Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth
Sorry, The Knight Is In Another Castle
The Record of Lodoss War franchise began as a series of Japanese novels that were popular during the late 80s and early 90s written by Ryo Mizuno. While the series was popular in Japan, it had a cult following in the States due to its high fantasy TTRPG atmosphere. Its representation in video games is even worse in the States. The only other English release aside from Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth was Advent of Cardice, a 2.5D isometric Action RPG released on the Dreamcast. In 2001.
As this is the first Record of Lodoss War to be released outside of Japan in two decades, this will be the first time many have experienced the series for the first time. The novels center around the knight, Parn, and his partners who often travel with him. Among them, there's Deedlit, the high elf who is also romantically involved with Parn. As one can guess from the title, she's the protagonist of Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth. How does this Metroidvania that's more 'Vania than Metroid hold up for such a niche franchise?
The game begins with Deedlit arriving at a forest, unknown of her surroundings as well as where her partners are at. She sees someone who looks like Parn and begins to chase after them. Here, the game begins as quickly as the opening cutscene and it's highly apparent its Castlevania inspiration. Deedlit can move and jump as good as the others in the Belmont Clan, except armed with a rapier instead of a whip. Eventually, she will come across two spirits, Sylph and Salamander, both of which represent the wind and fire attributes respectively. This is the beginning of Wonder Labyrinth's main mechanic.
Dracula Isn't In This Castle But This Is His "Airbnb"
The attributes of Deedlit's attacks depend on the spirit she currently commands. These can be changed at any time by pressing R1, between Fire and Wind. Defeating enemies while using one spirit will increase the level of the other spirit with Level 3 being the maximum level. At Level 3, the attack power of that form increases, and Deedlit will recover any lost health so long as she remains in that form. If Deedlit takes damage, she will level down in the form she's in currently. Each enemy has a list of weaknesses and resistances identified by a dice, with 1 being the weakest and 6 granting immunity.
Certain enemies will also attack with fire or wind, identified by orange and white respectively. Getting attacked with the same attribute as your form will not only absorb the attack but will also refill your MP. Your MP is used to cast spells as well as fire arrows from your bow. So far, Wonder Labyrinth has a dual-form system where the player is expected to switch between them, absorb the enemy's attacks, and increase their strength. If it sounds similar to Treasure's Ikaruga, then it's not a mere coincidence.
Team Ladybug, one of the two developers who worked on the title, stated in an interview that Ikaruga and Symphony Of The Night were two major influences. Team Ladybug and Why So Serious Playground also worked on Touhou Luna Nights, released a year earlier. Taking the popular shoot-em-up, Touhou, and placing the characters in a Castlevania setting, the engines are the exact same. Even parts of the UI look similar to each other, which answers a lot of questions looking at it. As I've not played Touhou Luna Nights, I cannot draw any more comparisons, but one can see for themselves.
Ikaruga: Symphony Of The Night
If you're familiar with the source material for Record of Lodoss War, then I would assume that it's easier to follow Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth than most others. As I've mentioned before, this is an older series that never had a presence outside of Japan. The chances of someone knowing the lore and setting that isn't a fan is nigh impossible yet the game expects the player to know who everyone is. Deedlit, upon seeing a new character in the game, greets everyone with shock and elation. These include the shopkeep, the gambler, and other major important characters.
I only knew what the game told me, that Deedlit is chasing after Parn, who is not acting like himself. All of her friends are also not like themselves as well. Her rivals seem to be the only ones who know what's going on. By the end of the game, I was able to piece the important bits together. Deedlit is in a "dream world" where death is an endless cycle. The only way to escape this eternal slumber is to face herself and absolve her fears. This would explain why every time the player dies, and they will die a lot, they wake up from the nearest checkpoint.
I'd say that the game's story is very easy to get lost with. About 90% of the time spent in dialogues was "This person is obviously evil let's fight them," but again by the end of the game it made me interested in the original lore. Unless you're fluent in Japanese, the only option English readers have is an official translation of the first novel, The Grey Witch. As it didn't receive a reprint following its first run, good luck finding a used copy that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. There are several anime adaptations so that's the next best thing. Regardless, the story isn't the reason for playing Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth despite the developers seemingly knowing their source.
