Record of Lodoss War is a franchise that hasn’t seen the light of day in quite some time. Anime fans in their thirties and forties will likely know it immediately as one of the pillars of Japanese fantasy media from the ’90s and early 2000s, but it’s a property that has gone without much fanfare in and around a decade, fading from the limelight. For the uninitiated: Lodoss is a high fantasy series by Ryo Mizuno, loosely based on tabletop RPG campaigns he was running or a part of. The setup is that the protagonist is a young knight named Parn who goes on a quest to find the dark witch Karla and rid the world of her evil. Along the way, he gains his key companions: Slayn the dour sorcerer, Ghim the gruff Dwarven warrior, Etoh the affable priest, Woodchuck the conniving rogue, and the haughty but lovable Elven fencer, Deedlit. There’s more to it, of course, but it’s better read and watched than explained.
…an utter treat for any fan of 2D pixel aesthetics.
A few other properties stand adjacent to Lodoss, sharing its universe and sometimes its characters. These include the Legend of Crystania and Rune Soldier properties, which had anime adaptations of their own, to varying levels of success. Our game in question, however, deals exclusively with the lore of the original (at least thus far), centering around the aforementioned Deedlit.
The game is part of the 30th anniversary media event around Lodoss War, produced by the little-known but highly talented Team Ladybug. If you haven’t heard of them, don’t worry; that’s quite normal. Team Ladybug is primarily known to the Touhou fandom for producing Touhou Luna Nights, and to a lesser extent, the Shin Megami Tensei fandom for Shin Megami Tensei: Synchronicity Prologue. It’s still early days for Team Ladybug, but their creations thus far have been stellar pieces of 2D platforming fun. I’ll say it up front: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth is no different.
The game plays largely like a standard Metroidvania, with 2D platforming and stat management being of primary importance. You leap from place to place killing enemies, solving puzzles, and progressing the story. Along the way, you’ll obtain various weapons, some dropped by enemies and others obtained from allies and altars. You’ll also encounter magical spirits like Sylphs, Salamanders, and Will O’ Wisps, all of which augment Deedlit’s skillset. Sylph, for example, allows Deedlit to jump higher, float over water, and otherwise become light-of-body. Meanwhile, Salamander grants you the power to blow up explosives and walk through fiery hazards. In some cases, you’ll even need to switch between several spirits in order to pass through obstacles, such as intertwining elemental chains that demand you swap wind for fire on the fly.
You also get to play around with a very interesting puzzle-solving mechanic when you obtain a bow and arrows. Acting as a sub-weapon, it can of course help you strike aerial foes, but it also plays a key role in opening up passages. Some doors are locked with weights or pulleys, and a well-placed arrow can snap the ropes. In many cases, you have to ricochet the arrow against metal surfaces to hit a rope hidden behind an obstacle, turning the game into a fun round of billiards physics. It’s a welcome addition to the Metroidvania set which is usually a bit more about shooting things directly or stepping on switches.
Other mechanics include the leveling system, whereby Deedlit gains levels based on enemies defeated (per EXP). The big change here is that you can lose levels if you take too much damage. In that sense, levels are temporary. Each one gained gives you buffs and each one lost takes them away. For example, you automatically regenerate health if you maintain level 3. Suffer too many hits from a goblin, however, and you’re back to bleeding out on the regular.
What shines most of all are the graphics. Beautifully animated 2D sprites on gorgeously illustrated 2D backgrounds. It brought me right back to the first time I played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on the PlayStation. Everything is crisp and loaded with animation. Deedlit glides around stages leaving shadow trails of herself, while spell effects and projectiles light up the stages with fireworks and sizzle. Yet it’s refined: nothing feels like “too much.” It’s restrained in all the right places and balanced in a way that Team Ladybug’s work has become known for. It’s just lovely to look at, even if Deedlit’s just standing by and idling, capturing the aesthetics of classic Lodoss in a way I didn’t think was possible for a game in 2020. Most celebratory titles that come out from small developers are a bit on the cheap-and-easy side, often using a lot of flash and high-resolution stills to sub in for the kind of animated beauty that Team Ladybug achieves here. It’s a real testament to their abilities and an utter treat for any fan of 2D pixel aesthetics.
The music, while not especially compelling, is suitable. It works, while being neither intrusive nor boring. I couldn’t say I “liked” any specific track, but I never found myself irritated either. It matches the visual aesthetics quite well and accompanies you through the journey, hitting just about all the right moods it should. Most of the tracks have a dreamlike quality to them, which is appropriate to the game’s setting while also having enough tempo to match the pace of battle. It’s a good outing for Team Ladybug’s musical chops, if not particularly exciting.
If there’s one major flaw, it’s that the story is a bit scant. The game follows Deedlit waking up in a labyrinth (the Wonder Labyrinth of the title, no less) which seems quite familiar to her, but mysterious at the same time. Along the way, she encounters Slayn and Ghim, who seem equally confused about the where and what of her plight. Eventually, you come to a showdown with the dragon Abram, who also factored into the lore of the original. It’s an impressive fight, but doesn’t really answer many of the questions posed by this first chapter. The game is still having chapters released and there aren’t that many story sequences to be had. However, what’s present is compelling and I look forward to how they continue to flesh out the game as subsequent scenarios release.
Overall, I have to give Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth a strong recommendation. It’s on Steam in Early Access and well worth the price of admission. With content updates coming on the regular, expect that we’ll be revisiting this game again soon. For now, I recommend you enjoy the incredible visuals and addictive gameplay. It’s one of the best Metroidvanias I’ve played, and I hope it lands for you as well.