Review - Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth
By: Fernando Da Costa
Developer: Team Ladybug
Publisher: Playism, Red Art Games (Physical), Active Gaming Company
Available On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Review Console: Nintendo Switch OLED
SYMPHONY OF DEEDLIT! - Introduction
So, confession, but I’ve never tried Symphony of the Night or gotten into Castlevania as a franchise. My only actual foray into that gothic world of vampires was the PS3 release, and while it received positive praise amongst critics and gamers alike, I never got the bug. For me, I was so hopelessly obsessed with God of War that I just wanted more of that action - I had to satiate my hunger for blood and slice and dice goodness. So, when I saw gameplay trailers for Lords of Shadow, that caught my attention. The similarities, however, were not as pronounced as I thought. As the years rolled on and grey hairs continued growing in my beard, further mentions of Konami’s classic were heard. My curiosity finally piqued, and fortunately, Record of Lodoss War is somewhat of a spiritual successor, aiming to satisfy my craving. Today, I became a man.
STORY SPRINKLES! - Writing
As is commonplace with most Metroidvania titles, the narrative isn’t exactly a focal point of the experience. That doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t an inkling of literature morsels, though, waiting to be scuffed down. Sure, Record of Lodoss War may not be dishing out a substantial plot, but what exists is enough to carry the game forward. Nothing is captivating about it, but I did enjoy the imagination put forth. The dialogue between characters managed to paint a loose picture of transpiring events. It was sufficient to understand the general consensus it was trying to convey. In simpler terms, the absolute bare minimum was done, and, to be frank, that’s more than enough. This genre has always been built upon stellar gameplay. Still, I appreciate the attempt to implement realistic themes. This game tells a classic fantasy tale that, while not breaking new ground, is enough.
TASTE MY BLADE! - Gameplay
RPG elements have a knack for attracting me towards a title. That’s no different for Record of Lodoss War - it includes instances of leveling and equipment. Now, if grinding is an immediate worry, do away with the fear. Throughout my entire session, leisurely combat was rarely ever a need. The game does a great job balancing the strength of the enemies. Not only that, but there’s a neat little system that bolsters the overall damage inflicted - think of it as a buff of sorts. See, Deedlit - the player character - has a fire and wind spirit accompanying her. These not only let you withstand the corresponding element but also act as a pseudo-level - every strike increases in potency. Of course, being hit does eliminate the effect, forcing you to start over, but fortunately, it’s easy to build back up, mitigating any frustration.
Furthermore, some monsters are impervious to either fire or wind, giving meaning to switching over. This mechanic adds in a sprinkling of strategic spice. That isn’t the only purpose of doing so, though. See, in an intriguing implementation, elemental walls block any advancement. The only way to bypass them is by, of course, summoning either spirit. I initially feared this would harm the fast-paced combat, but that was utter silliness on my part. It doesn’t at all because button placement is quite intuitive, with every press feeling natural to the touch. That transition between moves remains swift, never disrupting the flow of battle or constant massacre. If that’s still not convincing, well, in addition to improving damage output, obtaining a fully boosted spirit also translates into a regen-like effect. Trust me; you’ll want to utilize that as enemies and bosses alike pack serious heat.
Point Blank - combat can be pretty hellish, and it’s easy to get caught by a devastating barrage of strikes. I couldn’t begin to divulge the number of times I met the grim reaper because I didn’t dodge. Battles can be brutal, and while I get that’s a deterrent to some, with perseverance, it’s a nonissue. You see, bosses function with a distinct set of movements. By studying those patterns, it turns the seemingly impossible encounter into a viable chance. After I grew privy to their strikes, the difficulty spike waned. Of course, the above constitutes trial and error, which might annoy a few. Although, honing in on the optimal approach to combat kept me perpetually engaged. I had to pay attention to gain the upper hand. Before any fears of tedium sets in, respawn points are purposefully placed nearby, mitigating the need for excessive return trips.
