You know what is a weird feeling I haven’t had in a long time? Playing a game with no idea what it is aside from a few screenshots. A fact that made Magical Diary the type of enigma found by people searching through PS2 bargain bins back in 2005. I suppose it is a fact that many indies will now have, as I did not even pick this up as a sale, instead it was a stocking stuffer for Go! Go! Nippon when I picked it up for $2.00 on IndieGala through their lovely Monday bundle promotion they have going on… Or was this from a Humble Bundle? Promotions aside, where does this game land? I am probably not qualified because I only saw it through to the end when it has about thrice the content, but Imma gonna review it anyhow! Oh, and I guess this is visual novel week, because I’m likely not going to be reviewing another all year, sadly enough.
Magical Diary Review
Platforms: PC, Mac, and Linux
Developer/Publisher: Hanako Games
If I had to describe this game right off the bat by shoving two things together, Magical Diary is what happens if a more female oriented Harry Potter were to be melded with Princess Maker 2. You play as a customizable young lady who is shipped upstate into a wizardly trade school at the ripe age of sixteen who must deal with a series of semi-adjustable flags to hit in order to create a unique story representing the main character’s first year of high school. Said adjustments come in not too subtle decision boxes that pop up over the eight months the game covers, but the route it takes in determining one’s outcome is far from easy to determine. Encouraging multiple playthroughs and viewing the differences made through the way one plays the game, but I hardly explored such an avenue as I only made my way through the freshman year once.
Not that I mean to insult the game through that statement, as what actually entailed was, from a storytelling standpoint, a goofy story about trying to get the pants off of a demon through acting like a loon while alienating my roommates and trying to join a cult. And based on the achievements attached to the game, or at least the version on Steam, there is quite a bit of flexibility in branching the story out in ways that conceptually have the same level of keen wackiness to them that I would expect from a game that sinks or swims based on its personality. A personality that I also found to be pretty humorously written, although it’s hard for me to not compliment the writing after I read half of it out loud in stupid voices like the weirdo I am.
Yet going back to my comparison to Princess Maker 2, the only DOS game I have and likely will ever beat, it takes the stress, stats, and scheduling that the female protagonist must endure as the game goes on, except there is far less complexity to it and no ability to get the girl naked by pressing F12, R, N and Q to talk to a badly drawn ad man who hands out money along with breast enlargement pills. Instead the game focuses on only ten stats, two of them contextual, seven of them based on taking very straight forward classes, and one being stress that comes from raising the aforementioned seven. But what exactly are they used for? Primarily dungeons from what I can gather, as the Cute and Weird stats did not seem to have a large baring on anything in the game, while the seven are used for the most traditional elements of gameplay Magical Diary has to offer, early 1980s PC dungeon crawling.
Well, the term crawl is a little misleading as that implies the dungeons cannot all be cleared within five minutes and consume a large amount of time than half an hour. Instead, calling them puzzles would be far more accurate, even though they are a very odd mix of being overly complex and at the same time far too simple. You are eventually given a very wide range of spells to get through the dungeons, but not only are many of them situational one time usage skills, there are at least 50 of them in total, with the odds of getting all of them hovering around the range of impossible. Yet, you only ever use these spells in the dungeons that appear once every in-game month, so you will probably be unfamiliar with your skills and end up needing to reload seeing as how failure is very easy to avoid as you can save and load anytime and anywhere.
This actually did become something of a strategy for me as I learned that taking classes to raise certain stats could result in zero to three gained points. Naturally I only wanted to get threes, so I ended up reloading over 100 times just so I got the best spells, half of which I never even had the opportunity to use. One could say that I was not intended to surcum to such save scumming, but the game actively rewards it, even if it did come with more stress, which only makes getting three points harder as my time with 89/100 stress certainly showed. Normally one can assume development issues arose to bring forth underutilized mechanics such as these, but due to how it is pretty much the only form of traditional gameplay, it feels like there were simply not enough ideas on what to do with the dungeon sections. I mean, the final one doesn’t have any form of player input aside from picking your strategy.
Judging by how I found less than expected paths I felt I could take the story in, I would assume whatever budget went into the game to justify its $15 price tag would have been into art assets. Unfortunately this visual novel certainly did not splurge its budgets as assets are very much reused from student to students, to the point that the game showed three characters all had the same head model with different eyes and hair glued on it simultaneously. I would be less harsh if the art direction had a unique spin on what it was presenting, but the most memorable aspect was making a girl with twizzler hair. And while I’m being a snob, the very cutesy User Interface did grow old as the hours built, made worse by how the game repeats the same star based transitions ad nauseum.
While I enjoyed my time with Magical Diary, nothing I found in my one playthrough of it signified the game to be much of anything special. It is a decently written visual novel light on the visuals and hampered by its gameplay due to the simple ability to load saves to the point of irritation if you are dumb and want to max out every stat, when that is very much unnecessary. It’s a cute little game that possesses things I’d like to encounter more often, but I’d be hesitant to recommend to anybody unless Princess Maker gets you hyped or you diddled with the Harry Potter. …Yeah, I know more about Princess Maker 2 than Harry Potter and I was born in 1994.
By no means something that must be played, but not entirely worth pushing aside forever. The title is ultimately above average and keeps the good balanced with the bad by a noticeable enough margin to still be worth picking up… at a discount.