a kind of combination between the two, but still managed to look a little different. The difference was so substantial at one point that I had to do a double-take when meeting the character Gilda. Her colors and general hairstyle were the same, but it just did not seem like the same character at all.

Music from the Composers of Steven Universe

Interestingly enough, the music for Ikenfell was actually created by the composers behind Steven Universe, and you can definitely get a feel for that with the mixture of piano and chiptune that persists throughout the game. The music does a wonderful job of setting the general theme and atmosphere for encounters, be they good or bad.

Similar themes repeat in scenes as a nod to a returning character or important exposition, while there are songs that boast full lyrics and passionate singing during some boss fights. I was actually so taken aback the first time this happened that I completely forgot to block and took a lot of lightning damage to the face.

Diversity and Representation

Anyone that’s familiar with Steven Universe knows how inclusive the show is when it comes to dealing with matters of attraction and gender. It only seems fitting that the composers of the music for the same show would lend their pens to a game that shared its ideals. It’s definitely nice to see a game show off some more diverse relationships between its characters. I wasn’t expecting an ounce of romance between any of the teenagers, so it came as a complete surprise when one started to show an interest in Maritte, our main gal.

I also enjoyed seeing how these relationships changed and evolved as the narrative progressed, further calling back to what I found to be the main theme of the game. People change, not always for the better, but you just have to adapt to that and find a way to move on with your life. You have to find your own purpose and happiness in life.

A key was provided to Gamespace for the purpose of this review.

There's a lot to love about Ikenfell: its characters, charming narrative, and polished strategic combat all come together to create something truly unique and magical. While it calls on themes from other pop culture titles, the story within is all its own. Slow at first, Ikenfell's true narrative starts to unravel as you meet new friends and unlock clues behind Maritte's sister's disappearance. For $19.99, Ikenfell is well worth the price if you're a fan of pixel games with an inclusive storyline and a beautiful soundtrack.
  • Beautiful soundtrack
  • Diverse relationships
  • Creative characters
  • Fun, strategic combat
  • Overall heartfelt story
  • Slow narrative, but picks up in the middle
  • Characters had moments that didn't feel authentic at times
Written by
Avid lover of all things fantasy and stylesheets, Emily spends her spare time trying to balance her affection for both technical and creative writing. One day she'll get there, but until then, she'd rather lose herself in the wonderful stories to be found within tabletop games and rpgs.

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