Friday, 10 September 2010

PC Indie Game Review - Academagia

Few games can be called truly unique, but Academagia is probably one of them.  (I may have missed out on a whole genre in my video game playing existence, I guess... but if not, there aren't many games quite like Academagia.)

You play a young student just gone off to colleage to learn magic.  Not a great deal of originality there, you may say - and I guess with the rush of junior fantasy books and movies in the last decade, you could be forgiven for thinking that.  But Academagia is not a typical arcade adventure game like the Harry Potter movie tie-ins; although it has much in common with traditional RPGs, it is nothing like anyrole playing game you've played before.  In fact, more than a video game, Academagia reminded me most of the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books that were hugely popular when I was in primary school nearly three decades ago now.  

Upon starting a new game, you have a fairly lengthy introductory section in which you choose how your character starts out - schooling, family, interests, pets (well, familiar in this case), upbringing, and other factors feature in making you what you are.  But of course, this is only the start - you have your entire schooling to come, things to learn, abilities to hone, friends to make, places to explore.

As you go, you have various choices to make.  I seem to be very adept at making all the wrong choices, but sometimes the results are amusing, and though you may not progress your character much, nothing is ever actually fatal.  The world of Academagia is highly detailed, and this is a game that really does require a lot of reading.  I guess if you took a Choose Your Own Adventure game, mixed it with a text adventure, threw in a bit of RPG and then stirred while adding in an encyclopaedia full of information and history, you'd get something along the lines of this game.  It's like a visual novel, but far more complex; if you don't like reading you're not going to enjoy the game much, but if you like to settle down with a good book, you'll get a lot from this.

I do wonder who the target audience for Academagia will actually be.  With the text-heavy but immersive gameplay coupled with classical music background (which is very nice, incidentally), I feel that many young ones will be instantly put off by the game.  This is much more an indictment of young people today (and perhaps the media industry and secular society itself which thrives on easily achieved instant gratification), but there are many young people who still enjoy reading, and a good number who don't actually like video games on the whole.  This is a game that may well appeal to those who have no interest in computer games generally.

Also, though obviously the character you play is a young person starting out at school, it's not solely a game for young people.  I enjoyed it as a breath of fresh air in the gaming industry (and proof once again that indie games often create the real innovations in video gaming) - it's a slower sort of game with all that reading involved, and not exactly exciting as a result, but it's been crafted with such loving care and full of witty comments that I couldn't help but like it.  Such graphics as there are look great, and the interface is nicely designed, very simple but with extra layers of functionality for those willing to experiment.

Academagia is also refreshingly different in offering a completely non-violent gaming experience.  Though there are situations of peril that require decisive action, the game is based more on building not only your own skills but also relationships with other (non-player) characters in the game.  

It's a bold experiment, and it works in many ways.  Action junkies are obviously not going to enjoy this, but if you're looking for something different / like reading and want a more interactive experience / hanker after the days of text adventures and text-based RPGs, Academagia has something to offer you that very few other games do.  With so many skill types and options, if you really like it then the replayability factor is quite high too.  It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I rate Academagia a very worthy 8/10, and Black Chicken Studios deserve kudos for having the bravery for introducing something so out of the ordinary onto the market.

Other information you may find interesting:

I queried with BCS about the target market, with my concerns that many in the target market might be put off by the sheer amount of reading involved and perhaps also the classical music.  Part of the reply I got was, in the words of the studio's President:

"I suspect the underlying question here is 'what is a children's game'?
One of our goals at Black Chicken is to provide an alternative to more mainstream designs that offer up very linear and violent experiences, and I believe that means we have to change what's normal or accepted in the children's/young adult's genre in games.
An interesting thing I have noticed about most games is that they very rarely encourage the player's imagination, because the story, character and solutions are told to you in a similar manner as with television. When I set out to create Academagia, I wanted very badly to buck that trend, and hopefully to engage our players in a different way than expected. This is risky, because, being an indie, the way we could afford to do this was with the written word- and that begins to cross the line into 'edutainment' rather than games. We have already received feedback from more than one adult reviewer that expressed complete confusion on how to play, because they had never been exposed to the life simulation genre, let alone had to read more words than a line of text on the screen! :)
But, when I consider the range of experiences that most games offer to the player, versus the range of experiences that can be found in a good book of even the middle-school level of readership, I feel that we definitely have been able to offer something unique, worthwhile and that hopefully will expose a hunger for different kinds of games in the general gaming population.
Or...maybe it's just me. :)"

I also asked about the curious name of the studio itself.

"Rhe 'Black Chicken' is an inside joke amongst the development team. It refers to a much older version of the design which had critical failures and is a very long story. In the end, it involved a Black Chicken whose raison d'etre was to destroy fabric. There are a couple of Events related to this ominous chicken in the game- I hope you bump into them. ;)"

Official Website:

System Specs:
  • Windows 7 / Vista / XP
  • 1 GHz Processor (2 GHz Recommended)
  • 1 GB Available System Memory (2 GB Recommended)
  • 500 MB Available Hard Disk Space
  • .NET 3.5 Framework
Related Posts:

Academagia: The Making of Mages to be released tomorrow!

Academagia Released Today


Some final information about the game:

The Academy has a full course selection based on the accepted Pillars of Magic. Many non-traditional forms of magic are also taught, although special tutoring is required. Additionally, many Colleges offer supplemental courses to expand and enrich a Student's experience. And, of course, the Academagia offers an excellent athletics program.

In the first year, an incoming Student may choose from 17 courses, each individually approved by the Regents of the University:
  • Arithmetic
  • Astrology
  • Athletics
  • Botany
  • Calligraphy
  • Dialectic
  • Enchant
  • Geometry
  • Glamour
  • Grammar
  • History
  • Incantation
  • Music
  • Negation
  • Revision
  • Rhetoric
  • Zoology
The University has two sets of exams, with the finals before summer generally having the greater weight. Academagia Instructors value attendance, comprehension and demonstrable skill in their courses. Students which do not receive passing grades will be subject to Academic Disciplin

  • Interact with over 80 Students
  • Maneuver through more than 800 possible Random Events
  • Set out upon any of over 100 Adventures
  • Explore hundreds of Skills
  • Cast Spells from the five Pillars of Magic, or learn the Forbidden Arts
  • Add new effects to existing Spells as you master the vocabulary of Magic
  • Discover and visit mysterious castles, ruins, shops and secret hide-outs
  • Teach, train and adventure with a Familiar from one of dozens of species
  • Enjoy nearly endless replayability and scope

CaptainD's PC Gaming Blog


Adam said...

I love the idea of this as a childrens game. No killing, no chance of failure, just pure pretending-to-be-a-wizard fun. But I have to say, I'm not sure children could really get the huge complexity of this game.

CaptainD said...

I have to admit, I feel largely the same way about it. If the child in question likes reading already though, there should be a good chance that they'll enjoy this.

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