Ikenfell

Game review by
Chad Sapieha, Common Sense Media
Ikenfell Game Poster Image
Indie tactical tale has a diverse cast of strong characters.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

Themes of friendship, rivalry, self-awareness, and resilience pop up repeatedly. The story tackles issues faced by teens, such as understanding identity and lack of self-confidence. Diversity and acceptance are promoted through LGBTQ+ characters.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The heroes demonstrate several qualities of good friends, including caring for and helping each other in the face of danger. Characters who are part of the LGBTQ+ community are treated with the same respect as everyone else rather than having their sexuality or identity used as a defining quality.

Ease of Play

Simple controls, plenty of instruction, and a slow learning curve make for a very user-friendly experience. Players can tweak settings to make combat easier by automating the parts of battles that require good timing. Players can also set battles for automatic victory so that they can focus on the story.

Violence

Students at a magic school use spells to attack blocky, pixelated monsters and occasionally other students. Spells can cause explosions, flames, and other effects. Enemies disappear from the battlefield once defeated. Blood is brought up in dialogue.

Sex

Dialogue contains occasional amorous banter, such as one character referring to another as a "hot sister."

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some characters are depicted drinking unknown beverages in what is clearly a pub.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know Ikenfell is a tactical role-playing game for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PCs. The gameplay's presented with a retro look and feel. Players control a group of young witches at a magic school who must rely on each other as they attempt to solve mysteries, get into trouble, and try to help each other. It's presented in a blocky graphical style, which makes the turn-based combat -- a flurry of magical spells being cast around a gridded area -- feel fairly mild. Pixelated explosions and flames result in enemies simply disappearing from the battlefield. The heroes are intelligent, courageous, and capable, and several of them are female, people of color, and/or members of the LGBTQ+ community, which serves to create an inclusive atmosphere for kids who fall into minority and oppressed groups. They deal with emotional issues ranging from lack of self-confidence to the dynamic nature of friendship. A selectable "content warnings" option in the settings menu gives players a heads-up when something serious is about to happen. For example, just before a student who uses the pronouns "they" and "them" is depicted experiencing and dealing with uncomfortable feelings, players see the message: "Content Warning: Self-Hatred."

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What's it about?

Set in a school for young witches and wizards, IKENFELL puts players in control of a small group of students who explore the campus investigating various mysteries that seem to have turned the magic world a bit topsy-turvy. It uses its diverse cast of characters, each with their own backstories and motivations, to explore the sorts of things that typically concern tweens and teens, including friendships, rivalries, school, and identity. It has a retro, pixelated style of presentation that makes running around the school and solving simple contextual puzzles feel a bit like playing a classic NES-era role-playing game, but the combat's a little closer to modern tactical RPGs (role-playing games). Characters take turns moving around a small grid while employing spells to attack, heal, and boost the abilities of other characters according to spell patterns on the ground. Fights also have a rhythmic timing element that encourages players to tap a button at just the right moment to either increase the power of their attacks or lessen incoming damage. As the game goes on, characters level up with experience to become more powerful and gain access to more effective gear as well as accessories that impart special perks.

Is it any good?

Though clearly inspired by a certain series of books and films about students at a school of witchcraft and wizardry, it would be a mistake to think this cute tale is a Harry Potter rip-off. Ikenfell's labyrinth of classrooms, dorms, and spooky school grounds has a flavor of its own, and its cast of characters is notably inclusive of people with various gender identities and sexual orientations, which will likely make the experience feel more welcoming to an often neglected segment of young players. It also has a defiantly indie vibe, thanks to its blocky but stylish graphics and irreverent writing and sense of humor. Plus, it's been designed to be accessible to a wide range of players thanks to its simple mechanics, straightforward controls, and the ability to automate some of the more challenging parts of combat -- such as timing -- or even set battles to auto-victory so that players who don't enjoy fighting can simply experience the story and puzzles.

But the combat shouldn't be ignored. The turn-based battles are much more dynamic, active, and challenging (if you leave the assists off) than you might expect at first. Each type of enemy has distinct attacks, advantages, and weaknesses that can be exploited by using the right spell in the right way. For example, dropping movement-arresting traps can confound enemies that tend to lurch towards the nearest hero in a straight line, while other enemies that travel underground can easily avoid them and must be dealt with using direct spells, preferably at a distance. Some experienced players may find combat a little simplistic compared to big budget commercial games, but there's a nice balance between exploration, storytelling, and combat, which helps keep any single part of the experience from growing tedious. Ikenfell has a great heart, clever design, and can potentially serve as a good introduction to the world of retro indie RPGs (role-playing games) for younger and less experienced players.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about character strengths and life skills. What sort of lessons can be learned from Ikenfell's cast of diverse and colorful characters? Did you identify with any of their issues?

  • What do you think about how Ikenfell's protagonists are depicted? Do any of them conform to or run against traditional gender roles?  

Game details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

Themes & Topics

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