When I first got my VR headset, one of the first things I did was look up what JRPGs exist on the platform. Tragically, the VR medium is light on my favorite genre. RuinsMagus is one of the only fully featured JRPGs available for VR enthusiasts. With that in mind, I was excited to jump into it and get immersed in a fantastic world full of magic, monsters, and charming characters.
RuinsMagus begins with you entering the city of Grand Amnis. You pass by other spellcasters who wave and call out to you. Right off the bat, there’s a certain novelty to being able to wave back physically and see it in VR space. During this first look at the city, you see a bustling city square with citizens walking about and get a glance at various magical contraptions. The opening minutes alone had me champing at the bit to explore the town in more detail.
Unfortunately, my hopes of exploring the city were dashed once I controlled my character. You can only walk around a minuscule portion of the city, bordered by invisible walls. Even when you unlock new locations, like shops and dungeons, you teleport to them instead of walking there yourself. Perhaps making a larger playable city would have been too big of an undertaking. But in a medium where immersion is a selling point, it’s disappointing to run into invisible barriers and NPCs that you can’t interact with. Grand Amnis went from exciting and seemingly full of life to dull in a matter of minutes.
Fortunately, you don’t have to spend much time in Grand Amnis. Shortly after the game starts, you are introduced to your charming companion character, Iris. Iris guides you through the game’s dungeons and delivers much of the story’s exposition, and I loved how expressive she was. I would often look at Iris while other characters were talking just to see if she was responding to what they said with a funny face. She is one of several lovable NPCs that elevate RuinsMagus’ story. Another of my favorites is the game’s primary quest giver, a city receptionist named Reese Seption.
After the essential NPCs are introduced, you receive your gear and some guidance to the first dungeon beneath Grand Amnis. All dungeons in RuinsMagus share a similar aesthetic: dark grey walls, light grey floors, and various tones of blue as accents on enemies and objects of interest. They are pleasing enough, but more variety would have been appreciated throughout this eight-hour game. Similarly, you fight many of the same enemies throughout the game’s duration.
You have several tools at your disposal to get through the dungeons of Grand Amnis. The most important one is your magical gauntlet, which you use to cast spells. The gauntlet allows you to use your right hand to cast a simple blast attack or a charge attack that changes depending on what element the gauntlet is attuned to. For example, the default charge attack lets you throw out a large ball of fire that leaves a burning area on the ground. As the game goes on, you unlock more spells to add to your gauntlet, my favorite of which was an ice turret that could handle weaker enemies while I defended myself against stronger enemies.
Defense in RuinsMagus is handled with the shield in your left hand. The shield can block most attacks, and if you press the parry button with good timing, you can even reflect attacks at your foes. Parrying adds a little extra skill to using the shield, which is otherwise a straightforward piece of equipment.
Your last major tool to survive the dungeons is consumable items you can bring with you. You start with a potion and a grenade. You can cycle between your selected item with a button press, and when you’re ready to use the item, you simply grab it from your chest. If it’s a grenade, you can toss it at the monsters, and if it’s a potion, you can do a drinking motion to chug it. Drinking potions also leaves you holding an empty bottle, which you can throw at whatever you want. Chucking empty bottles at my enemies was a blast, even if it didn’t accomplish much.
As you unlock more items, cycling between which one is active and grabbable can be annoying. I wish they had included inventory slots on multiple parts of the body. For example, potions could rest on your hip, syringes on your chest, and grenades over your shoulder. This would prevent you from accidentally grabbing the wrong item and make item management more immersive.
Many dungeons in RuinsMagus end in a boss fight. These are the highlights of the game. The bosses have the most unique designs of RuinsMagus‘ enemies and sport attack patterns for you to learn if you want to beat them. The only annoying thing about the bosses is that they have a little more health than I would like. Once you have learned their attack patterns, the bosses are trivial to beat, but it can take several minutes to whittle their health down.
When you return from each dungeon, you get a grade based on your performance, which may provide some replayability for perfectionists or speed runners. The grades don’t seem to affect much, except for maybe how much money you get from each dungeon, so you can safely ignore ranks if you would rather take your dungeons slow.
Delving into a dungeon, coming to town, buying items, and arriving at the next dungeon is the core gameplay loop of RuinsMagus. The first few dungeons were enjoyable, but the lack of variety hurts the game a lot. Once you are a couple of hours in, you have seen most of what the game has to offer from a gameplay perspective. This is unfortunate, since that’s only about a quarter of the way through the game.
Additionally, the game suffers from not fully taking advantage of the VR medium. One of the major advantages of VR is that you can much more easily immerse yourself in the experience. RuinsMagus limits immersion through invisible walls and by limiting control at times during gameplay.
Early in the game, there’s a scene where you run from a big golem and leap into a hole in the ground. The player is in control up until you reach the hole, at which point the game automatically walks you into the hole and to the next area. In a non-VR game, I wouldn’t mind this so much, but needlessly taking control from the player is a serious sin in a VR game. There are times when it is necessary to take away the controls, but RuinsMagus does it more often than needed.
The controls in RuinsMagus also take a little getting used to. The core gameplay of walking, guarding, and fighting works well (although aiming arcing weapons requires practice), but the menus are often frustratingly small, and there’s no left-handed mode.
One area where RuinsMagus shines is character designs. I love how the magi around town look, and the important NPCs all have unique and appealing designs, from the turtle that runs the general store to the golden-cape-wearing nobles. The cartoonish art style is a choice that works well and ensures that the game looks nice despite any graphical limitations.
Overall, RuinsMagus has enjoyable combat and lovable characters, but it fails to create an immersive world for players to dive into. Additionally, while the combat mechanics are sound, a lack of enemy variety means players won’t have to evolve their strategy much after the first hour. For VR JRPG fans, RuinsMagus is worth a look, as it’s one of the only JRPGs available on VR platforms. For general VR enthusiasts, there isn’t too much to get excited about. If you’re looking for a cozy game with bubbly characters in a fantasy world, might be a good choice. Just don’t expect a deep RPG experience or a gripping story.