as a teenager, i was briefly obsessed with the final fantasy series. i logged countless hours on so many of those games and their spinoffs (including the oft-reviled mystic quest). but despite plenty of subtext and a whole lot of ff fanfic, overtly queer characters and stories in the ff games have often been... lacking.
enter ikenfell: meshing my love for jrpgs with an entire posse of magical queers.
in this turn-based rpg, you play as a group of mages in and around the ikenfell school of magic. what starts as a simple quest to reunite with a wayward sibling turns (because of course it does!) into an adventure of world-ending proportions. you'll have to save the world while navigating grief, abandonment, love, friendship, and self-worth.
okay, so it's gay. but is it good? well, i think so! i enjoyed my playthrough enough that i will likely revisit it at some point and see about a side quest i missed. there was enough variety of enemies and potential spells that i found the combat engaging and occasionally challenging without being punishing. the story was interesting and cute by turns, with a healthy dose of Feels thrown in. i got very invested in what happened to these characters, even (sometimes especially!) the npcs you cross paths with during the story.
the story itself is on rails; no decision you make impacts your characters' identities or relationships. that said, there is not a single explicitly allocishet person in the entire game. every character you control is textually queer. there are nonbinary, ace, and sapphic characters in your playable party and a gay couple in a prominent supporting role. even among the npcs it's queer all the way down, with the exception of a few minor characters whose sexuality or gender identity never come up. given the track record round this school im going to go ahead and assume they are also extremely queer. i don't believe cis straight people exist in this magical world.
can i see myself in...?
neither your party nor the npcs are uniformly white. the black characters even have identifiably black hairstyles! several of the characters deal with issues such as depression and ptsd. i didn't notice any any otherwise disabled characters in the cast.
not only can you pet the cats, you have to pet the cats. petting cats provides actual in-game benefit. take note that there is one cat you have to fight to complete the main storyline (it does not die.)
only if you like retro-style pixelated graphics. the character sprites do have cute unique animations that fit their personalities and are very visually distinct, and there's a rich variety of locations. retro pixel art isn't my preferred aesthetic, but the artists did admirable work with the medium.
it took me about fifteen hours, playing unhurried, to complete the story. save points are frequent, and the game auto saves for you in between them. occasionally, fights (especially bosses) can take a while (and you can't save during them). enemies are visible on the map so you will not stumble into combat unexpectedly.
the game offers options to make combat easier. you can even choose to insta-win any encounter if you get stuck or just want to get through the story. there is no penalty for doing this. dying will rarely set you back much; if you die you can choose whether to retry the fight or to go back to your last save point. in the pause menu, there is always a hint about your current quest/what you should be doing next. there are coded in content warnings before many of the cut scenes, and any scene can be skipped. this is a game that wants you to succeed.
my partner found the story to be engaging and enjoyed watching the cut scenes. if you aren't into turn based rpgs, watching the combat gets a little same-y. they say the soundtrack was pleasant to have on as background noise even when they weren't actively watching and had some unexpectedly good songs.
- the game's menu includes options to enter photosensitive mode, toggle in-game content warnings, turn off camera shake and switch the controls so you do not have to hold a button down in order to run.
- i played it on switch, where there's no option to remap the controls. you can use either the joystick or the arrow keys to move. at no point in the game do you need to press multiple buttons simultaneously or hold down buttons.
- the default combat mode requires you to press a button with precise timing. the game offers options to switch that from manual to automatic or semi-automatic, as well as an option to skip any combat encounter without penalty.
- all dialogue in the game is captioned clearly. i do not believe the dialogue is actually spoken aloud (confirmed by hearing partner), so if you want to get the whole story, a moderate amount of reading is required.
- the game perspective is third person, top-down view. the motion of walking your character around did not trigger my vertigo the way many first person games do.
off the charts. friendship is magic, purring cats are magic, queer love is magic, and the wide variety of spells you'll amass is DEFINITELY magic.
absolutely, if you like rpgs, a lot of feelings, cats, and saving the world via the power of gay love (and other potent magics.) if any of these aren't your jam, there's a whole world of games out there and we'll be reviewing more of them soon!