Review: Mages of Mystralia

In the blur of game demos while attending PAX South a couple years ago, I vaguely recall playing the demo for Mages of Mystralia and enjoying the combat encounters and the concept of being able to create spell variations. Two years feels like forever ago, and I admit that I forgot about the game, even though it did originally surface on PC and consoles later that year. Now it has arrived on the Nintendo Switch at long last, and it has been a treat to play the full experience Borealys Games was able to conjure up.

The game opens with a young woman named Zia being kicked out of her village after accidentally setting her home on fire through the use of magic. Wandering in the forest, Zia meets a man who identifies her as an untrained mage and suggests that she join the group of underground mages who do their best to keep balance in the realm of Mystralia. The man mentions that in order for her to become a true mage she must have a spellbook, and suggests she meet him at a secret location where he can provide a book as well as training. Zia sets off to find this hidden location, and along the way she discovers a spellbook on her own.

Finding the spellbook sets up a basic tutorial for players to learn the fundamental mechanics of the game. Four spell types are available to learn–Immedi, Actus, Creo, and Ego–each mapped to a different control input. Behavior runes, unlocked by solving puzzles found throughout the realm, modify the spell types with different actions and attributes. Augment and Trigger runes (also unlocked via puzzles in the realm) can be applied to the different spell types for additional effects. Equipping and mixing these different rune types within the spellbook grid menu provides a huge variety of spells for Zia to cast, and the choices are all up to the player. Multiple fireballs that home in on enemies, duplicate versions of Zia that can be used to trigger multiple weighted platforms, or shields that can deflect light are just a few examples of the wealth of spell-crafting options available to players.

After finding the hidden location of Haven where Zia is introduced to other mages, a solar eclipse occurs. Through the use of dark magic, the eclipse is locked in place, causing goblins, trolls, and all manner of nasty enemies to come out of hiding and descend upon humans living in the kingdom. Zia is tasked with mastering the four elements–Fire, Water, Wind and Earth–so that she may discover who is responsible for maintaining the eclipse and also be powerful enough to defeat the Dark Mage.

Combat is a fairly significant component of the game and at times almost feels like an advanced form of rock, paper, scissors. For example, certain enemies will be resistant to fire attacks, but vulnerable to ice attacks, so creating different spell types to attack these weaknesses becomes a necessary strategy. Easy switching between spells helps keep combat quick and engaging. Holding down L brings up a quick change menu that responds to the different face buttons that spells are mapped to. Immedi (melee and close range instantaneous spells) is mapped to Y, Actus (conditional and ranged spells) is mapped to X, Creo (environment-based spells like bridges of ice, walls of fire, or bursts of wind) is mapped to B, and Ego (spells Zia casts on herself) is mapped to RZ. 

At times combat consists of quick engagements of one or two enemy encounters, however there are times where rooms will be become gated off until waves of enemies are defeated. These encounters can be fun but also very tricky to balance between using too much mana, or not having the right spells readied. Augmenting spells with runes impacts how much mana they use, which adds another layer to the spell customization. Boss encounters are typical multi-staged events that either change up their attack patterns, or modify the environment entirely and force players to use all of the spell types at their disposal to target a weak point. For players who really enjoy combat, there is even a Trial of Mages that unlocks after a certain point in Haven where 12 waves of enemies spawn in and rewards are granted after completing wave 5, 8, and the ultimate 12th wave.

Along the journey to master the elements, players will approach sigils that open up hex-based puzzles. Moving beads with different link points onto the hex grid creates a chain that, once complete, unlocks a chest hidden behind the sigil. These chests contain either purple or green soulbeads. Purple soulbeads are used to increase Zia’s health or mana pool, while the green ones can be used to buy clues for different puzzles or items.

In addition to the sigil puzzles, there are small puzzle rooms that can be solved to unlock additional rune modifiers. These room puzzles can be a bit of a challenge, forcing players to truly experiment with the many variations of modifiers that each spell can take on. Additionally, there isn’t always a one size fits all solution to the puzzles, which gives real agency to a player’s choices. As an example, there was one room with two floor plates that needed to be depressed at the same time in order to open a grate blocking a torch. Using a duplication rune modifier for the Ego spell allowed Zia to create a cloned version of herself, which I cast on one floor plate and then moved to the other floor plate with the real Zia. However, the angle of the torch was such that I then needed to add a “right” augment on my fireball so that the fireball would travel in a circle to the right instead of straight on, which would then hit and ignite the torch.

Several of the puzzle rooms were beyond my ability to grasp, but that speaks volumes of the game design in that not every modifier is necessary to reach the end of the game and defeat the Dark Mage. I would imagine that some of the runes I missed would have made for an even more exciting time, but the fact that the game can be completed without unlocking every challenge is a welcome idea. Once the final encounter is completed, players do have the option to go back and find all of the runes that were missed.

One of the biggest frustrations I have with the game is the world map and fast travel mechanic. Fast travel can only be triggered from one of three spots on the map, and as such players can only jump to one of those three spots. The intention of fast travel is welcome but just disappointingly implemented. I say this because the branching pathways of each area of the game world don’t necessarily seem to line up with how the world map is laid out. Wandering north in one section of the world would presumably find Zia in a location that is north on the world map, but this isn’t always the case. Traveling north sometimes finds Zia heading east or west and in a different spot on the world map. 

This wouldn’t be so bad, except that load times on the Switch for certain sections of the game take longer than others, and when you end up moving into one area and realize that isn’t the spot you need to travel to, backtracking across the world map becomes a tiresome exercise. Going between handheld and docked mode didn’t seem to provide any performance benefits (although I admit that even minor framerate drops don’t bother me the way some players seem to fuss over). Additionally, there isn’t a map view of each section within the world, so trying to remember exactly where a puzzle room is can be a bit of a hassle to wander around after the fact.

Overall, Mages of Mystralia is a fun game that feels right at home on the Switch. Aside from some frustrations with travel and load times, Mages of Mystralia offers a deep action-adventure experience with rewarding puzzles and engaging combat built around a complex and intuitive spellcasting system, with an enjoyable story weaving everything together.

BuyIt

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Nintendo Switch, also available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One
Publisher: Borealys Games
Developer: Borealys Games
Release Date: Switch – 1/29/2019, PC – 5/18/2017, PS4 – 8/22/2017, Xbox One – 8/25/2017
Genre: Action-Adventure
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1

Source: A review code for Mages of Mystralia was provided to VGBlogger.com for coverage consideration by Borealys Games.

Buy From: Nintendo Game Store, PlayStation Store, Microsoft Store, Steam, GOG, and Humble Store for $19.99.

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.