I’d seriously sweated for my midterms. Astrology, dialectic and calligraphy, I felt I had in the bag. Arithmetic and geometry, well, I figured I could get by on geometry with the extra-credit work that I’d done.
Incantation, though. Why had I taken incantation – one of the toughest branches of magic – this year instead of something like botany? Pride? The lure of being able to bend the forces of nature with a well-tuned wand? Whatever it was, I just knew I was going to make a poor showing on my midterms, and I had a lot to make up before the finals. I didn’t dare wash out.
All in all, I’m glad I picked up Academagia: The Making of Mages. I played it right through, and I had an awesome time with it.
In Academagia, you play a boy or girl in a world once ruled by cruel dragons – before mankind managed to rise up and win their freedom.
At the age of 15, you’re accepted into Academagia, the prestigious University of magic; sort of a cross between Hogwarts and Unseen University (junior admissions).
You’ll create a character, plan your activities for every day of the school year, get into trouble, get out of trouble, make friends, make enemies, sit out detention, try to earn merit for your college, struggle with figuring out the opposite sex (in an entirely family-friendly fashion), study, train, work and play with your familiar, go on adventures, and probably spend too much time in the infirmary.
Academagia:TMoM is a life-simulation of sorts, covering your first year at Academagia, and all the crazy things that happen to you there.
It’s essentially a menu-driven game, the core of it revolving around selecting actions and abilities to place into your calendar. The calendar covers every day of the school year (including special holidays and festivals) and each day is divided into three slots in which you can take an action. For much of the week (unless you’re heavily cutting classes) many of those slots will be filled with class attendance.
The rest of the game involves random events and adventures (which are, essentially, non-random events).
During each event, you’ll be presented with a situation, and be given a number of choices. Your success or failure at these choices depends on your attributes and skills, and the options are conveniently colour-coded to give you a notion of how likely each one is to succeed. Not everything goes according to plan, however, and occasionally failing a choice can lead to unexpected success, and successes to unexpected penalties. Whichever, no matter how miserably you might fail to deal with an event, your skills and abilities might improve for the attempt.
All sorts of text in the game is hyperlinked, allowing you to click on the name of a character, skill, object, spell, pheme or whatever, and have the relevant information appear in a sidebar.
The entire game has a rich lore all of its own, which is interesting to learn about, and a complete play-through probably won’t get you near even a third of what the game has to offer, giving it more replayability. The manual, to which I eventually referred halfway through the game, is clear and well-organised; and I would have profited much from reading it much earlier on than I actually did.
The game is family-friendly, and should be manageable by even the youngest teens – provided that they’re good readers; or played with the help of an adult.
Nevertheless, I have some criticisms.
Typographical, and grammatical errors (ranging from the simple one in the image above, where ‘Her’ appears in place of ‘she’) do tend to mar what is otherwise excellent writing. Considering just how much text the game has, a surprisingly small percentage of it has errors; but the most of the writing is so well done, that those errors stand out more boldly, and occasionally a sentence is completely banjaxed in wince-worthy ways. [Update: The latest content pack, The Riddles of the Queen appears to fix most of the typos. See the comments below]
Also, bugs. Yes, this one has its share of bugs. Short of a complete inability to use the ‘Play’, ‘Entertain’ and ‘Go outside the Fences’ with my familiar (possibly because my familiar was both invisible and incorporeal, but I think not), there wasn’t really any showstoppers that made the game unplayable. Some skill and attribute adjustments don’t seem to be properly reported in the day’s summary, the scroll position of the sidebar is not always reset when it should be and the shopping interface should really make much more use of mouseover.
I really feel that the game could go a lot further insofar as polish is concerned.
[Update: All that stuff I said about typos, bugs and such? Yeah, forget that and make sure you’ve got the latest patch (right now it’s Consolidated Patch 17 – which includes the latest content pack). It pretty much throws the majority of those criticisms away]
All of that said, I really liked playing this game. The various issues didn’t stop the game from being fun.
I played it right through and greatly enjoyed the ending. I honestly wouldn’t mind spending a second year on the Academagia campus. I’m hoping that the developers have that in mind themselves. [And it seems that they do!]
Academagia is available for Windows (XP, Vista and 7) and has modest system requirements (though it does want .NET framework 3.5), and there are mod-tools available to extend the game.
You can get more screenshots and information on the game’s Web-site, where you also have the option to purchase the game from the developers, from one of their distribution partners, and you can sign up to be notified when they’re having a sale.