The Legend of Zelda clones are surprisingly rare, for some perplexing reason.
Here we are, with almost the entire series residing among the Metacritic Top 100, and yet a few have attempted to ape the success of Nintendo’s baby. There’s Darksiders and Elliot Quest, and.. That’s all I can think of from the top of my head. But here comes Mages of Mystralia, here to stand on Links’ face in an attempt to get a better look at the success it could’ve been.
Todays’ topic comes to us from Borealys Games, a studio who managed to coerce legendary author Ed Greenwood, of Forgotten Realms fame, into helping them create a game with his storytelling. Arriving on Kickstarter and gaining half a million CAD against a 25000 CAD goal, the game released in June 2017 for PC and just now for Xbox One.
In Images of Australia, you are Zia, a redhead who can’t look at the sky, ironically. But it turns out it’s because her body is imbued with magic and upon discovering this, burns down her house, possibly killing her family and everyone else inside. I say “possibly”, because there is neither hide nor hair of their existence anywhere. For all I know, she was conceived by bloody moon farts.
In the land of Mystralia, mages and their kind are feared throughout the lands, with the general population of what they might be able to do to them, and as such, are exiled or executed on sight. Insert current immigration crisis joke here. But now, an eclipse has covered the land and the general peace they keep is now being threatened, with Zia as the only hope, although I disbelieve that.
I don’t usually jump into story this early but the general narrative structure and plot progression is painfully generic and uninspired. There’s no real world building on display, instead Borealys just decided to put you into this lumpy world and make you figure out what happened where and why. Along Zia’s journey, she comes across an book that talks in a low growl that grants her all the knowledge of Mystralias’ existence and insults the people that help her. So, y’know, totally a good guy.
Along the way, Ganon- I mean, Chancellor Octavius is power-crazed and begins to order the mass extermination of mages. Although this isn’t revealed until about halfway through. And this is where the cracks begin to show, since Zia, her kind, and everyone who disagrees with Octavius is called to be killed, and all Zia does is knock them out with arcane magic.
It’s clear Pages of India wants to be darker than necessarily planned, but is never able to jump past that fairy tale hurdle. Hell, it’s not even a fairy tale, at least they showed Bambis’ mom getting filled with lead. Whereas here, your mentor simply falls asleep after facing off with the most powerful wizard on the planet, who is more than happy to slaughter his puny apprentice.
The other negatives that kill the story go hand-in-hand with one another. Characters don’t talk, instead they mumble whenever they speak, sort of like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons but with subtitles, and I can get behind that. What I can’t get behind is the comic book font used for interactions, and I don’t necessarily know why. They have medieval fonts almost everywhere else, and it’s simple enough to be used to retain immersion. But now it feels like I’m about to read Spiderman & A Ginger Kid Take On Voldemort.
Another funny revelation is the way Borealys tell you that you’re the only one who can stop these evils. Evils that despite the massive window of opportunity they’ve had to attack, they decided to attack now. Zia herself doesn’t believe that she can take on this world-threatening evil, and I agree with her wholeheartedly. She just recently burned down her house and has been disowned by nearly everyone who knew her, of course she’s going to be skeptical of her own abilities. But no, everyone tells her to because there wouldn’t be a game otherwise.
I’m imagining other conversations like this, and it’s pretty funny. “Uhh, yeah, we’d love to help you, Marcus Fenix, but I need to bury my fish, he recently drowned :(“.
The story in its entirety is a bust, one that crumbles and never really goes anywhere. It is pretty impressive however, that despite the scope and scale that they appeared to show beforehand, the game only lasts 7 hours, which is absurd. It just turns the game into an aggressive rail-road with no brakes, and even when you want to explore, there is nothing TO explore. There’s a few optional dungeons that contain 1 puzzle but the rewards they offer are mostly pointless.
The rail-roading of the story progression doesn’t hurt the gameplay, which is superb. If Borealys wanted to make a medieval beat-’em-up à la Golden Axe, then I’d proudly get behind that and kick-start the project to infinity. You have 4 basic spells, each attached to a different element. Beyond that is a simplified but not overly easy system of upgrading that turns into a psuedo-combo system.
If you are able to unlock the right behaviours, you can create a powerful cascade of magic, one that’ll slaughter your enemies outright and the result is gratifying and impressive. Figuring out enemy weaknesses and navigating areas using the abilities you’ve acquired is immensely satisfying, so much that it lifts Cages Made of Tortilla out of the trash, where the story placed it in.
Added to that is a rather useless stamina system which wouldn’t be too bad if it allowed you to use your wand as a melee weapon when your stamina died. At least then, I wouldn’t have to kite the enemies that freeze your stamina bar. You might be thinking that you just have to dodge-roll these guys in order to avoid damage and being unable to use spells, but you can’t dodge-roll. Instead you just have to hope that your animation doesn’t have too many recovery frames.
One of the things that doesn’t help elevate the gameplay is the enemy variety, which is surprisingly barren. You’ve got a choice of 3 elemental goblins, snakes and blobs. And the bosses, while distinctly designed, are incredibly easy to cheese. Examples? The lava lizard, Scald, can be attacked from underneath and none of his attacks can reach you. The Royal Blobs (Ugh) telegraph their attacks 3 days in advance, and now that I think about it, all of them do.
Nearly every single factor of Sages of Diarrhea seems to be at odds with one another. The gameplay comes out mostly unscathed, but the story is stupid and goes nowhere, Zia herself doesn’t prove herself to be a worthy protagonist throughout, even when she does take care of business. This feels less like a journey through mystical lands, and more like The Legend of Zelda fan fiction.
There are parts of this game that take you out of the poorly written coma it induced you in, but before they can fully wake you up, it knocks you back out again. The influence of Ed Greenwood is nowhere to be seen, and the other talent involved doesn’t seem to leave any discernible signatures of theirs. In the end, Gauges of Quality Pizzerias fails to stand on its own, and support from its inspirations can’t help it either.
A competent action-adventure that is unable to craft its own identity amongst its peers.