Distributor Red Art Games • Price £29.99 (Physical)
When I first hear about this game I was delighted; as an older anime fan, Lodoss War was one of the seminal anime titles that drew me into the genre at a young age. The classic Dungeons & Dragons setup with a group of adventurers coming together to take on a dark force that threatens the land was compelling storytelling, but it was those beautiful designs that really sold it. None are more striking than the blonde elf, Deedlit, here the star of a Metroidvania game with classic 16-bit graphics and chiptune sound.
I'm not the biggest fan of this genre, having found it to be very hit and miss, mainly because it requires a thorough understanding of how to balance exploration, variety and reward without becoming frustrating or, worse, dull. I'm happy to say that the team behind this game have clearly studied the genre very thoroughly, because it plays like a dream.
Let's look at each of the three pillars in turn, starting with exploration. You're traversing one map split into multiple stages, which can be revisited by transporting through gates once they're uncovered. Each stage has segments that can't be accessed because you don't have the requisite ability, so once you've explored further into the dungeon, you'll uncover skills and abilities that allow you to further explore early dungeons. Don't go thinking that means easier enemies once you're powered up - these hard-to-reach areas are populated by equally hard-to-kill enemies, so it's never a cake-walk.
Changing things up
In terms of variety, I was very pleased to see lots of enemy types even early on. Basic goblins and wolves evolve quickly into wereworlves, goblin captains and trolls, with skeletal knights, giant birds, icky millipedes, fairies and harpies all contained in just the early levels, and they take different approaches to kill too. The first boss you'll fight is a giant serpent, which utilises a fairly standard attack pattern which you'll learn and defeat, but the second is the dark-elf Pirotess. She's the same size as you, incredibly nimble and a totally different kind of fight compared to the one before, and a wonderful surprise.
There's plenty of variety in the graphics too - obviously lots of enemies lends itself to that - but the dungeon is equally beautiful, with tiles created from complex patterns, all the weapons you can use (and there are a LOT) being individually drawn, hell, even the HUD is stunningly rendered. So much thought has gone into this game I'm almost not annoyed at buying it from the EU distributor for £45 instead of £28 at Shopto (who listed it pretty late in the day). It still feels like I'm getting my money's worth, even if I ordered a smidge too late for the advertised artbook. Balls.
Anyway, back to variety, let's get on to weapons. Deedlit, being an elf, can use blades, bows and magic. All 3 are vital to the success of the game, and these are further augmented by Deed's use of spirits. Wind allows her to float above spikey things and stay out of harm's way while fire augments weapon damage. What's really clever here is the use of an Ikuraga style system that allows Deedlit to drain magical power from enemy blue or red attacks by switching between the active spirits. This comes in very handy in certain boss battles, so being able to switch between the two quickly and at the right time will serve you very well here. Furthermore, each of these spirits can be powered up to 3, and once at their highest level, they'll give you further benefits - switching to the fire spirit when it's maxed out will heal your health bar for example, which is very handy when you're away from a save spot that would otherwise rejuvenate you.
Juggling projectiles, magic, swords and spirits soon becomes second nature, and you have a very powerful, sprightly young woman with an incredible variety of moves, all of which get powered up as you go on - you'll be able to double jump and slide fairly early on, which opens up new areas to explore, but they also augment your fighting options.
What amazed me was how seamlessly it all fit together and how natural everything felt in such a short space of time.
We're still on variety (blimey) so let's talk about the rest of Deedlit's team, who show up in the Wonder Labyrinth to aid or warn her. Gruff Dwarf Ghim runs a weapons shop and can be found at various stages in the game, and my personal favourite, the thief, Woodchuck, is running a dice-based gambling game which is way more fun that it should be, as you can bet on all aspects of a 3 dice roll. It's very addictive.
Reaping the Rewards
I've touched on the variety of weapons in the game which can be purchased, but they can also be discovered, dropped by enemies or hidden behind puzzles. Once you have the bow, there's a wonderful set of puzzles that require increasingly precise shots using you bow, which can bounce arrows off metal plates, to cut ropes and open new areas. Figuring out the correct angle is entertaining, and the ping-ping-ping-snap of a successful shot is just bliss.
In fact, it's in discovering new ways to approach things that the game is at its best - figuring out the best attack combos, puzzle approaches and ways to overcome exploratory obstacles is just highly addictive, and while I have no doubt Metroid poses more of a challenge, there's something about the charm of the setting and characters that just immerses me in this particular game.
A legendary tale?
Lodoss will take around 10 hours to complete, but thanks to some seriously good unlocks at the end of your first run, it has a lot of pull for replays. You can customise your options for a run-through, including having a fully-loaded armoury at your disposal, as well as a much harder difficulty level. While it's hard to relive the surprises of the first run, the game has enough entertainment value to be worth coming back to - honestly I just enjoyed the atmosphere so much I can see it being a go-to on my (once again) frequent international trips.
The Hero's Journey
Much like Lodoss author Ryo Mizuno used Dungeons and Dragons to create his own unique and compelling spin on the genre, so too have Team Ladybug taken an existing template and made it very much their own. I absolutely adore playing this game, it's been one of the highlights of my year, and that's from someone discovering Mass Effect (via Legacy Edition) for the first time.
I needlessly overpaid for this in a bid to get a physical copy, not realising Shopto would stock it, so don't make my mistake. The art on the case is nice, but save a tenner and go for the digital version if you can. The fact that this is now available on pretty much every device means pretty much anyone can enjoy it, but I will say that the Switch's OLED screen gives the graphics a certain extra level of polish.
Enjoy the launch trailer:
Beautifully designed, it's a fantastic foray into the genre with some well loved characters adding bags of charm.