It’s always hard when a game doesn’t do anything terribly wrong and is great at what it does best, yet isn’t entirely enjoyable. That’s how I feel about Acquire’s Wizardry: Labyrinth of the Lost Souls (LoLS). This marks the first US-released Wizardry game since the Atlus-published Tale of the Forsaken Land in 2001. Although XSeeD published LoLS on PSN last spring, Acquire ported it over to iOS just recently. LoLS has nice aesthetics, a good challenge, and replicates the feeling of a retro dungeon crawler well. And while it’s a solid title with few critical faults, its real problem is more subjective; there is something about LoLS that has no real soul, charm, or any kind of spark to it. It plays like many other dungeon crawlers and sticks to the book too much and does nothing unique.
LoLS takes place in the land of Athals, where monsters and demons have recently begun to emerge once again after centuries of peace. Because of this outbreak, people known as adventurers began to gather in Athals. Some are seeking to destroy these monsters, while others seek treasures from long ago. When starting the game, you choose between ten different adventurers who come to the town of Aitox. Each adventurer has a brief synopsis as to why he or she is adventuring, and each has his or her own ending, but aside from that, the story plays out similarly, not that there is much of one. Aside from the premise, there is very little plot to speak of, with few events or interactivity to round out the experience. What little story LoLS does provide isn’t compelling enough to get the player to care. In addition, there are a few noticeable errors present, such as the inn containing wrong information and calling the Lord class, “Load.” Regardless, story is never a factor for these games; gameplay is.
In addition to your starting adventurer, you can go the town guild and recruit up to five more party members, divided into front- and back-row groups. You can recruit party members by selecting a pre-made adventurer from the guild roster or by creating your own. When creating your adventurer, you choose a race, gender, and alignment along with a random number of bonus points to be invested in their stats. You also have to choose between eight different classes, availability based on the character’s minimum base stats and alignment. The more advanced classes require higher base stats, but you always have the option to change someone’s class later on. Doing so resets the party member to level one, but his/her stats remain intact. Though each class has its own unique skills, there is little diversity or use for some of them. The fighter classes play too similar to one-another, and having a bishop on the team makes the other magic classes obsolete since bishops can do everything and have low stat requirements.
The dungeons are rather straightforward, consisting of large floors with many twists, turns, and one-way paths. A few obstacles are present to make things a bit more difficult and slow your progress. Most of these obstacles consist of special floor tiles or areas such as anti-magic zones, pitch black regions, damage tiles, and some more such tricks. There are locked gates on each floor, which can only be opened by hidden switches, and some need to be opened to progress further. Other than that, there are no other kinds of obstacles; each floor feels similar with no puzzle solving, gimmicks, or other unique elements to spice things up.
There are three dungeons to choose from, but only one is fully accessible in the full game. You only get half of another dungeon with the rest existing as DLC costing a few bucks apiece. Though beating the main dungeon completes the game and lasts a while, having only one, ten-floor dungeon feels rather incomplete.
Naturally, you’ll be fighting lots and lots of battles during your dungeon crawl. Combat is the standard turn-based formula with character positioning a factor. Your teammates in the back cannot attack unless they have a ranged weapon or magic, but in turn are completely protected from close range attacks. Enemy groups work the same way. It might sound deep, but in actuality, there is little strategy in fights other than to attack constantly. There are a lot of skills and spells to use, but most of them are too weak or just plain useless, making it preferential to use normal attacks. Enemies do get harder when you progress deeper into a dungeon, but the tactics remain similar.
Part of the game’s challenge lies with simply knowing what to do. Like other Wizardry installments and retro dungeon crawlers in general, LoLS gives you absolutely no direction as to how to do things. You have to figure out on your own what team setup works well, what kind of equipment to use, etc. You don’t even get a dungeon map by default; rather, they’re sold in shops or obtained from enemies. If you go far into a dungeon without one, then good luck getting back; it happened to me once, and I had to start over. After some trial and error and a good setup, the game is actually pretty easy with difficulty spikes kicking in only near the end. On top of it, you can save anywhere, which negates a lot of dangers and the need to repeat things.
