Last week, on our weekly podcast Crater Corner, I tried to explain Kraken Academy!! to my co-host Jayden. Having played its demo back in April during the LudoNarraCon festival, I had a rough idea of what to expect. But my knowledge of its overall narrative and gameplay loop was a little spotty. As I was explaining what I believed to be Kraken Academy!!, I found myself getting more and more excited. My expectations went through the roof solely based on my very basic understanding of the game’s overall experience. Little did I know that not only would Kraken Academy!! exceed my expectations, but that it would also become one of my top 5 games of the year.
“Fortunately, it’s not just the character portraits that are exquisitely detailed. Kraken Academy!!’s sprite work is also fantastic.”
Kraken Academy!!’s art direction is truly stunning. Each and every character’s portrait is so intricately designed and so full of life and detail that it’s hard to not instantly form a connection with them. The designs are all so incredibly unique. I was not only astonished to see so many characters appear throughout the narrative but to see that each one had their own iconic design. Their uniqueness not only helps create a fascinating world but also allows the player to visualise Kraken Academy!!’s pixel art aesthetic. They’re also incredibly expressive, with a wide range of portraits depicting various emotional states being used to convey the story.
Fortunately, it’s not just the character portraits that are exquisitely detailed. Kraken Academy!!’s sprite work is also fantastic. Each explorable area is brought to life with an incredible amount of detail and every character is translated perfectly from portrait to sprite. It is clear that a lot of effort has been put into illustrating the changes that Kraken Academy is going through during each cycle. Little added details, such as the cracks in the ground or the sprouting tentacles jutting from the walkways, help to elevate a stunning world teeming with life.
Additionally, Kraken Academy!!’s soundtrack is simply sublime. Each track compliments Kraken Academy!!’s eerie, yet upbeat, absurdist atmosphere. I felt there was a wonderful sense of organised chaos within each song. A sudden saxophone may unexpectedly hijack a song only to find itself in competition moments later with a violin. While it may sound hectic and a little messy, in action it works incredibly well. Not only does it perfectly encapsulate the run-down nature of the school but also the juxtaposition between the Lovecraftian horror and witty banter woven throughout.
“While Kraken Academy!!’s main questline is packed full of phenomenal missions, it was the side quests that stood out to me.”
Main missions in Kraken Academy!! will see you completing all manner of tasks. I’m hesitant to spoil anything, as the level of absurdity, referential humour and downright fantastic character moments present across all of Kraken Academy!! have to be seen to be believed. Nevertheless, while it is never particularly gameplay heavy, each mission still felt like a fast-paced rollercoaster. The pacing and excitement never let down, and the inclusion of fun and simple quick-time events only help further elevate this.
While Kraken Academy!!’s main questline is packed full of phenomenal missions, it was the side quests that stood out to me. Each side quest will utilise the time-shifting mechanic to some degree. Certain missions will require you to collect a single item from any given timeline and then bring it back. Other, more involved missions, might require you to find items from all of the possible timelines to complete it. Regardless of how involved the mission is, the excitement of discovering an item that you’ve needed for quite some time is perpetually exhilarating. The satisfaction of bringing back a particular item to finish off a side mission simply never gets old.
Furthermore, by completing side missions you usually unlock additional dialogue options with the quest giver. This can lead to some genuinely touching moments as well as, and more frequently, hilarious ones. It was great to get to know Kraken Academy!!’s enormous cast of characters through meaningful missions. It not only connected narrative and gameplay in a succinct and pleasing way, but it also incentivised players to explore its beautiful and detailed world. Simply put, it ingenious narrative design.
“I feel as if I can’t overstate enough how masterfully the writers at Happy Broccoli Games utilised the time travel mechanic.”
Admittedly, I wasn’t expecting much from Kraken Academy!!’s narrative. It’s not that I thought it would be terrible. Rather I assumed due to its humorous nature that it would prioritise telling jokes over telling a compelling story. However, and rather fortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was more than pleasantly surprised when I discovered that not only is Kraken Academy!!’s narrative mindbendingly engrossing from the offset, but also capable of being mesmerisingly poignant at times.
I feel as if I can’t overstate enough how masterfully the writers at Happy Broccoli Games utilised Kraken Academy!!’s time travel mechanic. Without spoiling too much, Kraken Academy!! manages to seamlessly bring together numerous different plotlines, side stories and character arcs within a breezy three day time window. They do so without ever making you feel overwhelmed or confused and without ruining the game’s immaculate pacing.
Furthermore, the narrative somehow also encompasses numerous different genres without ever sacrificing its central themes or motifs. You’ll fluctuate from horror to comedy to mystery as harmoniously as Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece Parasite. It is an odd comparison, I know, but a pertinent one nevertheless. Kraken Academy!! could have very easily been torn apart at the seams considering how much is crammed into its 5 or so hour run time. But at no point did I ever feel that it was slipping. Kraken Academy!!’s narrative is so coherently brilliant, so poignantly beautiful and so brazenly hilarious that, if I could, I’d give it a standing ovation.
“I don’t remember the last time I laughed as much as I did playing through this.”
As Kraken Academy!! is surprisingly narrative-heavy, its entire success rides on not only its core narrative but its dialogue too. Fortunately, Kraken Academy!!’s strongest asset is its eclectic cast of characters and their humorous dialogue. From the ever effervescent Broccoli Girl to the rowdy and rambunctious Wendy and her trusty steed Beefcake, each and every character, no matter how minor, is unbelievably charismatic, delightfully charming and outrageously funny.
I don’t remember the last time I laughed as much as I did playing through Kraken Academy!!. Even the jokes that I was fully aware of still managed to make me crack up. Of course, Kraken Academy!! benefits from its absurdist nature, and utilises it to its advantage. But beyond that, it is able to pull off genuinely witty and craftily clever jokes consistently. I never felt as if there was a joke that fell flat. At its very worst, Kraken Academy!! managed to make me grin gleefully. At its best, it had me crying with laughter.
“I had so much fun playing through Kraken Academy!!, getting to know its colourful cast of characters and exploring its beautiful world.”
I suppose, if I have to for objectivity’s sake, I’ll bring up a very minor issue I experienced. The most prominent fault with Kraken Academy!! is that some of the environmental details were occasionally too cumbersome to navigate. This was only really ever an issue whenever I’d break one of them to garner the game’s form of currency: plastic bottles.
Upon doing so, several bottles would get stuck within or behind the object. However, as I was unable to navigate around it, the bottles would remain stuck. Nevertheless, I must stress that this was not that severe of a problem. I only encountered it a few times, and the number of bottles that I lost out on was so insignificant in the grand scheme of things that I barely registered it as an issue.
That is genuinely the biggest complaint I can make about Kraken Academy!!. Because, aside from this insignificant detail, it is a truly tremendous title. Kraken Academy!! is packed full of fantastic laughs, poignant and masterfully crafted storytelling, exhilarating gameplay and a phenomenal soundtrack. Even after all of this, there are still so many more amazing details about Kraken Academy!! that I have purposefully left out of this review as I feel they’re best experienced in person.
Kraken Academy!! is a shining example of the quality indie titles should aspire to. It is not only wonderfully unique but also just a genuinely great time. I had so much fun playing through Kraken Academy!!, getting to know its colourful cast of characters and exploring its beautiful world. I highly encourage anyone who thinks it looks even remotely interesting to give it a try. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.