Magical Diary was actually my first English original Visual Novel, so a review is long overdue. Hanako herself had gone to make many other titles although I haven’t gotten the chance to play the rest of her games (Royal Trap seems like my cup of tea). This game, Magical Diary: Horse Hall is the first game in the MD universe.
At heart, MD:Horse Hall is your typical stat-raising VN. Set in a magical academy (Iris) where you’re attending as a freshman assigned to the dorm Horse Hall (characterized as daring, sporty girls), a whole schoolyear is available to you to explore and live to the fullest. You meet variety of people, experiencing the ups and downs of life, discovering things that may not always nice. Your choices shape your lives. Will you end up lurking in the darker corners of magical world, plotting revenges in a secret society, or organizing fundraisers for your class? Will you end up that ordinary girl, ambitious schemer, or everyone’s confidant?
What I like from this game is aside of its girl-chase-boys (or girls, if that’s your call) nature, it’s entirely possible for you to just enjoy the academy, pursuing good grades and making a good friend out of everyone without dabbling in romance at all. The paths are mostly overlapping, so except you’re intentionally locking it down to a certain route, you can experience your own story.
There are abundance of events, which can be seen from different perspectives depending on your stats, actions, and relationships at the given time that I guarantee no repeat run is going to be exactly the same as the previous one. Despite that, the options are manageable, and there are only enough stats to watch for so the game mechanics don’t end up overwhelming you (the main reason I gave up Academagia). There are trophies too, if you’re a completionist type.
However, because you can only plan the entire week in advance, it’s easy to miss an event you want to see simply because you forget it’s happening in that particular day of the week and fail to choose the appropriate plan. Ah, the annoyance of wasting a day to sleep only to realize the day after tomorrow is refreshment event. Well, sometimes it’s the little surprises that keep you playing.
The classroom sequence will get tedious after a while, but one interesting aspect of this game, the spells and dungeons, will keep you amused. There are a lot of spells to learn in this game, but while they are incorporated into the narrative to some degree, mostly they felt underutilized. I often find myself repeating a dungeon multiple times just to try spells I won’t use otherwise. Some spells are just so efficient and effective you’ll end up using them all the time (like breeze) than the cooler spells (like telefyre or dig). Yes, I enjoy putting these skills into use, so I was quite disappointed when the dungeons aren’t challenging at all because every single one comes with only one objective. They are varied, alright, but would be nicer if the dungeons are longer and spells aren’t so specific that they’re only usable in a certain point.
The protagonist straddles that uncertain line between fixed and blank slate. Sure, you choose the options, but she talks on her own too. The cast of characters fit your usual array of stereotypes, but the writing quality is not as cliche, fortunately.
The music is not bad, just so repetitive due to the lack of variations. After several paths, I decided to mute my laptop. The graphic, on the other hand, is somewhere between awkward and nice. It takes some time getting used to, but while character designs are generally on the nicer spectrum, the CGs on the other hand… I’m not keen on the kissing scenes. They get iffy.
Overall, it’s a decent and enjoyable game. There are quirks and shots a bit too low to my marks, but considering the target audience and the fact that it’s supposed to be lighthearted, it’s quite successful in its endeavor. Besides, how can you not love a VN whose protagonist is named ‘Mary Sue’?
No, this is not an epic with the most intricate of characters and plot. It’s a fun and likeable Visual Novel that does a good job entertaining you for several hours. MD:Horse Hall is not a freeware, but Hanako frequently gives discounts. It’s also available on Steam. Given the replayability, I think it’s worth the $19.95 price tag. A sequel taking place in the Wolf Hall (featuring male protagonist Gary Stu) is planned.
Non-exhaustive character list:
MC (default name ‘Mary Sue’): A Wild Seed (magic born to a normal parentage) from New Hampshire, a freshman in Iris Academy. Her personality depends on how you play, but mostly will revolve around hopeful, sweet, kind, wise, or sarcastic. What? Can’t you tell from the name?
Virginia Danson: A sport-freak roommate. She comes from an ancient magical family. Being the youngest child, she is spoiled by her family. Sometimes her personality is too much.
Ellen Middleton: The other roommate. Unlike Virginia, Ellen is studious and serious. She too, is a Wild Seed. While generally nice, she’s sensitive about her family problems.
Donald Danson: Virginia’s older brother who starts school the same time as her. Finding himself between a perfect older brother and a pampered baby sister, he makes himself a name as a troublemaker.