From the Archives: Make Some Time for Magical Diary

You know how every so often you take a look at your Steam library and start to feel guilty about games you purchased because they sounded like just your sort of thing, but then you never got around to playing them?

Well, that was the thought that was going through my mind when I decided to finally fire up Magical Diary, a game I’ve owned for well over a year [at the time of original writing – Ed.] but which I was yet to try.

Magical Diary, if you’re unfamiliar, is a visual novel by Hanako Games and Spiky Caterpillar. Despite the distinctly Japanese-style presentation, it’s actually a Western-developed game — Hanako Games’ founder Georgina Bensley has long been a big fan of anime, and this influence clearly and obviously shows through both in Magical Diary and her other games, all of which are marketed as “girl-friendly.”

This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2012 as part of the site’s regular READ.ME column on visual novels. It has been republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

ss_2dfe56c31efff86fdfd4d008e763b9157a31ff37.1920x1080

Magical Diary casts players in the role of a 16 year old girl who, three years ago, discovered that she had latent magical abilities. She was presented with what the wizarding world calls The Choice, and chose to leave behind her family and attend a magical school — something like Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, but in the depths of New Hampshire rather than the idyllic British countryside.

Upon arriving at her new school Iris Academy, the player then gets to take complete control over what happens next — and that’s where the story begins.

To call Magical Diary a visual novel in the traditional sense is perhaps not strictly accurate — while it still involves a lot of reading, looking at pretty characters and making decisions, there’s a considerable amount more depth to the gameplay than in many other titles.

ss_c3ab56e9fe91f07e65e64040fea3958bcebe113e.1920x1080.jpg

The game takes what is typically called the “life sim” approach, where your various decisions throughout the game affect a bunch of numerical stats that help determine the way the story unfolds — and indeed the possibilities available to its heroine as events progress.

This isn’t your usual set of RPG-style stats, however. While Magical Diary does track how smart and strong you are (which, where appropriate, translates directly into how many magic points and hit points you have) it also tracks more esoteric characteristics such as how “cute” and “weird” your character is — attributes which can be further tweaked by buying various clothing items and accessories which, pleasingly, appear on your in-game avatar during story scenes.

The classes you choose to attend each in-game week help you build up the five different colours of magic that make up Magical Diary’s ”pentachromatic” spell system and subsequently learn new spells. Doing anything that involves hard work — including attending class — increases your stress level. Conversely, sleeping reduces stress, as do vacations, hanging out with friends and doing other “fun” things. Finally, a sliding scale of “merits” determines how well (or badly) you’re doing at school — filling your merits bar means that you’re an excellent student; filling it in the other direction as “demerits” will see you expelled.

ss_5b082474382095a8f3e7b48aabc3dc790e51e981.1920x1080.jpg

The spells you learn by levelling the various colours of magic are used in the school’s dungeons. Yes, Iris Academy has its own set of monster-infested dungeons beneath its walls, and for the students’ various exams, they are expected to find their way out as creatively as possible using the spells they have learned.

The wide variety of different spells you can learn mean that there are several ways to solve any given problem, whether that’s by brute force, lateral thinking, manipulation of matter or messing with the heads of sentient beings.

These aren’t your usual boring elemental spells, either — here, you’ll be casting everything from a simple “push” spell to shove an object in a particular direction to manipulating the ambient temperature of an area to your own advantage. At certain points throughout the story, you’ll have the opportunity to use your spells to do things like tell what other characters are feeling or see hidden spirits, too.

ss_772d03a2f2c9c51b62f219fb14f17015a8864574.1920x1080.jpg

This abstract character development system helps you to have a much greater feeling of ownership over the player character than in many other visual novels. Rather than “riding along” with the protagonist as they narrate their story to you, you are the protagonist — you even get to design and name her at the outset of the game, and beating the game allows you to upload a “yearbook” page to the Internet to commemorate your achievements and the path which you took through it. On subsequent playthroughs, you can roll up a completely new character and play in an entirely different manner — and the game’s achievements encourage you to do just that.

The story itself follows the protagonist’s attempts to understand her own abilities, make friends and perhaps find romance over the course of her first school year.

There are a number of events that will happen regardless of which “path” you’re taking through the game, but other events are determined by hidden relationship values between the protagonist and the other characters.

ss_fb65c892b33ca8b39f5c6d8e5fb29e9d12ca40ba.1920x1080.jpg

Initially, the story appears to be rather lightweight (albeit enjoyable and well-written) teen drama fluff infused with the fantastic aspect of magic, but there are a number of situations, particularly later in the game, where some challenging themes are explored, often in non-literal ways.

One of the game’s love interests, for example, turns out to be an abusive partner, and the game explores several ways in which the protagonist could deal with this situation — turning to friends for support; submitting to his dark desires; or believing she can “change” him. One scene in particular with this character could quite reasonably be argued to be a rather potent rape allegory, particularly with the subsequent victim-blaming and the authority figures’ response that “no crime had been committed” because the protagonist had “technically consented” to the incident.

It’s surprisingly powerful stuff, and the game mechanics are used to good effect to complement the themes of the story nicely, too — quite understandably, the aforementioned incident causes the protagonist’s stress levels to go through the roof and for her to take a significant hit to her other abilities as a result of her physical and psychological injuries, too. Various events aren’t just swept under the carpet, in other words — most things have a tangible effect on your character development and the way the story will end.

ss_ece50126592297aaaebc790523796aad6c587ff4.1920x1080

Magical Diary, then, is a great title that is well worth checking out — particularly if you’re a fan of the “life sim” approach. While it initially may appear to be rather light in tone, it’s not afraid to tackle some tricky issues when the situation demands it, and the game systems are flexible enough to cater to most play styles.

The characters you get to spend your time with are fun to be around and memorable, and very few fall back on predictable tropes to be interesting. Even the resident “tragic prince” character — a mainstay of otome games — has plenty of depth to him, and the story takes great pains in a number of its paths to ensure that you shouldn’t always judge things at face value.

Magical Diary is available for Windows, Mac OS or Linux/Steam OS either from Steam or direct from Hanako Games. So why not clear some space in your… you know where I’m going with that so I won’t insult your intelligence by finishing that sentence.


This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2012 as part of the site’s regular READ.ME column on visual novels. It has been republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

If you enjoyed this article and want to see more like it, please consider showing your social support with likes, shares and comments, or financial support via my Patreon. Thank you!

Advertisements

One thought on “From the Archives: Make Some Time for Magical Diary”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s