Several years ago, I first got wind of La-Mulana when it arrived on the PlayStation Vita. It kicked my ass pretty soundly, mostly because I had no idea what I was getting into. I loved the look and feel of it, loved what La-Mulana represented and the very specific gaming history it carried. But my ADHD-rattled brain wasn’t prepared for the challenge. I struggle with directionless exploration sometimes, but I really struggle with directionless exploration with specific answers and vague hints. I bounced off it and am currently tickled at how I landed back here, some five years later. I was afraid, too! But thanks to the sequel’s changes and NIS America dropping La-Mulana 1 & 2 as a package deal, I’ve been able to go back to the first game with more confidence.
La-Mulana isn’t difficult the way video games that resemble La-Mulana usually are. It’s less about how often or easily you die, and more about figuring out what the heck you’re supposed to do to get around. It’s also about not getting lost. You see this game saddled up with the Metroidvania tag sometimes, but I think that’s a stretch. You barely get a map, and while there are upgrades and special items, you’re mostly solving environmental puzzles to get through. And in order to solve said puzzles, you have to interpret super vague clues you get from random ancient slabs and skeletons. It’s a lot of mental effort involving remembering small details, navigation, evading traps and only sometimes combat.
I hold none of these things against the game. When it comes to something a bit out of my wheelhouse, it either clicks or it doesn’t. When a game is particularly complicated to me, if I can find a way to wrap my head around the loop, I can get past my own roadblocks. This sort of thing used to trip me up in a lot of RPGs and mobile games, but over the years it got better. Sometimes, a sequel or similar game in a space comes out and presents its form of play in a way that gels better with me.
In turn, that can have a sort of retroactive impact on the more troublesome title. That’s exactly what happened when, out of curiosity, I hopped over to La-Mulana 2 after some tinkering with the first game. What’s great about the sequel is it’s practically an expansion of the first game. Much of the structure is the same, but presented differently alongside a wealth of new story and content.
The way La-Mulana 2 is presented makes the whole concept easier for someone like me to digest. It eases you in a little more gently, but largely includes a lot of similar elements compared to the first one. You still have to find map tiles, you still have to find the Holy Grail to warp between save points, and you’ll still die in a second if you mess up. But the instructions are a little more clear, the opening rooms of the dungeon are designed with more teaching in mind, and the UI is a lot more user-friendly. La-Mulana 2 isn’t cleanly easier, it just does a much better job setting itself up for the player.
Armed with an hour or so of La-Mulana 2, I felt educated enough to go back and try the first game again. It’s still tougher and more obtusely designed, but I felt like I spoke the language a little more fluently. I understood what my mindset needed to be in order to succeed, and have made it much further than I did back in 2015. I understood and respected La-Mulana before, but now thanks to the spitshine on the sequel, I “get” it now. I’ll still need to poke at it, and possibly look at a guide at times, but I’m much more eager to make my way to the end of both La-Mulana 1 and 2.
La-Mulana 1 & 2 launches for the Switch, the PS4, and the Xbox One on March 17, 2020.