Warning: This article contains spoilers for Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, a game released within the last year. It is not really a plot-based game, but if you would like to go into the experience completely untainted by knowing the final (incredibly telegraphed) twist of the adventure, do not read this article. If this does not bother you, go ahead and read on…
There is no other way to say this, so I’m just going to be out with it from the start: Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, which is maybe the 3,000th indie Metroidvania released in 2021, nearly made me cry.
I am going to talk about why.
Bah… I guess I should talk about the game for a hot second before getting into the details of my own anime-based psychological problems. RoLW:DiWL is, as previously stated, a Metroidvania. It specifically is a Metroidvania in the style of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and by “in the style of” I mean “Konami might need to hire a few more lawyers, but not too many lawyers, because man is it obvious what is happening here”. To say this game feels like Symphony of the Night is an understatement, and the minute-to-minute seems more like that seminal title than some later games made by the exact same guy who made Symphony of the Night in the first place (and, yes, I am talking about Bloodstained here). And, to be clear, this isn’t a bad thing for any franchises that may currently exist, as IGA already made Symphony of the Night, he did not have to do it again. Meanwhile, Team Ladybug clearly wanted to make a game that was “Symphony of the Night, but with an immortal elf instead of an immortal dhampir”, and then they went ahead and did it. And they did it well! RoLLW:DiWL is a phenomenal Metroidvania all on its own, and, if Symphony of the Night inspired much of it (right down to the protagonist’s persistant and unnecessary/radical shadow), then it is simply a testament to how SotN had amazing bones to begin with, and any fleshy homunculus built around it would be astounding.
But this is not to say that Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth does not have its own identity. For one thing, there is a surprisingly complex “color system” that influences every piece of gameplay. Deedlit has the ability to switch between wind and fire spirits through nearly the entirety of her adventure. When in wind mode, Deedlit can hover and boost a jump or too, and fire allows her to perform an invincible, flaming slide. This means you are frequently presented with rooms, monsters, and bosses that necessitate using one element or another. Or perhaps you will find that a certain “pattern” is tremendously more surmountable if you stop trying to jump with wind and start sliding with fire. Additionally, as one would expect in this kind of situation, different monsters are vulnerable to different elements, so if that fire dragon is withstanding a dozen fiery slashes, switch over to the windy side and blow that beast away. And everything from basic mooks to giant bosses seems to use at least one attack that is elementally themed, so turning on your fire element when facing down a blaze means you’ll take zero damage and absorb some extra mana to boot. We have seen “switching” mechanics in games before, in everything from Silhouette Mirage to Devil May Cry, but RoLW:DiWL makes it a gameplay feature both welcome and wonderful. And the simple way it is implemented without frequent menu finagling feels a lot better than at least one of its Metroidvania sisters.
So if you are looking for a great Metroidvania, look no further than Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth. If you enjoyed Symphony of the Night, you will enjoy this. If you want to see some marginal improvement on the formula, you will enjoy the switching system involved. If you want most anything else new, you will not find much (the arrows work in fascinating ways… but do feel kind of like a vestigial gimmick, and the “magic spells” are absolutely vestigial), but what is there is solid gold. It is hard to imagine any reason anyone else would be tempted to play this Record of Lodoss War game.
Oh, wait, right. The whole “Record of Lodoss War” thing. That’s where things get… sentimental.
So, for those of you that are unaware (which is anyone who is not a giant nerd very specifically between the ages of 35 and 50), Record of Lodoss War was a novel series and Japanese manga published between 1988 and 1993. It was also had an OVA (original video animation: essentially the “limited series event” of anime) that was finished in 1991, and a 27-episode anime in 1998. In its time, it was very popular. But, unfortunately, “its time” was before anime really made a foothold in the West (I personally blame Pokémon for that), and Record of Lodoss War was already looking pretty long in the tooth before Cowboy Bebop and G Gundam offered their stylish alternatives. And, while it is a shame that Record of Lodoss War seems to be forgotten by the nerd populace at large for anything more than being the anime that makes you say “well, you’d probably like Slayers more”, it is not a surprising end. Ultimately, Record of Lodoss War is incredibly dry by practically any epoch’s standards. It is the typical tale of swords and sorcery in a Dungeons and Dragons setting, and very little gives it that essential “twist” that separates it from the myriad of books, comics, and cartoons that have dominated the “fantasy genre” since Tolkien first decided to put hobbit to paper. It is a story of knights, wizards, elves, and dwarves, and if you have seen even one dragon slaying, you have heard it all before.
