Players with even a fleeting familiarity with Rogue-likes have probably experienced the mechanics of the prolific Mystery Dungeon series. Conceived by Dragon Quest co-creator Koichi Nakamura, each entry sends players into procedurally-generated levels where they can skulk around stages freely- with the presence of enemies slowing the pace of turn-based actions into a manageable tempo. In execution, the system has proven remarkably flexible, with franchises like Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, Chocobo’s Dungeon, Etrian Mystery Dungeon and Shiren the Wanderer each contributing their own distinctive context and subtle deviations to the basic formula.
At its heart, doujin circle IlluCalab (Sky Drift, Heart of Crown, Takkoman) offers a similar style of gameplay. We first meet the game’s protagonist on her way home from school, as she encounters another girl who appears be cosplaying as a witch, who needs a band-aid. After providing the injured stranger with the item, she quickly applies the bandage to her head before disappearing, mysteriously leaving the lead character in a conical hat and endowed with her own set of powerful spells.
Initially, her powers allow her defeat the opponents that seem to creep along with streets and yards, lunging at our magical girl with malicious intent. Like the Mystery Dungeon games, any adjacent foes bring slow down walking speed, allowing players to strategically move and aim their ranged attacks. Along with regular enemy encounters there’s the sporadic bits of loot either dropped by beaten opponents or left in some of each level’s recesses.
Stumble upon an anonymous magicite and you’ll discover one of Magical High School Girl’s deviations. Delving into the game’s menu system will prompt players with naming the object- and interestingly, the choice of designator shapes its properties. Give it a moniker like ‘fireball’ and naturally enough casting the spell with send a blazing orb at opponents. Calling it ‘meteor’ commands a comet to crash down on a three by three grid, bestowing a powerful AoE attack capable of injuring multiple foes.
Sure, High School Girl lacks the vocabulary of Scribblenauts, so you won’t be able to punish foes with a stream of pandas or summon the Grim Reaper to do your handiwork. But look past this constraint and the game’s lexicon is surprisingly deep, urging experimentation and sharing within the game’s community. And given that enemies have elemental weaknesses and you’ll definitely need to diversify your spell-set.
Another notable variation stems from Magical High School Girl’s handling of player attributes. A brief dialog explains that game sidesteps traditional hit and magic point systems. Instead, Mana is the attribute you’ll need to watch most closely, since a complete depletion will end your game. So not only does it function as your health meter, with each strike incurring a deduction, but each spell you’ll cast also costs points, depending on its power. Fortunately, you can regain lost MP by walking around, but only if you have HP in reserve, represented by a shelf of milk bottles. While it’s well known that pudding is a stable for young women, raw dairy is evidently essential for a teen-witch’s survival.
Visually, A Magical High School Girl subtly shows its doujin roots offering a pixelated output that simple, yet charming. While character designs flirt with cuteness as a SD protagonist make her way across the game’s stages, animations can look a bit stilted. And while the game scales across a variety of resolutions, playing on a 4K monitor introduced a discerning number of torn frames with no v-sync option to remedy the issue. On the upside, the title’s soundtrack is marvelously melodious. While players might wish for longer loops, what’s extended is aurally effervescent, and might linger with you after you’ve quit playing.
Like many doujin, A Magical High School Girl is delightfully easy on resources, effortlessly running on even an Atom-powered netbook (although publisher Sekai Project recommends a minimum of an i3). Likewise, it’s just as easy on expenses, with its ten-dollar selling price, offering substantial amount of satisfaction as players master the game’s word-based witchcraft. Don’t be surprised if this magical girl casts a bewitching spell on you, especially if you’re a fan of Chunsoft’s Mystery Dungeon series.
A Magical High School Girl was played on PC with review code provided by the publisher.
Publisher: Sekai Project
Release date: November 22nd, 2016
Price: $9.99 via Steam