Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Reading the Magical Diary

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 8, 2011

Last weekend, my family and I went to visit my in-laws. I brought my laptop. And a copy of Hanako Games’ new game, Magical Diary: Horse Hall. I spent an entire afternoon playing the game.  I don’t know why this surprised me – I really happily surrendered some “man points” and loved the Cute Knight games.  Magical Diary: Horse Hall is part Cute Knight, part visual novel, and part Harry Potter fan fiction.

Admit it, you have someone in your life who will secretly go “squee” hearing that combination. It might even be you.

The game takes place at a school for magical youth in the United States. You play a girl (sorry, no gender choice with this one, though Hanako hasn’t ruled it out as a possibility for a future installment should this become a series… yes, please) beginning her freshman year, a “wild seed” who is the first of her family to bear these special talents. Consequently, she has no concept of how magical society works.

Sound familiar? Well, it only makes sense, as it allows the player to discover the ins and outs of life as a young witch with their character.  However, the game takes pains to create a unique world of magical entities that only resembles the world of J. K. Rowling in some superficial ways.  A big part of the fun is exploring this world as your character. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but the game won me over in a big way when I found an opportunity to try out a new magical spell at a dance. “What would happen if…?” The results were not good, but were incredibly satisfying to me, personally.  It was a great story point.

The school isn’t just for young wizards and witches. It appears to be home to fairy-folk, a possible vampire (I didn’t really meet her in my original play-through), a demonic character, and possibly other youth not entirely from the mortal world. While they start out fanciful and cute, there can be serious repercussions for taking them too lightly. Magical Diary isn’t afraid to get a little dark. The world isn’t safe. And those who seem cute, nice, encouraging, and trustworthy might not be. There are unhappy things afoot, and sometimes you may only be involved on the periphery of them (though I expect in future play-throughs I may find myself in the middle of hem).

Another thing that really worked for me is the commentary on decisions. So often in RPGs you only get the option to do something obviously correct or obviously stupid or evil. In Magical Diary, most of the decisions were far more interesting than that, and a running commentary justified the decision very much the way I did in my own mind. Maybe I’m just on the same mental wavelength as the designer, but this addition really helped the game come alive for me. In fact, the main character appealed to me a lot for this very reason — she doesn’t jump to conclusions (or actions) that I disagreed with. The game leaves that up to the player. She overhears things, notes things, and files them away for future reference for the player to deal with.  This way, none of the actions seem forced.

Besides making decisions at various events (which can lead to completely different events down the road, from what I can see), much of the gameplay is about building your character through your choices of activities. Unlike other schools, going to class is completely optional and you take the classes at your own pace. Each week you make out a schedule of what you will do – attend a magical class in one of the several types of magic (hopefully raising your skill in those types of magic, and allowing you to learn new spells), attend gym (increasing your “Strong” score), study (increasing your “Smart” score), or just resting. Resting is important – all other activities raise your stress level, and your performance degrades as stress increases. Certain activities, decisions, and equipment (which you can buy in a special shop in the mall) can modify your other attributes – including the “Cute” and “Weird” scores. While “Cute” and “Weird” have no advantage to you in the tests, they seem to be used to determine which events happen to your character – and what relationships become available.

And speaking of tests – these occur about once a month in game-time. This is about right – much more frequent, and they might get tedious, but as it was I was looking forward to them. You are tested by being locked in a dungeon, and need to use your spells and skills to overcome the challenges to escape. At any point you can give up and fail the test – a single failure won’t hurt you much. The fun part is that there is no single way to pass the challenges. You need to take advantage of what spells you know to find a solution. You must be careful as well, as you have only limited spell points to power your efforts.

As far as replayability, I hope Georgina doesn’t mind if I share what she emailed me about the subject: “The dungeon puzzles themselves will stay the same on subsequent playthroughs, although if you build different skillsets you will need to look for different solutions to them. Most of the variation in multiple playthroughs comes from character interaction – who you choose to romance/befriend, how well you do at it, whether or not you win the class election, whether or not you get involved in the secret society, and so on.

The only thing I really found missing in this game is a limitation in the visual novel approach: It is very demanding content-wise on the developer, and it does limit the degree in which I could explore the game. You can’t introduce yourself to characters until your story presents the opportunity to do so.  You don’t get enough opportunities to experiment with your spells until it’s time to take the tests.

