Labyrinth of Zangetsu is a very typical dungeon crawler with a rather atypical art style. The whole game has a sumi-e aesthetic, which meshes well with the overall narrative. Though it does not bring anything really new to the table, it has a solid foundation and a beautiful look that’ll please any dungeon crawler fan.
The story of Labyrinth of Zangetsu takes place in a world where a mysterious Ink has corrupted the people, animals, and land. People who can withstand the Ink form parties to enter labyrinths and fight back against the twisted monsters threatening Ido, which is the final bastion of humankind. Though the story is fairly simple, the dialog and wording are grandiose, like you’re reading a high fantasy novel. I thought that was really cool, though it was a tad annoying how the same dialog boxes would pop up every single time you entered a dungeon.
For better or for worse, Labyrinth of Zangetsu plays a lot closer to a retro game than one that came out in 2023. Its first-person perspective when traversing through the labyrinths felt a lot like Wizardry. In its turn-based battle system, you queue up all of the actions ou want to use first before anyone moves. You also have limited spell slots, which means that you can only cast a certain number of spells per tier before your wizards and clerics are useless. Thankfully, there are no random encounters, and you can sneak through the mists of enemies if you crouch. So even though the game doesn’t teleport you back to town after completing a labyrinth, there’s little danger of some random enemy mob ruining your day.
The prices for everything are kind of crazy for how much Sen you get. You know how brutal late stage capitalism is for the average worker? It’s like that in Labyrinth of Zangetsu, especially if you’re trying to heal up after a particularly difficult encounter. I got around 2000 Sen for my troubles after clearing out the first labyrinth, but the process of sealing away the Ink corrupted all of my Conscripts. The church healed me up, but it takes a fee for every individual I purify. So I was left with maybe 300 Sen to buy some new weapons or equipment. You know, for a city that’s counting on me to save its butt, you’d figure the merchants and church would be a little more charitable.
Despite my complaints about how evil the shogunate and temple are (what else is new?), I do enjoy the difficulty level of Labyrinth of Zangetsu. It’s not hard to the point of frustration, but it’s not so easy that the whole game is a cakewalk. The best thing about the game is, of course, the sumi-e art style. Sumi-e is Japanese ink painting, which neatly ties the game’s look to its story. That’s super cool! The contrast setting is perfect. Everything is easy to see without straining my eyes even though all the labyrinths are in black and white. I do admit that sometimes when I sped through the dungeons, I felt a little queasy. But just don’t run around like a headless chicken.
The one thing that I found a little difficult is that the game couldn’t fully hold my attention. I’ve played dungeon crawlers before but for some reason. My conclusion is that the encounters felt really shallow and fast compared to others in the genre I’ve experienced. There were no major or obvious differences between the races, and the battles were all so fast that it lacked substance. I don’t really mean that it needs fancy animations. Rather, the fact that you choose your entire party’s actions per turn could get a little stale. Unless you’re up against a huge horde or a boss, you don’t really need to change up your strategy every turn. So battles were a lot of just mashing the A button and watching the text scroll on the side of the screen.
Labyrinth of Zangetsu is a very well-balanced dungeon crawler that weaves its narrative right into its aesthetic. Despite how impressively modern the game looks, there were a lot of factors that made it a lot more reminiscent of a bygone era. Aside from how little strategy the battles required, it also had an incredibly monotonous soundtrack. Personally, it was a little difficult to get into the game because of these issues. This game is definitely one that dungeon crawler fans should play, but it is also one that I could only recommend to fans of the genre. What makes Labyrinth of Zangetsu stand out is in its sumi-e art style. So once the novelty of that wears off, it feels as hollow as a fountain pen that’s run dry.
Labyrinth of Zangetsu is readily available on the PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PC via Steam.