Labyrinth of Zangetsu Review – Hipster Artsy Dungeons

    Title: Labyrinth of Zangetsu
    Developer: ACQUIRE
    Release Date: April 20, 2023
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: PQube
    Genre: Dungeon-Crawler RPG

I love games that let me make my own parties and customize them to my whims, which is what excites me about dungeon-crawler RPGs. You’ve got this world to explore and uncover the secrets of with fearsome beasts to clash with, and the ones doing that are my delectable self-created, and fleshed-out party members. Labyrinth of Zangetsu from developer Acquire looked to be an interesting take on the formula with a unique visual style. However, it doesn’t really succeed in anything but visual style.

The world of Labyrinth of Zangetsu has been devastated by the ink of ruin, a mysterious substance that is corrupting the very land itself. The town of Ido, one of the last strongholds remaining, is fighting back against the ink in the only way it knows how…Conscription.

It’s not actually conscription. It’s just that the ink is filled with menacing creatures and is distorting the land into dungeons that need to be traversed in order to stop it, and you either do this or die. So everyone’s getting involved to try and win. However, efforts haven’t been going well. But that’s where you come in. Create a party of new conscripts to enter the labyrinths and stop this scourge once and for all.

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In Labyrinth of Zangetsu, you construct your party of six, three front liners and three back liners. Each unit can be named, designated a race, given a class, had a portrait picked out, and then you can play with a few skill points. You wander around the labyrinth in a first-person view, with enemy encounters clearly laid out by the way of smoke signals.

When you encounter a foe, you can use your skills to cut them down, claim your rewards and continue on your merry way until you find the entrance to the next area. To assist with this, the game automatically maps out the dungeon floor as you progress, and returning to town will heal you.

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And then, we have a few unique spins on the formula. Everyone is used to healing up their allies in battle. You don’t want them to hit zero health because it’s often more resource intensive to revive someone from KO. However, Labyrinth of Zangetsu takes a different approach. You can use any healing item or spell to revive someone from KO. It’s just zero health as a numerical factor.

But if your zero health party member gets hit too much on zero, they’ll be killed, and you’ll have to bring their corpse home to a temple to try and get them resurrected. This is a fantastic mechanic because it adds some serious weight and tension to major fights.

On the other hand, trying to resurrect a party member isn’t a sure thing. It costs a bunch of cash and can fail, which requires even more money. Luckily, the game autosaves a lot, and you can just throw a fight to get your whole party killed and undo the whole thing if you’re playing on an easier difficulty if that sounds too much for you.

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Labyrinth of Zangetsu forgoes traditional main levels in favor of class levels. You level up a class and can change them, bringing along the passive skills you’ve learned over to the next. Sounds interesting. After all, a lot of games like this will be reliant on your equipment more so than your base stats, so resetting to level one is fine.

Well, that’s until you find out that to change a class, you need to have its required ‘stat minimum.’ This means if you wanted to switch your Samurai to a Wizard, your trained Samurai would be reset to level one wizard stats and then need to level up to the point they have the strength stat to change back. Which makes class changing a tedious grind.

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And that skips over the part where sometimes you just lose stats on level-up. My level 15 Thief had less vitality than when they were at level 1. Now imagine if I wanted to change them to a class that required more vitality. It becomes these messy, awkward stepping stones just to get to the class you want. Which you want to do, also because the latter classes are just better stat-wise.

Bouncing around classes would at least be interesting if they were actually that different. But since the passives and learned skills offer little in the way of variety, it really feels like you’re leveling up half your team one way and half your team the other. And even then, this is where alignments come in, as some skills are locked per character alignment.

While this could have had some sort of dichotomy between a good or evil samurai or thief, it instead just limits off already limited class flavor. This means also that battles all end up feeling the same. The more complicated ones have you stock up on a bunch of some healing items for a status you can’t heal with a spell, and then you proceed as usual.

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Dungeons feel nice to explore, you can mad dash through them like nobody’s business, but there’s actually not much exploring to be done. The dashing is fun for grinding and zooming in and out, but there’s no reward or reason to really look around. All the emphasis is on the battles.

The only loot comes from battles, which is a very awkward system in which you need to have thief skills to probably safely open after-battle chests, which are your only supply of money and items. I love it when the RNG means the only way to get my 34 gold and a stick after a battle is for me to take a bit of damage and have an ally get poisoned.

It works with the atmosphere and aesthetic, but when it means you have to mash the accept button 8+ times after a battle to get what is usually an extra textbox, and for it to sometimes fail anyway? That’s just messy.

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Labyrinth of Zangetsu shows a ton of potential within its visuals and system, but that ultimately goes untapped. Its strong atmosphere and character creation system are decent, but there’s very little reason to invest yourself in this adventure that is mainly about battling and dealing with a strange class upgrade system. There’s fun to be hand, but this is one dungeon that you’ll be looking for the exit of rather quickly.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Pyre Kavanagh

Senior Editor - Illusions to illusions. Will solve murder mysteries for money so they can buy more murder mysteries. @PyreLoop on twitter