Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fatal Labyrinth and What The Hell Is A Roguelike?

What is with me and labyrinths lately? I friend of mine left some games with me after digging through his old stuff, and one of those games was Fatal Labyrinth. I had to guess at the title because the label was mangled, but it turns out I guessed right. It also turns out that I already owned Fatal Labyrinth, as it was part of that big Genesis pack I bought on Steam a bit ago. I guess I didn't remember it because the title is so generic. The game actually has a history that was a lot more interesting than I expected. 

This was actually the most animated and interesting part the game graphically.  It had some nice parallax scrolling on the trees and clouds.
The game was actually made by two important guys at Sega whom also worked on the company's big series such as Sonic The Hedgehog and Phantasy Star. One went on to work for Naughty Dog and the other for Artoon. I thought it was weird that it is often included in Genesis collections, but considering who made it and the fact it is one of the few fantasy games for the system, I guess it makes sense. I suppose it has done pretty well for itself considering it started off as one of those games you could only get through Sega's weird modem thing. Not the Sega Channel, but the Japanese Sega Meganet.

Fatal Labyrinth is an unusual for a console game because it is not an RPG or action RPG, but a roguelike. A roguelike is a dungeon crawling game generally consisting of randomly generated dungeons, the need of food to continue adventuring, collecting and identifying, a turn-based movement system where enemies can move one space each time the player does, turn-based combat that is very simple, and permanent character death where you start from the beginning of the dungeon with sever penalties when you die. Think Diablo's hardcore mode, but turn-based. This game eschews permadeath and allows restarting from the last floor of dungeon you were on, taking away some stuff as punishment. It's not as brutal, but it is still very much a roguelike, and I guess ahead of it's time, as many recent roguelikes also allow play without the genre's usual severe punishment. It is also unusual because it is a roguelike for a console that came out a few years before the first Mystery Dungeon game that popularized the genre in Japan.

I've heard a decent amount about roguelikes before, but this was my first time actually playing one. I've always heard about how punishing the genre is, so I guess I expected the game to be more complicated and difficult, but it wasn't that bad. I got to the fifth floor of thirty before dying, and I could have lived longer if I didn't die in such a stupid manner. I knew that food gradually decreased while giving you the benefit of replenishing health, so I picked up a couple of pieces of food, and upon picking up the second I immediately died because apparently overeating kills you. Between that and accidentally cursing myself earlier, I can see how the genre can be punishing. Now I know it is important to not eat too much food and to use identifying spells on items before using them is important. No hard feelings.

I'm still surprised about how simple the game actually is. I also didn't expect to like the game, but it is kind of fun. I can see how it could tap into the same part of the brain stuff like Diablo does, that is the loot whore part of the brain. I expected to be put off by the simple combat of walking into an enemy and waiting for them to die, but I didn't really mind that either. Maybe I should give the genre a proper try and play a Shiren the Wanderer or something.

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