Magical Diary: Wolf Hall is a delightful sequel that builds upon its predecessor in the best of ways.
I played the original Magical Diary (subtitle Horse Hall) years ago, and remember enjoying the time management elements even if I can’t recall much of the plot. Hanako Games popped up on Kickstarter last year trying to make a sequel, and I decided to back it just to see how differently they’d try to do things this time around.
In the original Magical Diary, you played as a wildseed girl (a magic user with non-magic parents) who’s come to Iris Academy in order to become a proper witch. In Wolf Hall, you’re on the complete other end of the spectrum as you play a magical prince from a distant land, here to enjoy one year abroad before going home. The game is very explicit that once you get the crown back home you’ll never truly be able to leave, so this is your one chance to spread your wings and have a grand ol’ time of it.
Much like the previous installment, Magical Diary: Wolf Hall does a fantastic job of handling the time management aspect of the visual novel. You plan out your classes one week at a time, then spend Saturday floating between the mall, extra study sessions, or practicing your new spells in the dungeons. Attending class successfully nets you points in one of five magic skills, and enough points will earn you new spells in that particular camp. You won’t know for sure which spells will help you on the exams, so it pays to play around with different camps on different playthroughs (helpful tip, though; a pure blue/white magic build left me up a creek on one of the exams, so I’d recommend at least putting a little time into red and especially black).
If it were just building up your magic for exams, though, I wouldn’t think Wolf Hall was worth much. But the VN blends your spells and magic skill with the story from beginning to end. For example, maybe you need the silence spell to sneak after a character late one night; hopefully you learned that already. At other times another student might make a comment on red or green magic, and your reply is dictated by how high your level is within that particular camp of magic. You never know for sure how spells, skills, and choices you made on the weekend are going to affect something weeks or months down the line, much like in actual school.
That’s the strength of Wolf Hall in a nutshell. The VN gives the player a good variety across who they can date (male or female options), how they look, what classes they take, what clubs they join, even what kind of personality they’re intending to culture (are you more sporty or flirty?). You’re spoiled for choice, honestly. You want to join five clubs and run for class president? Awesome. Would you rather just join one and focus all your energy on netting your crush? That’s fine too. Wolf Hall even tells you in a side tab what choices you’ve made that are changing the current dialogue, so you can keep track of what you did right/might want to try differently on subsequent playthroughs, because it fully expects you to go through at least a few runs.
Of course it’s impossible to do everything in one single read. Sticking to a certain character’s route limits your interactions with others; for example, going down Barbara’s route seemed to limit how much I was able to interact with Ellen, so she ended up getting back together with her toxic pseudo-boyfriend. Even failing to be in the library on a specific day and time can cause missed cutscenes, so it’s in your best interest to either save scum or just accept that you’ll need a few playthroughs to find all the hidden bits of the story.
I realize to some readers that might sound obnoxious. But Wolf Hall actually made me want to replay it. Simply put, it was fun, and fun in a way I haven’t enjoyed in a very long time. So many visual novels hinge on you making the exact right series of choices in the exact right order, and failure to do this will result in bad or neutral endings that painfully drag out your playthrough as you slog back through the story and attempt to find out where things went terribly wrong. But Wolf Hall is more than happy to let you try out multiple paths to get your desired outcome. Certain magic builds might be more advantageous, yes, but there is no one right way to do things. You can play around with your crush a little and aren’t immediately guaranteed a bad ending. You can pick and choose your friends and enemies each time you start up a new game, figure out a way to get to a hockey game (your character has this weird obsession with American traditions and thinks hockey is one of them, you’ll see when you play), or just nap your way into an early expulsion. Even if you mess up, fail some of the exams or don’t get the romantic partner you wanted, there’s always a chance to do things over.
My one real grievance was with the way they handled gender with the characters. To start, I really liked that they chose to include nonbinary characters and gender-neutral pronouns throughout the story, because visual novels as a whole really need more diversity. However, Wolf Hall executes this inclusion by stating that many inhuman, Otherworld beings don’t necessarily ascribe to human ideas of the gender binary, which is why it’s so important to learn to ask an individual’s pronouns before talking to them (or ‘em’ since the game tries to steer away from they/them, for some reason). This is a good step, and from a writing standpoint was a good way to normalize why witches and wizards are so careful with one another’s pronouns, don’t get me wrong. But I really would have liked to see an enby human at some point, rather than have all the enbies be inhuman creatures, thereby framing it as something you should learn in order to be respectful to a literal different species. Even nicer would have been giving you the option to make your playable character nonbinary, since you can customize literally everything else about them, but I guess the writers were too married on the idea of making a ‘male’ version of the VN as a foil to the previously released ‘female’ Magical Diary. Overall though, I didn’t find their handling of it to be offensive or derogatory (mostly just clumsy), and appreciate the effort even if the execution wasn’t perfect.
Magical Diary: Wolf Hall is available on itch.io and Steam for $25. I’ve already sunk around 10 hours into it and I’m still going back for more, so it’s absolutely worth the money if you’re a fan of dating sims. Definitely give it a shot.