Luck is also a bit of a factor in the challenge. Shops quickly become obsolete, so most of the equipment you obtain comes from random drops or chests. However, the odds of getting good gear is quite low, and it’s difficult to keep your whole party well equipped. The only alternative to getting good equipment is to go to a DLC shop and spend real money for good gear, which cost a few dollars each. The luck factor also applies to battles and random encounters, which are inconsistent. In battle, you may run into only one low-level enemy or encounter ten tough enemies at once. Random encounters may barely occur at all when navigating an entire floor, or occur about every step or two.
The only other thing to do outside of dungeon crawling is taking on quests. The quests mainly consist of getting certain items or finding a certain NPC, with little variation. You may need to pick up specific drops from a monster or fetch an item from a chest in the middle of a floor. The rewards are decent, and you can complete most of the quests just by naturally proceeding as normal while doing some side-exploration. LoLS does do good job of explaining where to go to complete a quest, however, instead of being overly vague with instructions like many other dungeon crawlers.
Ultimately, what will make or break the iOS port of LoLS are the controls, and sadly, they have some rough parts. There are two control schemes available to move through the dungeons, the second of which I was not aware of at first, which is a shame since the default mode is terrible. The first control set makes you tap on the screen in the direction you want to go. It sounds fine in theory, but the movement detection is very finicky. When I tried to tap towards one direction, I either moved in another direction or I didn’t move at all. When I tried to move left or right, I sometimes pressed too far and a menu opened up. When you have to struggle greatly to do simple things like move forward, it’s very easy to dismiss the game as unplayable. However, by chance, I noticed another control scheme to choose from in the options menu. This one creates a virtual joystick you can activate from any part of the screen, and it is so much better to use. Sidestepping was difficult to do using the second scheme, but I could then move and turn around with little hassle, which made the game playable.
Aside from controls, the user interface is also pretty rough. This is mainly due to having a few too many menus to navigate for simple commands. I didn’t need to be asked if I want to sort equipment when I always want to. It’s a bit annoying to reselect a magic spell, then target, then have to press select every single time I want to cast a spell on an ally. It’s also dumb to have shortcuts, which are highly valuable in dungeons, completely disabled in town. These faults were relatively minor, though, and you’ll get used to them in due time, but the menus could’ve been streamlined in several places to make it feel less clunky, especially for an iOS title. Being able to tap to a part of a dungeon map would be wonderful rather than pressing arrow buttons to navigate a cursor. It felt like a lazy port that didn’t take any advantage of the hardware.
Visually, LoLS has some nice 2D artwork that stood out. I liked the distinctive character designs, which were a bit of a mix between anime and western art styles. The background art shown in different parts of town is nicely done, lush and detailed. Monster designs are plentiful and varied and get progressively cooler when you’re deeper in a dungeon. The 3D graphics used in dungeons are lackluster, consisting of generic cave or brick areas with repeated wall textures throughout the entire floor. The layout design changes every few floors, but that’s all it does for variation.
Occasionally, I ran into some strange graphical glitches in town. In one instance, the background image didn’t load. At another point, the game loaded up the same image in every part of town. The weirdest one I encountered was seeing my adventurer’s avatar portrait repeated throughout the whole screen, mixed in with some corrupt image errors. Though these errors had no effect on the game whatsoever, it’s a pretty sloppy job to let it happen.
In spite of its technical shortcomings and being heavily uninspired, LoLS still does what it does well. Playing it too safe does not automatically make LoLS a bad game, and perhaps this is what true dungeon crawler fans want. The transition from PS3 to iOS was a bit rough, but playable, and it was a very easy game to play on the go. LoLS is ten bucks for the full version, but you can download a demo from the app store. There are not many dungeon crawlers around for the iOS, and perhaps you might like this more than I do. If you decide to play the iOS version of LoLS, however, I urge you to change to the second control scheme if you want a playable experience.