They dropped me off at Kraken Academy, a school dumpster that apparently looks a lot better on brochures. I endure the discouraged words of my cruel older sister before she runs off to join the exclusive drama club. I barely have time to immerse myself in my shitty environment when an angry student chases a crazy homeless man. The two engage in a cartoon-style fight that is completed by a comic dust cloud. The fight is so intense that a nearby car randomly burns in flames, Simpson-style. Before I can see the winner of this impromptu fight, a little broccoli girl, as in a sensitive female vegetable, runs to take me away before I am late for my first day of school. My thought after this quick series of unorthodox events: “I have no idea what I’m getting into, but I must see more.”
I’ve been a few hours into my stay at Kraken Academy and it’s a journey so far. In my time with the story-driven relationship-building game, I joined a demonic cult, brushed off the mob, and hit a less-engaged biker and furry costume party. Everyone you meet is a strange duck in some shape or form, but the strangest (and largest) is a giant talking octopus that informs you of a prophecy: In three days, an unknown student or faculty member will unleash a calamity. that will destroy the school. The only way to uncover the culprit is to talk to everyone, make friends, and understand their schedules, personalities, and what motivates them. You will also have to free the trapped guardian spirits from each of the school’s four clubs. The Kraken offers you a special charm that allows you to reverse time until the first day. That way, you can continue to search for information while preserving the knowledge and items gained from previous runs.
I’m having a blast interacting with my goofy companions, which include a giraffe-loving Velma doppelganger, a conspiracy freak, a lazy, sleep-obsessed teacher, of course good old Broccoli Girl. Sharp writing has made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion, and I enjoy meeting these weirdos through side quests and even dating. It’s nice that the writing sticks because Kraken Academy is big on chat and lighter on interaction. The moment-by-moment game involves wandering the dilapidated campus and breaking objects with a bat to collect bottles, which are exchanged for money. It is a simple but satisfying feature; breaking things is inherently fun, after all.
All other major interactions, at least from what I’ve seen so far, play out with a reflex-based minigame of stopping a moving needle within a target and filling meters at the push of a button. It’s the exact same mechanics no matter if you’re playing keyboard with your band, painting a picture for the weird art club, or just trying to talk to someone without looking like a scoundrel. I’m getting a little bored, but Kraken Academy promotes storytelling in the first place, so I understand that I don’t want to get players bogged down in too many different mechanics.
The game starts on a Monday and Wednesday is the grand finale. Each time cycle tasks you with unlocking the guardian spirit for a specific club during that three-day period. I started with the music club and am currently finishing the art club. The Kraken dictates who you chase next, so the main narrative feels less free than I expected. You complete a series of simple missions, then unlock the last day that you can fast-forward to if you don’t feel like taking part in side activities. In fact, it’s often best to keep going as there is sometimes less to do than you might think at first, which puzzled me as I was looking for things I could do. Actually, I don’t mind this more direct approach. Coming out of Twelve Minutes and the overly repetitive nature of that game, having larger arrows pointed forward feels refreshing.
That said, Kraken Academy has yet to feel repetitive. The structure means that I have not had to revisit any of the music club things while interacting with the art club. From what I’ve seen, the side quests are the ones that play the most looping nature of the game. For example, I learned that the Broccoli girl wants a barbecue grill during the first cycle, but I couldn’t find one until I was given access to the art club campus during the second cycle. Many of the missions in the game involve finding items for the characters who want them and finding out on which club campus those materials are located. Help a classmate and staff member enough to earn a friendship badge. Trading these items with the aforementioned hobo unlocks upgrades to the bottle converter that gives you more coins. Why do you want more coins? Until now, to buy decorations for your bedroom or, more importantly, to buy club membership cards from a shady merchant.
Kraken Academy is a strange thematic and narrative experience. I’m having fun soaking up their nonsense, constantly assaulting you in often surprising ways. Playing the game itself is fine in a simple sense and, so far, rewinding time feels less complicated than it suggests. You start a loop, unlock the new items or abilities that are present in the highlighted area of that loop, then apply those items / knowledge to unlock previously inaccessible places or conversations. It doesn’t feel dramatically different from how you progress in standard games, just in disguise. Of course, time travel could easily get more complicated as I delve deeper into the mysteries of the Kraken Academy. If not, it’s probably fine too. I am more involved in writing and situations than in the mechanics of time cycles themselves. Yes, it would be great if those things got more inventive. But having an old lady yelling at me that her husband divorced her by silently rubbing her or watching a girl foolishly ride her pony in a bounce house and blow it up, causing it to, again, burst into flames for no reason keeps me entertained. very well.