Runes Magica follows the increasingly popular trend of roguelike gameplay, bringing pixelated combat with a magic-based upgrade system to the Steam library. Bone Made’s first game looks solid at first glance, with plenty of upgrade paths for players to choose from and the trial-and-error gameplay familiar to the genre. However, the game suffers from shoddy translations, poor balancing, and serious gameplay bugs that make players wonder if the game was even tested before being released. In its current state, Runes Magica is a mess of a game that needs to be brought back to the drawing board, but it has the potential to be a fun roguelike that’s great for beginners with some TLC.
▍Unbalanced and Lack of Variety
Runes Magica challenges players to defeat enemies using three types of spells and clear rooms to defeat bosses and progress through stages. There’s a surprising amount of technique involved to take down foes and avoid attacks, so becoming an expert with the Simple, Movement, and Complex spells is necessary to reach the end of the game. Runes can be equipped for improving spell performance, but certain Runes perform much better than others and discourage experimentation with how the game’s difficulty fluctuates.
Basic enemies in Runes Magica are held back by being trapped on the platform they spawn on, simply walking back and forth a few steps unless the player is spotted. It was baffling that melee enemies could be outranged with a basic attack, making what could be a difficult set of enemies to get through a walk in the park.
The types of enemies that the player can fight against are lacking, with most foes being reskins of each other with minor enhancements to their attack pattern depending on the player’s progress. There are six total enemy types spread across three stages in version 1.0 of Runes Magica, which is disappointing when compared to popular examples like Hades and Crypt of the Necrodancer.
Bosses also suffer from the weird difficulty, cycling through attack patterns based on a predetermined order, rather than based on the boss’s proximity to the player. It’s easy to learn how to avoid a boss’s attacks, and most attacks deal roughly 30 to 40 damage per hit if they land; the same as most basic enemies. Bosses do enter a phase change when their HP is reduced to 50% which enhances their attacks, but they still follow their attack cycle that hinders the difficulty spike.
For a game that’s supposed to be ‘complete’ in the core gameplay, Runes Magica needs to step up on balancing its difficulty, as it shouldn’t be watered down due to questionable design; the player’s skill should be the deciding factor in whether the run becomes a challenge to complete.
▍Poor Presentation for a Potentially Epic Story
The traditional Western fantasy plot of Runes Magica has the player controls Lunia, the daughter of a famous wizard, Luton Rayford. King Bernant, ruler of the region blames Luton and his fellow wizards for cursing his wife’s memory, and the father-daughter duo escapes from the King’s execution by hiding out in the isolated region of Aingal. While in Aingal, Luton creates the titular Runes through his research, achieving his dream to give anyone the ability to use magic. However, before the man can share his findings with the world, kingdom knights invade Aingal and kill Luton, leaving Lunia equipped with only her father’s Runes and sheer determination to escape a gruesome end and confront the king once and for all.
Not all stories have to be complex to be interesting, yet Runes Magica brings a bit of a realistic take on power with Bernant’s prejudice against wizards and refusal to see reason in his grief. Completing each stage sheds light on the situation through the diaries of Luton and Lunia, setting up Runes Magica as a potentially intriguing tale. On the other hand, players who care more about the gameplay will be disappointed to know that the diary cutscenes cannot be skipped until they complete the Stage for the first time.
Unfortunately, Runes Magica fails to deliver the impact that this story sets up. The roguelike isn’t visually terrible with three distinct stages that reflect Lunia’s progress but its layout has little variety in the room that it becomes repetitive and the game’s background music is too calm for what takes place in-game, looping too quickly and diminishing the overall experience.
The bosses are also a letdown, as most bosses fall into one of three categories; a random meeting, hired help or simply doing their job as a knight of the kingdom. There isn’t any engagement between the bosses and the overall plot beyond a surface level, especially when there are plenty of opportunities to do so.
▍Progression System is Good… in Theory
The biggest draw in Runes Magica is the game’s Rune System, which affects how the Simple, Movement, and Complex spells are executed and the types of damage dealt. By combining basic Runes, the player can create higher-Stage Runes by following a recipe. Unfortunately, Rune combinations are limited by the Rune’s proximity to each other on the recipe chart and Stage level, which stifles the potential that this system creates.
Besides Element Runes, the player can also use Sub Runes and Imprint Runes to their advantage and empower their spells. Sub Runes are equipped to directly affect the properties of the spell itself, like adding an extra projectile or increasing the range of the spell. Imprint Runes provide stacking passive effects like boosting the damage of the Rune, but they must be combined with the Rune to take effect and don’t carry over when combining two Element Runes together.
The player also has access to Artifacts, which can provide powerful bonuses when obtained and can empower certain Element Runes. Unfortunately, the player must either defeat a Boss to obtain a random artifact or purchase them from the shopkeeper for a high price.
Runes Magica’s progression system follows the formula for a healthy roguelike experience, yet purchasing Artifacts has a high opportunity cost as Gold is difficult to acquire even with Artifacts that increase the amount of Gold dropped. There also aren’t enough Element Runes to go around and potentially acquire a Stage 3 Rune before completing the third stage unless the player goes out of their way.
Costs aside, some Runes are significantly better than others, and the stacking potential of Imprint Runes heavily encourages funneling resources into three Stage 2 Runes and sticking with them for the entire run. It’s a shame, as experimenting with different builds is one of the high points of an extensive roguelike.
For example, Mineralium is a Stage 2 Element Rune that deals roughly 400 damage per hit before being enhanced through Sub and Imprint Runes. By empowering this Element Rune, players can shave at least 50% of a Boss’s HP in a single cast, destroying most of the difficulty in the fight!
▍Bugs and Poor Translations Are Red Flags
This roguelike is already halfway into the hole with its questionable design, but the game’s performance doesn’t help its case. Runes Magica seems neglected in playtesting, as the player can end up locking all obtainable Artifacts in the run to the Aerodynamic Formula as either a boss drop or as Shop inventory, or even soft lock the run through ill-timed enemy spawns!
One of the most common bugs in Runes Magica is that hotkeys don’t carry over between instances. Keybinds need to be set up each time the game is opened, which is an annoying task that shouldn’t be present in an official release. Some Artifacts don’t work as intended either, such as Artifacts that empower the unusable Kosmos and Perdito Element Runes, and the Caduceus’s HP increase effect.
The game’s translation alone is disappointing, as a majority of the UI, story, and dialogue text is unpolished, grammatically incorrect, overflows the textbox or fails to explain the actual function of the Rune or Artifact.
The most significant problem with this game is that you technically can’t beat it! After completing the 9th boss, Ruins Magica essentially ends the run at the Shop, as the player cannot enter through the door to the next level and there is no prompt to view the player’s stats no matter what. All these problems come together to shine a spotlight on the lack of care in this part of the game’s development, which is an alarming prospect for the future of this game.
▍Runes Magica Wastes its Potential
Runes Magica is definitely an experience, but not one that would be recommended to others in its current state. The roguelike is buggy and balancing mess but has just enough substance in its mechanics that the game isn’t a lost cause. Though the game is being actively updated by its developers, it’s difficult to recommend Runes Magica over other roguelikes. Roguelike fans should steer clear of this game in the meantime, or grab it in the future when it’s on sale.
This review is based on a Steam code provided by the publisher. Runes Magica is now available on PC (Steam).