Now, one of the more enticing bits of Metroidvanias is the secrets. There’s a couple here, and they hide invaluable rewards that help bolster Deedlit. The problem is that the sign indicating a breakable wall is minuscule. It’s simple to gloss over and miss out on health boosts or new weapons. During my session, I couldn’t collect all 50+ options because destructible structures are missable. To return to my thought that enemies possess a mighty wallop, increasing overall health is vital. Without hunting these down, Record of Lodoss War becomes harder, though, as a silver lining, that acts like a makeshift difficulty setting since there isn’t a choice by default. The biggest thing the game has going for it, however, is it never really overstays its welcome. For a whole weekend, it’s plenty to sink your teeth into and savour that old-school toughness with tight controls.
I’M TRIPPING UP! - Performance
Even with the pixelated graphical fidelity, Record of Lodoss War still isn’t without flaws. First, however, the good - animations of every character, whenever striking, walking, or moving limbs, are silky smooth. I’m impressed by how fluent they are, but, of course, there are a couple of caveats. Perhaps it has to do with the particle effects, but whenever I’m deep in battles, there’s around a 50 percent chance of suffering radical frame drops. It isn’t the sort of slowdown that tries to mimic a feeling of impact either. I’m referring to stutters that cause the screen to crawl. It’s not something that lasts minutes, thankfully, and it isn’t a case of the game continuing to play in the background. In that regard, it won’t be detrimental to progress because it doesn’t cause cheap deaths, but it does break up any momentum built up.
DO YOU HEAR THAT!? - Sound Design
I adore just how reminiscent of the SNES era all the music is. There’s evident inspiration from other titles that aren’t Castlevania, too, although it maintains a strong presence. Now, this may sound crazy, but many of the note progressions meshed into the score were relatively identical to other franchises such as Legend of Zelda or Chrono Trigger. It was a rush of nostalgia for me, and a smirk crept to my face as I heard those small homages, if you will. It gave me a strong sense of exploration as I pillaged through the labyrinth. It helps that the score has a handful of catchy tracks that activate ear orgasms. I’d catch myself humming along as I was murdering indiscriminately. For those who grew up with Konami’s flagship, Record of Lodoss War is assuredly a romp through the 90s.
A IS FOR SLAUGHTERING! - Accessibility
To repeat a statement I’ve already made, the button placement is excellent. It’s an effortless attempt to dodge, shoot arrows, and bounce between both fire and wind spirits without awkwardly contorting my fingers. That won’t be factual for everyone, though. Some with tinier hands might find it uncomfortable. That said, one facet I find helpful is the capability to remap the entire controller. Well, Record of Lodoss War lets you do that, and I appreciate the quality of life improvement this offers. Where it falters a bit is the spirits - it’s not very apparent which one is active. Sure, there are coloured lines representing either fire or wind, but they're tiny. In the heat of battle, it’s so hard to notice them, and because fighting requires switching quickly, avoidable damage occurred more than it had any right to - an aura would alleviate that.
AND THE 16-BIT VERDICT IS…
Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth is not only a mouthful but also a fantastic Metroidvania. The level design is, as expected, littered with several pathways requiring skills acquired much later into the journey. In that sense, this title is the purest approach to the genre. Despite the short but sweet playtime of a few hours, it was satisfying entertainment and didn’t overstay its welcome. Probably the biggest perk was how nicely everything was spread out throughout the labyrinth itself. Bosses weren’t so far apart that it felt like I was meandering around. While I appreciate the attempt to hide secrets behind faux walls, making the crack hard to see unless paying attention and carefully scanning the area is a misstep. Like I’ve said, a few upgrades were left behind as a direct result. Still, what Record of Lodoss War manages to do, it does superbly.
There’s no question in my mind that, despite the frame drops, Record of Lodoss War is a romp worth having. Because it doesn’t affect gameplay, I’m comfortable highly recommending this game.
Special thanks to Playism, who provided the code used for this coverage.