You have been invited to attend a magical school. Here you can make new friends, learn dozens of spells, face exams in the school dungeons, run for class office, and try to find a date for the May Day Ball. But be careful! You might end up in detention, be lured into a secret society, be forced to marry your professor, or even be expelled! Every puzzle has multiple solutions, and the path you choose is up to you. Are you a good witch or a bad witch?
In the wake of Harry Potter, it’s difficult for any story featuring a school for magic to not be compared favorably to it. The bad news is that Magical Diary doesn’t have the same grandeur and scope Harry Potter had. The good news is that it’s not a bad thing at all.
In Magical Diary, you take on the role of a young woman (whom, as you can see in the above screenshot, you can customize) starting her first year at Iris Academy, a boarding school for students gifted with magic. You’ll go to class, befriend other witches and wizards, run for a school office, find romance, and may even get married! But amongst the hijinks among students, you’ll quickly learn that not everything is as it seems and that the professors may not be telling you everything. Tread carefully lest you be expelled and lose your magic forever or even lose your soul.
As a visual novel, gameplay for Magical Diary is fairly simple. Every week, you choose what activities you want to do for each week day: take one of the five magic classes and learn new spells, study and raise your Smart (which affects how many spells you can cast), go to gym and raise your Strong (which affects your health during exams), or sleep and lower your Stress. Too much Stress and you’ll start failing classes, so keep an eye on it. On Saturday, you can choose to stay at the school and study or go to the mall where you can participate in activities to lower your stress or purchase items at the Magic Shop which can raise your stats and change your appearance (you can only get money by saving the $5 you get every week. Sorry! No other way to earn money, unfortunately). Every now and then a dialogue option will come up which can affect your relationships with other characters or raise some of your stats. Both Cute and Weird affect how others may perceive you and need to be at certain levels in order to unlock romance options. Finally, Merits represents your standing in the school. You gain Merits mostly by completing exams, which involve going into the school dungeons and using magic to get yourself out. You lose Merits by failing exams or misbehaving. Careful not to get too many; if you get -50 Merits, you will be expelled and the game will end. The good news is that as long as you study a good amount of magic and keep your Smart and Strong at decent levels, you should be fine.
Now let’s get to the part I really want to talk about; the story and characters. As I said before, Magical Diary doesn’t have the same huge scope as Harry Potter. Nothing grand or epic happens in the story; it’s just your character’s first year in school and things that happen in it. And that’s not a bad thing at all. In fact, the game’s smaller focus allows it to accomplish certain things that Harry Potter couldn’t. By doing so, it keeps the focus on the characters’ personal dramas rather than trying to balance them with an epic plot. And the characters are definitely the best part of the game. They’re all interesting and varied, and the main five you can romance (though three of them – Virginia, Donald, and Grabiner – can also be just friends if you so wish) are complex. As it only took me a few hours to go through one play through without rushing through the text, I would highly recommend doing more than one playthrough just so you can learn more about these people.
Combined with a soundtrack that, while not the greatest, has tracks that make me wish it was available so I wouldn’t have to open the game to listen to them, Magical Diary is an excellent game. If you liked Harry Potter or enjoy romance, this may be up your alley. Also, there is a sequel/spin-off featuring a male protagonist in the works, if that’s something you may be interested in.
Game can be bought on Steam or Hanako Games website.
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