Full disclosure before I begin. Labyrinth of Zangetsu is a hard game. A very hard game. As someone who rarely plays dungeon crawlers, I had a rough time with this one and was unable to get very far. As such, consider this QuickShot review as more of an impressions that judges it on my limited experience with the game. People who are more experienced with the genre will likely be able to get much further, and so I will also drop the video review from one of our guest writers, Nema Gaming, to help provide some additional insight. 

Set in the city of Ido, which also seems to be during the Ido period of Japan too, in a world blackened by an evil known as The Ink of Ruin, they’re in a constant fight against the plague of inky creatures that seek to wipe humanity out. As one of the last remaining cities, Ido takes in refugees from fallen cities on the condition that they head into the city’s labyrinths to help fend off these fowl creatures.

You play as one of these refugees, but you won’t be going in entirely alone; at the start you need to form your team of six warriors from either a selected list, or using a rudimentary character creator where you can customise the attributes as you so desire.

The story is introduced to you by way of an opening monologue, and it does a good job of setting everything up without feeling too drawn out. The plot does advance as you make your way through the game, and there are even NPCs you can chat to that helps with the overall world building. And what a world it is too, since not only is it quite a compelling setup, but the look of everything is absolutely beautiful. Much like the theming of the story, the whole world seems like it has been painted with ink and is a beauty to behold. Whilst the creatures are all very well designed, it was the world itself that captivated me even as I walked through the labyrinthine corridors.

Labyrinth of Zangetsu dungeon

The gameplay itself should feel quite familiar to anyone that has ever played a dungeon crawler: traversing the map, you gradually explore the dungeon and fill in the map around you. The labyrinths are made up of corridors set at right angles to one other, meaning that movement is quite restricted – but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to explore. False walls and floors can be inspected to reveal secrets hidden beyond, and locked doors and puzzles will block your way until you find a way around them. 

What sets these mazes apart from most games in the genre is that combat encounters are not random and are clearly marked via the shrouds of ink that enemies hide within. It’s such a small difference, but it allows you to explore your surroundings to the fullest rather than rushing through them and hoping you don’t get dragged into another unwanted encounter.

What the game lacks in random encounters, it more than makes up for in difficulty. Your team of six is comprised of three at the front and three at the back, and should be carefully chosen to make the most of their abilities. Characters with short range weapons will be rendered useless at the back, whereas more brittle characters are under higher risk of attack at the front. It’s a nice system that has you taking care to ensure that your team members are properly placed.

The turn based combat itself works pretty much as you’d expect, with each character having the ability to attack, defend, or use magic and items. Their class will determine what they have at their disposal, but it works well enough. The item mechanic does have an odd quirk to set itself apart whereby you have to analyse items before use to ensure you don’t mistake a poison for medicine, but it’s such a simple task to do so that it’s only really there to catch out the careless.

Review: Labyrinth of Zangetsu Is Beautiful, But Dry - Siliconera

That isn’t the only simple task made more complicated within the game either, as opening chests too requires that they are careful dismantled to obtain the contents within. This process becomes more difficult as the game progresses and you try to bypass multiple layers of security; although, of course, you can try to brute force it open at the risk of damaging the contents within. It’s a nice system that adds to the worldbuilding of the game and keeps you invested.

It really does have a solid gameplay loop that meshes well with the beautiful world contained within. It’s a shame that the difficulty can be rather offputting for those less familiar with the genre. There are checkpoints to resume from should your team get wiped out, but if you have a crap team then no amount of retries are going to help all that much. It’s a shame that the game doesn’t have difficulty options available to make it more accessible to people that are playing it for the style alone, but veterans should lap up the game regardless.

Even though I don’t usually play dungeon crawlers, this one sucked me in from the offset with its interesting premise and gorgeous art style. Whilst the combat proved far too difficult for my skillset, I can’t deny that the atmosphere and charm of the gameplay kept me going until I could go no farther.

For more information on the game, check out the review by our friend Nema Gaming for a second opinion on the game!