Far to the north lies a mysterious school for the magically gifted. Children go there to learn how to harness their magic and make the world a more enchanting place. Of course, as with most magic schools, Ikenfell has had its share of near disasters from various magical mishaps. Luckily for the school, one of the most popular students attending Ikenfell has always managed to save it from destruction before going home for the summer. What happens when that student disappears, leaving friends and family behind?
Mysteries both magical and mundane beckon in Ikenfell. Players venture there to track down the erstwhile hero of the school, but in the process, they'll make friends, rivals, and maybe even find some romance. Oh, and they'll have to fight some monsters in classic RPG fashion.
While the story, retro visuals, and RPG mechanics might be some of the biggest draws in Ikenfell, it's certainly worth mentioning that the music is being handled by aivi & surasshu, a duo best known for their work crafting the songs from Steven Universe. Their heartfelt, grounded-yet magical work seems to be a perfect fit with where creator/writer/designer/artist Chevy Ray Johnston wants to take the world of Ikenfell.
We had the opportunity to talk with Chevy Ray Johnston and ask some burning questions to learn more about Ikenfell's delightful magic.
Could you tell me a little about your background/history in game development?
Chevy Ray Johnston: I've been developing games for around 18-20 years now, starting way back on Hypercard on the Macintosh. I used to make adventure and story games using the software's built-in drawing tools, hand-drawing every single room in the games. I would distribute the games to my friends on floppy disks, hand-drawing the labels for each one.
I moved onto Game Maker for several years, making weird experimental games, before moving onto Flash around 2009, where I continued to make weird experimental games. Eventually I started getting work doing games, animation, advertising, and gallery exhibitions doing Flash work.
You can see more info about some of the games I've made on my website. This is a small selection, I think in total I've probably created ~20 or so games on my own, and worked on over 30.
I now know a dozen or so programming languages proficiently and am running my own game company that is working on Ikenfell.
How long has Ikenfell been in development?
Chevy: Ikenfell has been in active development since January 2016, so just over a year and a half. I can find old mockups and prototypes that look... suspiciously similar... dating back to 2006 though.
Where did the initial idea for Ikenfell come from and how has it changed over the course of development? What games/movies/books/*insert media* did you look to for inspiration? I definitely get some Earthbound vibes from what little I've seen.
Chevy: I've had various ideas for a witch/wizard game in my head for a long time that has seen many different prototypes. It wasn't until I read Carry On by Rainbow Rowell that I finally got a huge spark of inspiration, deciding to place the game at a magic school setting. A small location, completely doable content-wise, but a way for me to fill it chock full of detail, history, personality, and hidden secrets everywhere.
It started out as an open-ended action RPG actually. You could get different magic spells in any order that would help you explore the school and access different areas. That actually still sounds really fun, but it didn't fit my vision for the story and aesthetic of the game.
I wanted you to be able to play a group of friends and rivals, magic students! So I decided to make it a turn-based RPG, and initially it was more inspired by Fire Emblem and Shining Force, battling in the game's regular perspective with a party of magic school friends. What I didn't like about this was that suddenly every room, all the maps, had to be designed for battles, and they hogged all the space. The rooms didn't feel like real rooms anymore, just big open spaces, weirdly laid out for battles, and it lost a lot of its potential personality.
Moving battles into a second screen allowed me to keep the school looking and feeling like I wanted, and I decided to spice up the battles by giving them bigger sprites and more animated graphics so they'd feel really big and exciting. I kept the strategy-RPG elements, but mixed it in with some inspiration from a few of my favorite games of all time: Chrono Trigger, Mario RPG, Paper Mario 1/2, and Final Fantasy Tactics.
You describe it on Twitter as a game about hugging and kissing, magic, monsters, and there seems to be combat, so how does that all come together mechanically? Can you hug the monsters?
Chevy: At its core Ikenfell is a game about relationships. Relationships between friends, lovers, ex-lovers, rivals, students, teachers, apprentices, and yes: monsters. Unfortunately you don't get to hug the monsters (maybe my next game???), but they act as the catalyst that causes the hugging and kissing -- the thing that pushes these relationships to their breaking point, that prods at them and tests their limits.
Without giving too much away, what's the general story of Ikenfell?
Chevy: Maritte is an Ordinary, a person without magic, but she's OK with that fact. Her sister Safina, on the other hand, is a witch... and a very popular one. Safina goes to a magic school called Ikenfell, and comes home every summer to tell Maritte about her adventures. She's saved the school many times, and also put it in grave danger many times. She's made friends, enemies, and has a tenuous relationship with the headmistress of the school for all the trouble she causes...
But one summer, Safina doesn't come back, and no matter how much Maritte asks around, she can't find out why. So she packs her bags and travels to Ikenfell to find her sister. When she arrives, strange things start happening, and she begins to suspect that her sister is at the center of something secret, something dangerous.
Maritte must explore the school, find Safina's friends, allies, rivals, and the teachers of the school, to solve the mystery of what happened to her... and also what is causing even magic itself to behave so erratically.
What do you think the main draw of Ikenfell will be for your audience?
Chevy: It's a hard fight between the exciting story full of a big variety of colorful characters and the original turn based party-oriented battle system that seems to have people's attention. The battle system is nothing you've played before, full of strange mechanics and monsters with a lot of personality, but familiar enough to draw you in if you've played any of the games that inspired it. I get constant messages from people saying they are excited to learn more about the characters, and they often already tell me who their favorites are.
How long do you intend Ikenfell to be?
Chevy: Ha-ha-haaaa. It was originally supposed to be a 6-8 hour game. I am finishing the 4th (of 8) chapters, and the game is already about that long. Soooo it'll actually end up being around ~20 hours at this rate. No matter how long I make games for, it will forever be impossible to predict this kind of thing.
What are some things (story moment, character, mechanic, etc.) that you hope will stand out to your players?
Chevy: Each of the 6 party members you get learns 8 spells, and each spell in the entire game is unique. There is no mana or MP, each spell is designed for contextual and strategic use. I think the challenging battles and boss fights will really put these to the test, and players will get excited when they discover new strategies and combine spells that I have worked hard to facilitate.
Story-wise, I think people will really like the progression of the game's story. It sets a lot of different plot threads in motion, and builds a big exciting mystery over several chapters. Then, the final 3 chapters of the game are about dissecting and solving the mystery, and I'm working hard to make sure each plot thread has a satisfying and impactful payoff.
I might not succeed, but I'm trying the best I possibly can to make it so.
What message do you hope Ikenfell will convey to the people who play it?
Chevy: I hope the game will help people reflect on the different relationships they have, maybe see them in a fresh light, and find a way to strengthen them.
But most importantly, I hope people who know someone who is in pain, or suffering, are inspired to finally step forward and help them. To sympathize with them and give them the support they need to flourish.
Several people I love dearly have done this for me, selflessly, and thanks to them I am no longer ill and the happiest I have ever been. If I can inspire others to do the same, hopefully others will be able to make wonderful art and tell their stories as well.
I also hope they have a whole lot of raw fun playing it!
If you're hoping to get your hands on Ikenfell soon, you'll have to be a bit patient. After a little over a year and a half of concentrated development, the title has a tentative release window for summer 2018 for PC and Mac.