Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been playing through a newly released indie game called Ikenfell. It’s a top down pixel art RPG released on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch, in which you play a young girl investigating strange occurrences at a school for magic users. You’re the non magic user in the family, your sister didn’t come home from school for the summer, and as soon as you approach the school you start to develop strange magical powers of your own.
Ikenfell is a really interesting little game. It’s not without its issues, in particular the late game battles often drag on a little longer than they need to, but overall I had a really fun time with the game.
However, perhaps most interestingly, Ikenfell features a bunch of really cool accessibility features, as well as a pretty large amount of LGBTQIA+ representation throughout its story. So, today, I’m going to talk about what Ikenfell does well with regards to accessibility, what I like about its LGBTQIA+ representation, and a few minor issues I came across while playing the game at release.
So, let’s start off talking about Ikenfell’s accessibility settings.
So, a few months back on Access-Ability, we published an episode all about Epilepsy, and how the condition relates to video games, link down in the Description. In that episode, we talked about the fact that it’s important for video games to try and reduce common photosensitivity triggers where possible, but to not label those options as Epilepsy Safe modes. Ikenfell features a menu setting titled Photosensitive Mode that doesn’t label itself as inherently safe to play, and is clear in its setting description that while the game will “try to reduce flashing lights and effects”, it may not catch them all. It’s a mode there to try and help those who suffer due to photosensitivity, but it doesn’t overpromise its results, which is important given the wide range of possible photosensitivity triggers that exist.
Beyond that, Ikenfell features an optional content warnings mode. When active, the game will periodically pop up on screen text prompts before scenes which may be difficult for players depending on their specific experiences. The content warnings system in Ikenfell is pretty robust, offering specific and detailed warnings, that cover a wide and thoughtful range of topics. From scenes containing blood, to scenes where a character is struggling with deep self loathing, I was pretty consistently impressed by how well thought through the content warnings in the game were. As a disclaimer, I have previously worked with a member of staff on the game who worked on the content warning system, so bear that in mind with my praise for this particular setting.
Ikenfell features a combat system which is part turn based RPG, and part turn based tactics game, with players moving around a grid based arena to line up attacks, which they then select from a menu. Similar to games like Paper Mario, Ikenfell includes as part of its battle system a timing system, where players can deal more damage to enemies, or take less damage from enemy attacks, if they time a button press as the attack lands. If, like me, you have difficulty with timing and rhythm, Ikenfell offers a variety of options which gradually reduce the importance of timing in combat. You can semi automate timings, so you’ll never get the worst rating on an attack, or completely turn the system off, always getting the best possible timing.
In addition, Ikenfell gives players the option to back out of attacks if they realise they have positioned themselves incorrectly, the player can turn off screen shaking effects, and turn on auto run while outside of battle, which are all really nice quality of life settings that act as helpful accessibility features.
Lastly, if you ever find a particular battle is a roadblock for you in the game, there’s an option in the settings that will allow you to have a victory button on your turn based combat screen. At any time you can click that button to kill all enemies on screen, gain any experience they would usually drop from being defeated, and end the battle. If a boss fight has multiple forms, the button will defeat the current form, and skip you forward to the next phase of the fight. This can be really useful if there’s a fight you’re struggling to complete, or just if you’re trying to grind up some quick levels to be better prepared for the fight you’re actually stuck on.
Overall, I was really impressed with the accessibility features in Ikenfell. They did a great job of making the game playable for players like myself with coordination disabilities, and didn’t overpromise the safety of their photosensitivity mode. The content warnings system did a great job of keeping me informed as I progressed, and I was unashamed to make use of the victory button option.
With that said, it’s no great secret that I am trans, and pretty dang gay, so let’s talk about the LGBTQIA+ representation present in Ikenfell, as well as the bits of representation which were meant to be present, but were not in my playthrough.
Throughout the course of Ikenfell’s plot, the player meets three different non binary characters, who are all playable party members and major parts of the game’s plot. Perhaps the most notable part of the game’s non binary representation is the fact that all three characters use differing pronouns from each other, rather than the game defaulting to using They/Them for all non binary characters.
The party’s initial healer, Nel, uses They/Them pronouns. The party’s booksmart magic user, Rook, uses He/Him pronouns, and the party’s paint magic wielding conjurer Ima uses Ze/Zir neopronouns. For all three characters their non binary status is not made a big deal, they simply use the pronouns they happen to use, and the game gets on with its primary plot.
I will however note, and this is a real shame, that at the time of writing this script, a little over a week after Ikenfell’s release, some issues with the game’s non binary characters exist in some versions of the game. They are known to the developer, and a patch has been submitted to fix them, but playing on Switch that patch is not yet live. The dialogue which would have confirmed to the player that Rook is non binary simply doesn’t trigger in the pre patch version of the game, and there is a late game moment where Nel is misgendered in a sentence. This is not a deliberate attempt to have them misgendered in the story, it was simply a moment of developer oversight. I understand human error happens, but it’s really disappointing when a game messes up its own representation in this kind of way. Missing the dialogue that confirms a non binary character exists, and misgendering another, is a really bad look, as is the fact the game’s developer also messed up Nel’s pronouns in a tweet to me over the weekend, making the same mistake made in that one line of in game dialogue. While I think all three of these non binary characters are wonderful and unique and charming, it’s important to be aware of these issues.
Beyond that, Ikenfell features numerous characters shown to be same gender attracted. We don’t get definitive confirmation on most characters’ specific orientations, but multiple characters are shown to be happily romantically involved in relationships with characters they share their gender with. One playable character, Gilda, is very open and up front about the fact she is gay, and makes no secret of her crush on the main character, Maritte. While I have seen some critique of Gilda claiming she’s too up front about her sexual orientation, I personally feel like seeing a cute girl and just turning to my group of mostly gay friends to tell them how gay I am feeling in that moment is a very realistic representation of my own experience with my sexuality.
Additionally, while some may criticise Ikenfell as unrealistic for featuring a playable cast of near exclusively LGBTQIA+ characters, as a gay trans woman, the game’s cast all grouping together feels very natural. When you’re LGBTQIA+, you tend to flock towards other people like yourself. There’s safety in numbers, and shared lived experiences are often a starting point for friendships. As someone who is near exclusively friends with other LGBTQIA+ people, this very much checks out.
Having finished playing through Ikenfell, for the most part I am really happy with how the game turned out. After weeks of discussions online about that one upcoming magic school game made by that one terf, it was really nice to play a magic school game which was explicitly LGBTQIA+ friendly, and didn’t come with the baggage of being made by someone who thinks I shouldn’t get to have rights.
If you’re a fan of the recently released Disney animated show Owl House, a lot of the tone and energy of that show is present in Ikenfell. It’s a funny, sweet, wholesome, at times dark, and often suspenseful game, that I found myself really engaged with.
Ikenfell does a solid job with its accessibility settings, and for the most part I was really happy with the game’s LGBTQIA+ representation. The bits of representation that slipped through the net are unfortunate, and something to be cautious of, but if you’re playing the game post patch there’s a lot here to enjoy.