Title: Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi
Release Date: October 28, 2021
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Aksys Games
Genre: Dungeon Crawler RPG
We saw the compilation release of Savior of Sapphire Wings and Stranger of Sword City earlier this year. Suppose that collection was the perfect introduction to the Dungeon RPG style of developer Experience. In that case, their latest release, Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi, is easily the developer at their very best.
The game had been in development for a long time, initially unveiled as an Xbox One exclusive under the title of Yomi wo Saku Hana way back in 2016. However, after numerous delays and revisions, it finally launched for system 2020 before making its way to other platforms. As a result, it now finally launched worldwide on multiple platforms thanks to the publisher Aksys Games.
What’s interesting here is that the game wasn’t even supposed to be a DRPG, to begin with, as the developer was looking to branch out of their usual genre. So although the game we have now is similar to other games in the developer’s catalog, most notably sharing conventions with Stranger of Sword City, it ends up doing many things differently. You progress through the early stages and learn the various systems; it’s clear how the tried and tested DRPG gameplay still has plenty of new tricks up its sleeve.
Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi’s premise centers around a mysterious labyrinth emerging in the middle of 1970s Tokyo. Although it brings a looming threat, it also presents unique and precious resources, prompting the ever opportunistic Cassandra Company to start a mining operation. Since the labyrinth is so notorious and dangerous, they go through shady channels to employ illegal workers, most of them being youth, to work in the mine. These workers are the undernauts, desperate individuals willing to go through anything in a harsh economic climate.
This is a horror title, to be sure, as the violent themes and imagery on display don’t pull any punches. Yet, despite creatures devouring the undernauts working in the mines, it’s clear that the real monster is, in fact, Cassandra Company, as they throw team after team of undernauts into the mines as disposable resources. As the protagonist, your team must not only battle all kinds of monsters deep within the labyrinth mines but also navigate the political pull of your employer as well.
Much like any other RPG from developer Experience, players have free reign over the characters they create, and the extensive selection of character portraits available for use include illustrations from the developer’s past title, including games like Death Mark along with their other dungeon RPGs. Complementing this customization, Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi features perhaps the most intricate job system yet, as players can customize their party to their liking with a range of skills and equipment types.
During gameplay, players explore labyrinth-style dungeons in the first person as they slowly and gradually fill out the map. Unfortunately, it’s an all too familiar gameplay loop, and battles take place in the first-person mode offering a traditional turn-based affair. Your party is divided between vanguards and rearguards, where you want your muscle to take the frontlines and your ranged and healer types to sit comfortably in the back.
Choosing the right weapons also goes a long way in planning out your formation. Early on, you also learn a handy Boost system that allows you to charge up your offense. It’s far from being just a basic turn-based combat system, as there are layers of strategy and mechanical quirks to experiment with.
A word of warning though, things take a long time to open up, and initially, there will be a fair bit of level grinding and backtracking involved. Still, the game does have some features to make the initial grind less painful. For one thing, enemy encounters show up on the map, and while there are random battles, these occur quite rarely.
If you’re going to be backtracking and redoing certain parts of the dungeon, then fast travel is your friend, and it makes a world of difference. Better yet, you can even choose fast combat to zip past all the battle animations. Some of these battles can be pretty tough, and although you face the dreaded Game Over screen early on, soon enough, you unlock a feature where your party simply returns to camp after being wiped out. If this all sounds good, then fans will also be pleased to know that the game autosaves at regular intervals, even when you’re out exploring.
Quality-of-life features aside, Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi also implements several cool ideas to add absolute novelty to the classic DRPG gameplay and even dungeon design. It’s one thing to explore and discover static maps, but the game takes the whole mining premise to another level by letting players literally build their own path.
Using the power of Yomi Flowers, players can build doors, ladders, and bridges as they create their own way and make new discoveries. Further, you can even manage your construction layout from the main camp. So simple in concept and yet so meaningful in execution, it’s no doubt a standout feature of the gameplay experience.
The monsters are scary but mostly weird, like what even is a bird rat anyway? But taking a page out of the Shin Megami Tensei series, the adventure has moments where enemies will try to be friendly with you, sometimes even doing you a random favor like healing your party. You can even chat with some of these monsters in some areas, who will ask for bribes before sharing information. These enemy interactions don’t fundamentally change the game, but they still help add variety to the game world.
It needs to be emphasized how this is an incredibly deep game. There is a lot to read in terms of the glossary and manual, and it feels like you’re constantly discovering something useful. As a result, your party will initially feel quite limited and basic. Still, as you delve deeper into the labyrinth and storyline, in no time, your party members grow and evolve into versatile warriors, making the most of the intricate and highly flexible job system. This RPG was simply made for the number crunchers.
It goes without saying that Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi isn’t going to compete with games like Tales of Arise in the graphics department. The 3D engine is as basic as they come, with simplistic environments that are at least practical. There’s a 3D camera too, but it doesn’t really do much.
Still, the artwork shines here, as the various character and enemy portraits are well-drawn and detailed, even if most of them just look plain weird. While the graphics aren’t cutting edge, the soundtrack and overall sound design create a spooky and brooding atmosphere throughout the adventure.
Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi might be the best dungeon-crawling RPG from Experience yet. It takes sound genre fundamentals to perfection and then implements novel concepts that add further depth to the gameplay variety and design. To help matters, there are numerous quality-of-life features to welcome modern RPG fans into the fold. Granted, it does look dated from a presentation standpoint, and it demands a great deal of grind and backtracking, but this is proof of how this genre can still evolve with modern systems.
This post may contain Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate Noisy Pixel earns from qualifying purchases.