I’m planning on putting the game up in the Rampant Games store over the weekend, but if you can’t wait to check it out for yourself (or have a friend try it out), here’s a link to the demo:

Magical Diary (Windows Version)

Magical Diary (Mac Version)

Magical Diary (Linux Version)

And here’s the trailer video if you haven’t seen it already:

Filed Under: Game Announcements, Impressions - Comments: 9 Comments to Read

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    Surrender man points?! Never! . . . Well, if I have to, I have a few extra stored up from being an infantry Marine, haha. I buy all of Georgina’s games, since she and I seem to have similar tastes in game design. One of my favorite games is Princess Maker 2, so Cute Knight was right up my alley. I bought Magical Diary a week ago and have been enjoying it quite a lot.

    I’ve run through it about 4 times at this point and my only real complaint is that Spells have only a few in-story uses outside of the tests. Like you said, it is disappointing not to get to experiment with them before taking the test. This isn’t a big issue on replays, since you will already be knowledgeable about the different spell uses. Still, it would have been nice to be able to enter easier randomized dungeons anytime you wanted (say like on Saturdays instead of going to the mall or studying) to practice spell combinations and uses, then have the actual test dungeons be harder and more complex.

    I will say that some of the tests (without spoiling anything) are quite clever and it is fun to determine how to solve or get out of situation with a very limited selection of spells. It makes you feel smart when you solve one test with a big flashy and expensive spell, then discover a way to creatively pass the same test using cheap little cantrips the next time you play.

    I’ve started to have some fun by seeing how little magic I can study and still ace the tests. The game also has some chuckle-worthy little non-standard endings when you do things like ignore magic completely, by say, only taking Gym everyday.

    Oh, one last tiny, tiny nitpick. I want to use WASD in the dungeons Georgina . . . .

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Or at least the arrow keys!

    The whole spell thing – the idea behind it, and being able to use spells so many different ways to try and beat the tests – is brilliant. I want more of it! I know they probably weren’t easy to do, but it’s a strong concept. It’d be fun to see that handled in an even more organic fashion to solve problems.

  • WhineAboutGames said,

    There is a keyboard control for dungeon movement – I think it’s something like shift+arrowkey? (I can’t remember because I don’t use it myself.)

    But the normal arrow keys have to be available for hopping between buttons so that certain people who think mice are made of fire and evil can still play the game.

  • Nick Istre said,

    Congrats, you’ve just extracted another sale out of me. LOL. I remember the first game you got me to buy was Arma (and between that and Arma 2, I probably had over 500 hours of mulitplayer gameplay time)… Talk about a shift in genres!

    The Linux demo worked perfectly fine on my work laptop, so I went ahead purchased it. So I could play. On the laptop. That I installed Ubuntu on partly so the temptation to game on it would be lessened. I think I made a similar “complaint” when you talked about Planet Stronghold, too…

    Seriously, I think I’m gaming more on this laptop and the netbook (Running Windows 7 and I have Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2, Fallout 1 & 2, and Jagged Alliance 2 installed on it) than on the Windows 7 quad core desktop system that I had tweaked to play Arma 2. Well, it’s much easier to game with the laptops while on the recliner…

  • adorna said,

    wow .. that pretty much right on time — I looking all over the internet for princess maker like games yesterday ;D
    I still have a few other games to finish (finally got Recettear) before I can justify another purchase but I tried the demo, loved it and will definitely buy this later.
    Thank you so much for these reviews!

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Heh – I feel awkward calling it a review, ‘cuz as hard as I try I can’t really claim to be completely unbiased. But I like doing what I can to keep people informed. And it’s a tough job to keep on top of the stuff happening in this niche-within-a-niche.

  • BellosTheMighty said,

    I feel obliged to point out that Rowling by no means invented the idea of a school for wizards. I first encountered the idea in an AD&D gamebook from the 80’s, and I’d wager it goes back to far earlier than that. Since wizards are traditionally played as very knowledgeable people, sometimes with an understanding of primitive physics and chemistry, it’s kind of a natural fit. Indeed, the words “wizard” and “wise” are etymologically related. One could also point to Xavier’s School for the Gifted as an urban-fantasy analog.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,


    Indeed, there are many examples of wizard schools for children and teens in books, movies, and other media before Harry Potter came along.

    I do think that Magical Diary’s school comes across as more a direct nod to Harry Potter because the students are broken up into different Houses (represented by animals and color) by their personality at admission in both.

    And it is hard not to see a certain NPC that is a nontraditional romance option in Magical Diary as something other than wish-fulfillment for a certain Harry Potter teacher eternally featured in fan-fiction. (Though it is handled very well in Magical Diary.)

  • Indie RPG News Round-Up: July 2011 said,

    […] It’s out now, for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Try it out if you haven’t already.  You can read my little “quick take” with the demo links here. […]