The Mage’s Initiation: Reign of the Elements is Himalaya Studios’ third title, and works to keep their tradition of 90’s style point and click adventure games alive and well. The title was originally a Kickstarter project back in 2013, and has been in development since its successful campaign. Just released on January 30th for the PC, I looked at a review copy provided by Himalaya to form my thoughts.
Players are tasked with guiding D’arc, a young mage, through his trials of initiation into becoming a fully-fledged magic user in a world where magic reigns supreme. At the beginning of the game, D’arc is summoned to the Hallowed Hall – the place where a mage tower’s revered Masters of the Four Elements gather – to answer a series of questions to determine his elemental affinity. Players answer these questions as they feel best and, depending on how one responds, they will be assigned one of four elemental schools of magic: Water, Earth, Fire, and Air. This affects what spells they can perform, dialogue, and what creatures they can converse with. In my playthrough, I ended up becoming a Water mage.
Given some basic spells and a Conductor – an enchanted gauntlet not unlike brass knuckles – to channel his magic through, D’arc is sent out into the greater lands of Dominatra to complete three tasks to prove his readiness: He must collect a strand of hair from an imprisoned Priestess, the egg of a Griffon, and the horn of a Trinicorn. Three challenging tasks that’ll not only test D’Arc’s magic abilities, but his wits, too.
The world of Mage’s Initiation is quickly a gripping one – You slip into D’Arc’s shoes and understand his plight quite quickly, and are given access to lore in a largely organic way. You can read a variety of in-game texts, and converse with a massive array of characters. Everyone you encounter has a unique personality, with different thoughts and feelings on different topics; you can learn about them, others, magic, and the world of Ele’wold at large by asking about a large variety of topics. Which brings us to my one complaint in this area. Sometimes, you can simply have too much to talk about, and kind of feel you should exhaust every topic, even if you know they’re just going to tell you the same thing everyone else has. In this regard, I feel other titles, like Wadjeteye’s Blackwell series, handled dialogue better by curating topics a bit more. That being said, the option to show items and receive all sorts of responses is here, and much appreciated; perhaps because it feels much more optional?
One thing I absolutely cannot fault the game on, though, is the sound direction. The voice acting here is pretty good, and clearly on a professional level (Even if D’Arc sounds little bit out of place in some one liners). The music is simply a treat, especially if you have a fondness for the sort of stuff you’d hear in King’s Quest; it’s all ambient, Medieval-style works that change to reflect a location or a mood. And the sound effects in general are nice; you can even tweak some of them in the menu, like page turning and footsteps. Good stuff.
One other major strength of Mage’s Initiation is the art – By the Elements, what breathtaking pieces! Highly-detailed pixel environments, beautiful portraits, and charming sprites. Every asset in the game is great, and it is clear the artists spent a lot of time getting the world just right. Even D’Arc’s robe changes colour based on what sort of mage he becomes in your playthrough; a nifty thing that’s greatly appreciated. One other thing I really, really want to bring attention to is the design of the mage tower itself: it is, essentially, just a repeat of the same room, but with different skins; whilst they all feature at least two doors with a dial, everything else is game for change. Aquarium walls? Windows peering out over the land? Library shelves, filled with books? It’s pretty cool how they’ve designed this place, and I have a feeling I’ll be recalling the tower fondly for some time to come.
Another appreciation is that this title isn’t just a regular point-and-click, but it has elements of an RPG; Himalaya Studios wanted to try something different for this title, and that can always be lauded. D’Arc has a variety of stats, which can be improved upon levelling: Strength, Magic, Intelligence, and Constitution. As D’Arc is a pure mage, you won’t be utilising Strength in a traditional manner – Instead, it determines the damage of offensive magics. Magic increases his Mana bar, allowing him to cast more spells, and Intelligence improves duration and accuracy. Constitution, of course, governs health. He can even boost his armour, or get poisoned.
Mana and health can be restored after battle, and poison cured, primarily through the use of items – You’ll get some freely, but others do cost money, and yes, money is a thing in this game. You can earn it through successful battle, mostly, and as you progress, both in level and through your trials, you’ll get access to new spells from the Sphere of Knowledge back at your mage tower. This includes a really useful teleportation spell, which will help you get around the world easier. You can even enhance your spells through the purchase or discovery of magical stones to slot into your Conductor; become a magical Thanos, if you will.
The combat itself is… Interesting. It can feel exciting, as both you and the enemy are fully mobile, able to run around and use the terrain on a screen to help hide from attack. Selecting and using spells is quite easy, too, and winning is always satisfying. But even with all this, combat never quite landed for me. There’s nothing wrong with it at all, per se, but perhaps it just felt a little out of place for what I was expecting from the game? Which is more on me than the title itself, in that case.
Thankfully, you can make the combat as hard or as easy as you want in the options, and Mage’s Initiation has quite a few of those! From volume control to tool tips, you’re able to adjust a surprising amount – You can even alter how the interface shows itself. You can, of course, save and load from the options screen too. Additional options, like resolution and the like, may be found in the separate setup utility that comes with the game. I used the game’s default resolution, and it gave me the black bars you can see in my screenshots – It never bothered me, but some people may want they can adjust the game before playing.
The game generally controls alright; by default, clicking on the screen will move D’Arc towards the point clicked, and double-clicking will make him run. But as with all Adventure titles he can do more than just move: you can tell D’Arc to look at things, talk to/taste things, use or take things, use items on things (Netting responses, as mentioned above), and cast spells at things (Although, only certain things – he will complain about indiscriminate magic use otherwise).
Items you can take range from obvious to hard-to-tell, but you shouldn’t be too pressed – D’Arc will sometimes mention having spotted what he needs and where if he’s seen it at that point. As for the puzzles, they’re decent, but perhaps a little on the easier side; in my time with the game, I never really struggled to figure out what I should do, or where I should go. Infact, the game is linear in that regard – you’ll tackle the tasks sequentially. But at least there’s no aimless wandering, or anything involving rubber duck inflatables here.
As for the writing and the plot, it’s fairly engaging, and I get the feeling that this won’t be the only tale we see set in Ele’wold. The theme of magic supremacy over technology, innovation essentially banned, is a fascinating one that lurks throughout the title; one does wonder what exactly happened to Ele’wold in the past to make things this way…
Overall, Mage’s Initiation: Reign of the Elements is a neat adventure title that would’ve become a classic had it released in the 90’s. Which means that it largely has the same positives and flaws of, say, Sierra’s classics. But this title is happy to step past the boundaries of its genre and try something new, like the determinate magic schools, the RPG mechanics and trading. I’d definitely recommend to fans of classic Adventure titles who want an interesting, if somewhat easier game, whose setting will hopefully be explored more in future titles.