The Otome Review: Magical Diary – Horse Hall

We’re finally at a point where only a few may cross: The Pocketbook Line.

Indeed, we’re at a point where we fantasy must meet funds. While there are several websites that list several free-to-play games, there are legit game designers who put lots of extra work into their VN/Dating Sim, or pay others to work on it, and charge a small fee to either break even or make a profit. This was the first title I ever shelled out honest money for. I loved playing it, though I sometimes wonder if it had enough extras to justify the price tag.

giphy1

Designed by a VN dujour, Hanako Games, Magical Diary – Horse Hall is a take on the Magical School genre of stories, allowing the player to simulate one school year as a new witch. With a character that’s completely customizable, a flexible story, and some funny game mechanics, it earns a spot as one of those “must plays.”

  • Plot

Welcome to Hogwarts – er, Iris Academy – where fellow teenagers like yourself learn to use magic and become excellent witches or wizards.  Your character is a wildseed, a witch born out of a non-magical family, and you’re attending Iris Academy as a fluffy-eyed freshman.  You’ve been put in the dormitory known as “Horse Hall”, given to girls of the more adventurous mind. Your goal is simple: learn to be a witch proper; survive your freshman year of school; and see what awaits your new life.

customize

And after that, your choice in romance partner shapes the rest. There are plots running underfoot that you can tap or pass on by, depending on whose path you follow. This promises lots of replay value, something a lot of VN’s fall short of.

  • Gameplay

stat-bar

Seasoned readers and players will spot some familiar things right away. Your character starts each week at a plan screen, where you select which classes you take between two professors. Red and Blue magic lands you Professor Grabiner, the stricter professor most of the students hate, while Green, Black, and White puts you in the saccharine hands of Professor Potsdam, the kind but firm professor/headmistress of Iris Academy. Each class will raise the stats of your magic, because we are once again playing the stats game. You have quite a few to keep track of this time.

You also have the standard VN gameplay of making choices in the story that alter the direction it goes in. This also includes the romance options, or who you date, but this time the options you have shape things drastically. There are several paths in this game that involve some pretty extreme events per storyline, all revolving around certain romance options. You can explore a few of them side-by-side but most require you to make a commitment before the game makes one for you. So, if you’re the kind of person who likes to play the field, than you’re out of luck. Otherwise, make the right choices and you’ll earn a point for the person you’re chasing. Earn enough points and you’ll get a kiss.

kiss-scene

Ah, but we mustn’t forget our academics this time around. Instead of grades per class you earn merits or demerits throughout, all of which add up to passing or failing the year. You also have Dungeon Exams at various points in the year (6 in total) where you’re expected to put your spells into practice. You learn different ones depending on which classes you took, and there are multiple ways to solve each dungeon. However, I learned quickly that only a few spells are actually necessary, but they do add fluff to the immersion factor over all.

dungeon

  • Art

The style here is more colorful than the last, a feat I didn’t think possible. The anime style is a bit more round and cartoony this time, where strange colored hair is as common as wings or blue skin. Everyone dressed like old school wizards this time around: Pointed hats, long flowing robes, and even a few wands. There’s a lack of CG’s this time around, sadly, but the game is still very pleasing on the eyes.

snow-outside

Our figures are no longer bound to one body with a plethora of expressions. Now they have several sprites that can pop up, making things more dynamic. However, you will also notice body models being reused for a few characters, which does kill the immersion just a little.

repeat-models

  • Romantic Options

-Professor Hieronymus Grabiner

hiranymous

We have an oddball entity here: dating the professor. He’s your strict and stubbornly grumpy British teacher, whose nickname “Graby” might lead one to believe he’s a closet perv. Thankfully this professor is the picture of professionalism, with all the hobbies associated with being a snob: Wine, chamber music, thick books with hard to understand stuff, etc. But he’s also protective, rebellious in his own way, and brilliant beyond words. He’s a secret softie who just has trouble opening up, and has a path that’s both creative and sweet.

-Damien

damian

But if you find Grabby a bit too cloying, maybe you’ll gravitate more towards Damien – the blue-skinned demon who finds your naivety adorable. Damien is a confusing option for us, as half the time he’s fawning over you, then the other half he’s ignoring you and fraternizing with fairies (damn you Pastel). Damien also sports a pretty magnificent twist at the novel’s halfway point, one which you will either hate him for or feel pretty unnerved by. It’s executed pretty well, but the aftermath leaves… something to be desired. The build-up towards the end relationship will have some great pathos, but not a lot of great moments between the couple. It’s a weird path, is my final thought, and I only recommend it if you want a surprise.

-Donald

donald

Donald is the older brother of your roommate (but not the oldest) and a known prankster. He’s got a reputation of detention every week, causing all kinds of trouble for the students, and especially Virginia. But behind the childish vener is the heart of pirate – er, a fighter – who’s really rather sweet and tenacious. His path is, admittedly, uneventful compared to the others but still worth the trek. Don’t be whiny and support his trek to get better, and you’ll be all hearts and butterflies before you know it.

-Virginia

virginia

Virginia’s one of those tomboy types who’s super sensitive about makeup, has issues with intimacy, and enough energy to run you over. She’s the baby in her family, prone to sickness, and dreams of being a professional athlete. While Virginia may be spoiled, and not always know how her words affect others, she’s still a real good friend and a sweetheart. Her brash and aggressive style clashes with your other roommate, Ellen, which I believe creates a more interesting couple truth be told. Still, if girls are more your fancy, Hanako has you covered.

Speaking of…

-Ellen

ellen

Ellen is a model student whose tendencies to diet and clean without request make me think she’s suffering some sort of compulsive disorder. Nonetheless, she’s funny, brilliant, and a wildseed just like you. She’s enthralled with magic and wishes she could add a more… scientific approach. Her methods and methodical mindset don’t always mix with the world of magic and spells, but she can blossom easily with the help of a good friend… or perhaps something more.

 

 

  • Final Verdict

Magical Diary – Horse Hall doesn’t have much to earn the extra dollars, but I ultimately have no qualms with Hanako wanting to pay people for a project that has so much love and care put into it. The art is gorgeous; the characters are interesting; and the story is very exciting when unraveled at length. I had fun playing the game, as long as it was, and I believe it’s worth the ten bucks I paid on Steam. If you have the money to spend, by all means, but I’d wait for a sale. Like I did.

angry-ellen

Ellen is not pleased

Next Time: Hatoful Boyfriend

Was Horse Hall worth the money? Or do you think it’s too unoriginal? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to comment below. And don’t forget to like and follow for more just like this.

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