Atlus has been busy with the GBA recently, what with the July 25 release of Summon Night: Swordcraft Story and the upcoming release of Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation, which was previewed here last week. However, that doesn't mean the DS will forgo any loving. Indeed, portability fans will receive one more title on August 8: Deep Labyrinth, an anime-influenced, first-person journey rather unlike most other DS RPGS.
|"...the player [will be] introduced to a control scheme somewhat reminiscent of that in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, although much more DS-oriented."
The plot behind Deep Labyrinth will surely tickle the wistful, adventerous kid hidden (or evident) in each of us, as it stars the youth Shawn and his loyal canine pal Ace on their journey to find Shawn's missing parents and escape the mysterious world into which they have been cast. Of course, this all happens after the family's car broke down during a summer drive and his dog raced into the creepy mansion outside of which they had conveniently parked. Naturally, his parents gave chase, and after some time alone Shawn decided to enter the house as well. There he was swept away to the aforementioned dimension, and thus his adventure began. Although a somewhat simple beginning, the game presents it via a beautifully animated cut-scene that quite adeptly delineates the tone and feel of the tale.
Once inside the mansion, or rather, once inside the strange, otherworldly universe, the player takes control of Shawn and guides him on his quest. Initially Shawn is given both a sword and shield, along with the standard travelling cloak and basic items -- all of which can be upgraded later -- and from here the player is introduced to a control scheme somewhat reminiscent of that in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, although much more DS-oriented. Depending on one's handedness, either the D-pad or the four face buttons handle movement; everything else has been assigned to the stylus. This allows for a sort of HUD that grants quick access to items and stats, as well as enables one to easily switch between melee, magic, and defense.
Melee is quite simple, as players need only to tap the on-screen enemies to lock on then draw any number of lines on the stylus, which will produce any number of different swings. The magic system may seem similar to those utilized in both Tao's Adventure and Lost Magic, as it requires players to trace spell-specific symbols on nine-square grid. Spells are learned by locating their corresponding "kirie," basically their symbol, on one of the many tablets scattered throughout the world. Although most of the spells are standard RPG fare -- offensive spells, healing spells, strength augmentation spells, etc. -- many also come into play throughout the game's puzzles. Of course, if the player forgets a certain kirie they can always look it up in the game's spell list. Be warned, too: combat is entirely real-time, so don't expect any convenient pause whilst casting, or even while accessing the menu. Using items is similarly styled, as players only have access to a specific "pocket" list, supplied via one's overall inventory. Finally, in order to defend oneself, the player can press and hold the stylus on the defense button; Shawn will hold up his shield to absorb an attack for as long as the player holds down the button.
Interestingly, players will receive special bonuses for equipping, say, steel armor with a steel shield and steel sword that they would not acquire with gold armor, a steel shield, and a steel sword. Furthermore, one's weaponry can gain levels; that is, the more a sword is used, the stronger it will become.
Combat aside, players will also experience a hefty share of exploration, made somewhat simpler by the availability of two maps on the upper screen, one sporting a large area overview and the other a zoomed-in view of the player, useful for locating items, enemies, and waypoints. One's expedition will also take the DS microphone into consideration, and players may be asked to execute the (arguably gimmicky) task of "blowing dust" from stone tablets, for example.
The graphics, although three-dimensional, are indeed limited by the DS hardware. Obviously, players should not expect anything close to Oblivion. That is not to say, however, that the title lacks charm. Indeed, many whimsical character and enemy designs have been crafted to support the fantastical theme of the game, and several boss introductions will have the enemy consuming both screens -- a neat little trick that'll have the player feel as if they are actually "looking up" at the boss.
Interestingly, the previously mentioned story is only one of two plotlines available to the player. While both concern themselves a great deal with giant pink elephant-men, forgotten memories, and an invisible woman (we did mention that, right?), a staggering difference still separates the two tales. "Shawn and Ace" is the simpler one, geared more toward a younger audience, while "Wandering Soul" -- based off a Japanese cellphone game -- is decidedly more difficult. Additionally, the latter selection is far darker, with more sinister environments and a grave music roster composed by the renowned Yasunori Mitsuda.
North American RPGamers can expect Deep Labyrinth on August 8, at a suggested retail price of $29.99 USD and with an ESRB rating of E10+.