Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

On the surface, Mages of Mystralia (developed and published by Borealys Games) is a charming little game. The graphics are lovely, the story is well written, and the world is packed to the brim with whimsical charm. However, beneath its shiny exterior, the game starts to fall apart.

Mages of Mystralia is set in a world where magic is outlawed after a series of incidents involving a king abusing his magical powers. We pick up shortly after a young girl, Zia, discovers that she is actually a mage and that she’d probably make quite a talented arsonist. Zia is exiled from her village (which seems like a sort of underwhelming punishment seeing as magic is outlawed and the game strongly implies she accidentally killed a guy). After coming across a mysterious man in the woods who says he’ll mentor her, resolves to right her wrongs by helping the kingdom of Mystralia.

As the game progresses, Zia is tasked with preventing a war between trolls and Mystralia. Naturally, because high fantasy is always delightfully packed with twists, it soon becomes apparent that there’s something even more sinister afoot than an all-out war. I won’t explain the plot any further for fear of giving away spoilers and major plot points, but know that you’re in good hands as the story was written by Ed Greenwood, the original creator of the Forgotten Realms game world.

Now, Mages of Mystralia has two main problems: pacing and refusing to tell you what’s going on. While the story is strong, it unfolds in such a way that it tends to lose a lot of its impact and too many things happen way too fast. As for not telling you what to do: you don’t get told what the shiny objects you can pick up actually do. I worked out that, logically, the little hearts replenished your health and the blue fuzzy things replenished your mana, but it took me way too long to work out that the green glowing things were currency.

Alongside this, tutorials flash by in an instant, and there’s no quest log to let you know what you need to do next. The map only tells you your overall goal and not what you’re currently doing. There’s no mini-map or quest markers to let you know where you’re going. It’s a mild inconvenience at the best of times and downright frustrating at worst.

However, if you can look past the strange pacing and fact that you might forget what you’re doing, it’s a beautiful game to get lost in. The graphics are colorful and well polished, and both the in-game graphics and the menus look wonderful regardless of whether you’re playing in hand-held mode or on a larger screen. There’s also the added bonus of three difficulty levels which vary based on whether you want to focus on the plot, focus on combat, or challenge yourself with perma-death.

Out of every other word in my critical lexicon, the only one that I can use to describe Mages of Mysteria is straightforward. Combat is just the bare essentials; firing spells at enemies is only really enjoyable due to the delightful accompanying spellcrafting system. With this, spells can be customized by mixing and matching elemental attacks, adding buffs, and even modifying the trajectory of the spells themselves. It’s a bit of a power trip (pun intended) and the definitive high point of Mages’ gameplay.

While the combat is basic but enjoyable, the in-between seal puzzles end up dampening the experience. They’re simple on the outside – occasionally you’ll stumble across a seal which requires you to rearrange a certain pattern. If you arrange the right pattern correctly, something happens. However, much like the majority of its systems, Mages never actually tells you what to do. The first seal puzzle is very simple, but the person who presents it to you doesn’t give you any instructions – it’s an extreme case of trial and error.

At its core, Mages of Mystralia is fun and appealing. If you can get past the lack of instructions and the poor pacing, it’s a fun little journey into a well-built world. The $19.99 price tag is the perfect price for a game like this and I would definitely recommend getting it if you’re into magical action-adventures. Just be prepared for a bit of guesswork in parts.

Mages of Mystralia is out on Nintendo Switch on January 29th, 2019.