The Story Is Meant For Record of Lodoss War Fans
I mentioned "the end of the game," several times so far. How long is Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth exactly? Well, to put it in perspective, each level is shown with the face of a six-sided die. That means there are six levels in total. Depending on how thorough a player is, the levels themselves aren't that long. The levels are color-coded and are segments of the castle opened up to Deedlit and the player. Being at Level 6 doesn't mean the player can't backtrack to the beginning in Level 1. Due to story reasons, certain areas will be blocked off. This is compensated by giving the players tons of abilities to find alternate passages.
It's encouraged for the player to go out of their way and find as many spells and items as they can. Some are more beneficial than others, such as the ability to double jump, glide, slide, and breathe underwater. The problem here is that the game is very linear that certain sections are "one-offs" and nothing more. By the time the player has access to breathe underwater, it is only used for one required section. The bonus sections are either shortcuts or hidden routes that lead to bonus items. These items, aside from spells and abilities, will increase the attack of Deedlit and her maximum HP.
There are several weapon types for Deedlit to use, including a boomerang, a spear, a sword, and a greatsword. While certain weapons may be stronger than others, some may offer better utility. An example is a greatsword, with a hitbox so massive that it attacks enemies behind, above, and even below Deedlit. It may be slow, but the wide arc makes it helpful to avoid danger. Deedlit gains exp for every enemy she fights, eventually leveling her up and increasing her damage.
Deedlit's Difficulty Is Defiant To The Depths (Yay Alliterationtions)
The bosses are a mixed bag as some of them vary in difficulty. Generally, the more spells a player finds, the more well-rounded they will be. A boss that's weak to Light attacks will succumb quicker to the Will-O-Wisp spell and a boss that's weak to Nature will fall to the Dryad spell. These spells are found locked behind doors that players will access by stepping on door switches, so backtracking is encouraged. However, this segues into the game's difficulty, which is just as volatile.
The game begins by easing the player into its mechanic and stays that way for two-thirds of the game. Navigating the castle and the courtyard is easy and linear. If it seems like a part of the map is gated off, chances are the player is meant to come back later. As the player learns abilities, more of the map opens up although I never felt like I hit a brick wall in my exploration. If I reached what "seemed" like a dead end, it really meant that I didn't explore every possible path.
Quick travel and Save Points are scattered across the map, the latter usually placed before boss fights. Accompanying these special Save Points are slabs of meat, which gives the player an infinite source of spirit exp. This is perfect for making sure the player is stocked up on levels and health before entering the boss room. These bosses range from large beasts, humans, dragons, and eldritch abominations. The boss fights start simplistic enough but quickly elevate to unique phases and mechanics. While neither of them is difficult, they do require the player to use all they've learned.
Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth Is A Fun Albeit Short Ride
Towards the end of the game, there's a "boss rush" style boss encounter that forces the player to fight weakened versions of every boss they fought in one sitting. What makes this easier to manage is after every fight, the player can fully recover their HP, MP, and spirit levels. Die once, however, and it's back to the beginning. Bosses that players had issues with, specifically the previous boss before this for me, will have to learn how to adjust quickly. Fighting these lengthy bosses from the beginning is frustrating yet it's not difficult. I think that's what I would describe this game overall.
The enemies and the terrain increase the challenge of the latter third of the game. The player is expected to fly over traps while fighting enemies that are essentially mini-bosses. The player's power is relevant to the power creep of the enemies as well, so it's never too overwhelming. I felt that the difficulty spike for the final section of the game was a bit sudden and a lead-up to this would have been better executed. Regardless, while I won't spoil the ending here, it serves its purpose as a part of the larger picture in Record of Lodoss War.
Overall, it's difficult for me to recommend this game to those who aren't fans of Castlevania clones. Even for the $20 price tag, I feel it's worth it via a fraction of its price on sale. Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth is by no means a terrible game nor is it a bad one, it's just fairly average. The music is par for what you'd expect from a game influenced by SOTN, the graphics are a step above Touhou Lunar Nights, keeping its late 90s aesthetic. The Ikaruga-inspired gameplay is unique for a game that's outside its shoot-em-up origins. Even the announcer adds to that 90s charm, with his booming voice announcing the player reaching "LEVEL 3" or when they're inflicted with "POISON."
The issue here is that it takes many parts of various titles, some of which were admitted to be their inspiration, and makes it one giant whole. Whatever I could say is original about Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth is very little, but that's not a bad thing as its no-frills gameplay is what most will enjoy. It's a short ride, but it is a fun one to complete in one sitting should players overcome the frustrating bits and ignore the story.
Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth is available on PC, with physical versions of the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch releasing on April 29th.