When the Nintendo DS launched, owners were thrown a barrage of titles that used the touchscreen in poor ways by developers who didn’t know how to conquer the new type of interface. Top-tier games gradually got it down and Atlus USA themselves released one of the DS’s best titles- Trauma Center: Under The Knife. Almost a year after their release of this fantastic title, they’ve chosen to localize a title that should be clumped in with those pitiful launch titles. Deep Labyrinth is every generic action-RPG you’ve ever played overlaid with what is quite possibly one of the worst control schemes in any DS game.
Deep Labyrinth begins with a young boy named Shawn finding himself stuck in a world where creatures dispose of unneeded memories, and needs to find his father, mother, and most importantly, his small dog Ace. The plot itself for this first section is simply droll, and while it does take a much more serious tone when the second quest of a nameless hero begins, Deep Labyrinth has fallen into the same trap as games like The Legend of Heroes, Astonishia Story, and Tao’s Adventure- none of the characters provide any sort of depth or draw. It’s quite unfortunate too, as the game’s scenario has a big name behind it: Masato Kato, who was story planner for Chrono Trigger and will be working on the upcoming Dawn of Mana. One positive side is that Atlus USA has provided the game with a good localization with no Engrish to be found. Still, grammatically sound English doesn’t mean that Deep Labyrinth is interesting.
A piss poor plot could be overlooked if the game’s action-oriented combat system were on par with titles like Deus Ex or The Elder Scrolls: IV Oblivion. What Deep Labyrinth gives us is essentially a watered down system of what exists in the PC and Xbox title Arx Fatalis. Players must first tap onto an enemy while in attack mode to lock on, and then slice the stylus in any direction to provide a swing in a similar style. If only it were that simple, as the swing lags for at least a couple of seconds behind the stylus itself, meaning that anticipation of the game’s sluggish system is necessary and draws away from the game. On the magic side of the table, casting spells is done by drawing symbols called kirie. Unlike Arx Fatalis’ system, which allowed players to draw their symbols freehand, all of the kirie in Deep Labyrinth have to correspond to boxes in a 3×3 grid which comes up on the screen in magic mode. If you’re even one bit out of the boxes, or if the enemy you’re targeting is around a corner, clipped by a couple of pixels, or doing something like standing on grass that’s a slightly different tint of green, your spells will probably fizzle, and it’s quite frustrating. The other use of the DS’s unique equipment is that many puzzles require you to blow and/or scream into the microphone. While titles like Phoenix Wright pulled off the deed well, by having it there but not requiring the user to make use of them, Deep Labyrinth will get you some funny looks if you play it on the bus. The game doesn’t take itself quite so seriously when describing it, though, and does make mention of the fact that you’re yelling at a game console. The characters also have access to a shield to wield, though it has just about as much use as Dan Hibiki in Capcom’s Versus titles.
The overall difficulty of Deep Labyrinth is low. The game provides you with about enough healing items to cure the Black Plague and your average enemy can be defeated by locking on, holding left or right, and flicking wildly with the stylus. Some of the later bosses do require a fair bit of strategy but really end up being difficult only because of the poor controls of the game. Navigation around the map between bosses is fairly simple: go from square room to square room, and if you hit the door, go to the other path that was available to you and find the key. If you happened to find the key first, just go and do the exact same thing to find the door. If you think moving around these dungeons is going to be easy, you were wrong, as unless you are locked onto an enemy, the only way to strafe is by double-tapping a direction, which is incredibly awkward. Otherwise, you’re stuck with what essentially amounts to the first Resident Evil title from a first person perspective: move, turn, move, turn, rinse and repeat.
The game’s statistical elements are there but don’t have much of an effect, as things tend to scale up with them. The more you use your Bronze/Iron/Whatever Sword, the more skill you gain in that sword. The more monsters you slay, the more hit points and magic points you get. It’s all run of the mill stuff with no customization. It’s sort of unfortunate that more branching or a skill tree wasn’t included with Deep Labyrinth; but the game is descended from a mobile phone title, for which such a tree would be out of place.
Aside from Masato Kato, there’s one more big name behind Deep Labyrinth: Yasunori Mitsuda. Mitsuda’s contribution of the soundtrack is a bit more impressive than Kato’s scenario, but it still ends up falling a bit flat. While most of the songs aren’t horrible, they’re not particularly great either. The sound effects are also run of the mill and really don’t add or take away anything from the game. Most people will be content to play the game sound or no sound, and have the same experience.
Deep Labyrinth’s graphics aren’t top of the line and look like Interactive Brains has taken an N-Gage title, low-res textures and all, and just given the models some more polygons. The character models themselves are sound in regards to their creation, but much like the models in EverQuest II, the art design leaves much to be desired. The environments have little detail to them and fit cleanly into just about every generic dungeon type you can think of. All of the models animate well enough, but it still ends up looking decidedly mediocre.
All in all, Deep Labyrinth is a pretty poor excuse for a title on Nintendo’s DS. While it’s certainly better than launch titles like Ping Pals or Spiderman 2, Interactive Brains’ misuse of the DS’s features make the game more tedious than it needs to be. If you’ve already played everything else on the DS and don’t have anything else to play right now, Deep Labyrinth might be something to take a look at, but unless you’ve got nothing else or are a hardcore Atlus USA fan, Deep Labyrinth isn’t going to be a hit… except on your wallet.