Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi is the latest dungeon crawler from Experience Inc., and it’s also arguably their best. That’s saying something given their pedigree with titles like Stranger of Sword City and Demon Gaze, but Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi delivers the perfect mix of familiar genre gameplay and some fresh ideas that kept me coming back for more.
The setting is 1970’s Tokyo, and the story revolves around this strange structure (named Yomi) that came out of nowhere and provides both great risk and great rewards to those willing to venture into it. There’s some interesting narrative bits in here to set the stage in an unusual way. You’re not some daring, bright-eyed adventurer out to make a name for yourself while saving the world. You are an employee to one of many companies that have banded together around Yomi in an effort to hire people to venture into its depths despite the dangers Yomi presents.
For those who like a bit of depth to their story, there’s some dark humor to be had here in the way these corporations are willing to sacrifice the well-being of people to maximize their profits. These corporations looking to mine as much precious material from Yomi as possible dangle large carrots in front of desperate people who become in some ways viewed as cultural heroes for their bravery by the average citizen of Japan – yet expendable cogs to the corporate machine.
This all sets the stage rather uniquely for what at first seems a pretty by-the-numbers first-person dungeon crawl. Your primary character barely survives a harrowing encounter, and has to put together a new team so they can venture forth back into Yomi because something has gone terribly wrong and there’s no way for their small company to extract currently. From here, you build a party using a variety of options as you try to balance tanking, damage dealing, weakness exploitation and healing – all staples of the genre’s traditional turn-based combat.
Movement is handled in that step-by-step exploration of square tiles, but it soon becomes apparent that there’s more here to it than just walking down halls or opening doors. You slowly unlock tools that are described as altering the structure of the labyrinth – such as knocking out walls to find other passages, but really these are just gatekeeping devices. They’re basically ‘keys’ to unlocking more and more of the dungeon, but it’s still a pretty cool way to dress up the mechanic and ties in nicely with the construction / corporation theme.
Visually Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi is a treat in the grim, dark sort of way. You have the expected cavernous environments that are dark and bleak (though finding and besting certain powerful enemies allow the caverns to glow a bit more brightly and enhance your field of view). The menus are easy to navigate and creature art is generally detailed and pleasing to look at. Complicated by an effective and sometimes eerie soundtrack, and the presentation of Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi is a notch above what you usually see out of the genre.
The combat is mostly standard stuff, with turn-based decisions you make, queuing up your team and then letting the round play out between them and your opponents based on speed that determines action order. There are a few cool wrinkles thrown in however, as equipment you find can provide some pretty cool boosts during later game content, and sometimes having the right gear is the most important preparatory step to a boss fight.
There is also a feature called ‘Switch Boost’ that gives you a little extra umph during combat. It provides three different one-turn boosts that need time to recharge once used. One gives you half damage, the other lets you use one round of skills free of MP cost and the last gives you extra rewards if you end combat while this one’s active. This all adds an extra later of strategy to how you want to approach fights. Additionally, there are sometimes enemies that are a bit more sentient and outgoing, leading you to opportunities to converse with them in a way that kind of reminded me of the Shin Megami Tensei series. However, you’re not trying to recruit them in these instances. They may give you rewards for not fighting them, they might give you valuable clues about how to deal with an upcoming boss, or your responses may trigger them to give you important items. Sometimes, you just need to fight them to progress.
There is a certain ruthlessness to the above at times, as you may have to give a dark, grim answer to get a specific item you need to lure a boss out of hiding. There’s also a plot point later in the game where you encounter someone who can help you and your team progress – but at great cost to herself. You start to feel a bit like the corporations in the sense that you tell yourself it’s for the greater good, that the ends justify the means while you progress.
Speaking of progression, there’s the usual staples of the genre present here as well as you earn experience and plenty of loot to help advance your characters and better your gear. You’ll need it as you progress further into Yomi and start to uncover the connective tissue behind the events taking place, as some of the battles against the ‘Sinners’ can be pretty challenging. That being said, I think Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi deserves some credit for being a bit more forgiving than a lot of dungeon crawlers out there as well.
The difficulty spikes that the genre is known for are far less pronounced and there’s plenty of ways to easily grind and even recover from lost battles. It’s also worth noting some nice quality of life items from simple options such as the ability to remember your last selection, to an auto-walk feature to take you back to a previously explored part of the dungeon to the auto-map itself.
Simply put – I loved my time with Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi. This is one of the best dungeon crawlers I have played in a very long time. The story and setting is unique and interesting, progression gives a great sense of ownership over your characters and the overall package from presentation to quality of life make Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi one of the most approachable, enjoyable RPG’s I have played in some time.Score: 9 / 10