The Making of Mages
Academagia: The Making of Mages is a text-based RPG/life simulator from Black Chicken Studios that's all about... you! Well, not you as you are, but you as you might be if you were a fresh-faced new student at a school for mages in the land of Minetia. Throw yourself into your studies, make friends and rivals, go on adventures, or any of dozens of activities in this mammoth adventure. Just make sure you don't neglect your schoolwork; you are still at a school, and you'll need to attend class at least often enough to pass your exams. You don't want to know what happens to mages who flunk out. (Where do you think Wal-mart Greeters come from?)
Academagia has a surprisingly robust character creation set-up, with loads of options that grant bonuses, but the bulk of your skills will grow from everyday activity in the game. If you try to make someone who's the best at everything across the board, you're only going to find yourself mediocre and be frustrated as a result. Instead, focus on a set of skills that suits the character you're trying to build; a skilled enchanter with a golden tongue, or a reserved botanist with a secret passion for music. The main things you'll want to keep an eye on are your vitality and your stress. Certain events can raise or lower either one; if your stress gets too high or your vitality runs out, you'll find yourself unable to participate in any events for a day or so while you recover.
Like most life simulators, Academagia has you use a calender to decide what you're doing at points throughout the day, scheduled up to a week in advance, occasionally throwing up random encounters along the way. You can get into a fair amount of excitement (and detention) just by wandering the hallways and exploring, but specific plot lines can be triggered by going on "Adventures". How well you do at any event is determined by your various skills; you'll be presented with a set of options to decide how you want to deal with a situation, each of which relies on a certain skill or ability, and they'll be colour-coded to show your likelihood of success. You'll probably never be 100% equipped to handle every random event the game throws at you, but nobody's perfect, and in Academagia even failure will teach you a thing or two.
Analysis: Being of the generation that grew up with a certain bespectacled wizard, I expected Academagia to be awesome, and to let me play out my wizardly fantasies, and it is, and it does... mostly. I just wasn't prepared for how gargantuan it is. There's a massive amount of world building making up the mortar of this fantasy world. You could probably spend hours combing through the descriptions for people, places, spells, items, and historical events if you were so inclined. Moreover, starting over with a new character and choosing different options at creation frequently yields vastly different results that make an impact on the game, leading to a lot of replay value.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in the game is its tendency to drown you in information, but withold the tidbits you actually need. I shouldn't need to research to understand most of what's going on within a game. It's sorely in need of a tutorial to ease you into the basics rather than the avalanche of text screens you get. Why isn't the manual more in-depth to contend with the gameplay? As it stands, it's not going to be for everyone, and the amount of times your character will do poorly at events early on can be discouraging.
Of course, it's also a testament to the game's depth and immersion as to how infrequently I cared about any of the above complaints once I figured things out. The writing is in general very well done, and of course there are the dozens upon dozens of little events that crop up randomly throughout the game. Take a stroll through town and you may find yourself confronted with a hysterical foreign student overwhelmed by the bustling marketplace, or unwittingly stumbling across the dangerous thieve's guild. While it definitely requires some patience and experimentation, once you get the hang of things you'll start succeeding left and right, making loads of progress.
The game only encompasses a year in your magical education, with the promise of more content to come, and you'll find a lot of replay value to be had. With a bit more streamlining and perhaps a paring knife taken to the bloated list of skills and abilities, it would have been much more user friendly. Academagia is the sort of game that's made for people who enjoy losing themselves in a good book, exploring, and experimenting. It's an impressive title with a load of love behind it, and the immense replay value should serve to keep mage nerds occupied for a good long while.
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