But it is hard not to have affection for these knights, wizard, elves, and dwarves. Record of Lodoss War is a banal story, but there is familiarity in the mundane. Parn is every young adventurer who grows to become a gallant knight over the course of his escapades. Etoh is the noble priest and Parn’s steady friend. Slayn the sensible wizard is similarly reliable and often a makeshift mentor figure. Ghim the dwarf is everything you expect from a dwarf willing to die to save another. Woodchuck the rogue is just as trustworthy as his archetype will allow (which isn’t very much). And Deedlit (the titular star of the game that I am pretty sure this article is still about) is the high elf that wants to learn about the “human” world outside of the insular community of elves she has always known. Put it all together, and we are looking at every tabletop roleplaying gang ever played. Yes, you might have had more unique players in your own Dungeons & Dragons or Shadowrun (look, an elf is an elf, dammit) games, but the wizened wizard or the reliable cleric is a trope for a reason: it just works. And if you are into that nonsense, it is hard not to see Slayn being similar to your friend Steve, or Woodchuck bearing more than a passing resemblance to your buddy Fruitbat (example nicknames will not be explained).
And that puts a little bit of a different spin on this adventure when you find out that Deedlit is basically hallucinating seeing all these familiar faces because they are all dead.
In retrospect, Deedlit was always a little problematic in Record of Lodoss War. She is the sole woman of the group. She immediately and irrevocably falls in love with the hero, and the hero is generally a little too “boy hero” to ever give up his eternal passion for adventuring to fully reciprocate those feelings. And Deedlit is naturally fit, blonde, and youthful, but with the added bonus of being an immortal elf. In other words, she is the ideal woman (your mileage may vary, but let us at least admit she is the ideal woman for a swimsuit calendar), and she is designed to be the ideal woman for literally the rest of eternity. Deedlit was built to be not only the love interest and eventual “reward” for our intrepid hero, but she is going to be his perfect bride forever.
Except… he’s going to age. She will be forever beautiful. He will not. He will wrinkle. He will retire from being the Knight of Lodoss. He will age. He will die.
Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth is the game about what happens after that. Deedlit has apparently watched her husband and all of their mutual friends die, and she is now working through some things. The finale reveals that Deedlit had holed up in her home for a long time, possibly years, and became a complete recluse after losing the man she loved. The eponymous “Wonder Labyrinth” is either the product of a magical entity or entirely Deedlit’s subconscious, but, one way or another, it is an imaginary location that exists exclusively to help Deedlit cope with her loss. In a mysterious world where Deedlit can throw around magic with impunity, heft enormous swords with ease, and slay god-dragons entirely on her lonesome, Deedlit is searching for her lost husband in the only place where he still exists: her mind. After an entire game’s worth of the stages of grief (with a heavy emphasis on denial), Deedlit finally learns to accept what has happened in her life. The climax confirms that, while her deceased husband is never coming back, at least he will live on (literally) forever in her memories.
And holy elves, I was not expecting that ending to hit me so hard.
I have no grand affection for the characters of Record of Lodoss War. Whereas telling me that Vash the Stampede and Meryl Silverburgh never got their collective butts together to go on to live a happy and fulfilling life together would absolutely break me, the news that Deedlit and Parn ultimately ended in tragedy does not do anything for me on its own. These characters were always ciphers to begin with, and Record of Lodoss War did not accidentally hit the psychological sweet spot that causes me to genuinely care about the ultimate fate of cartoon rodents. Knowing that Deedlit is widowed has about as much impact on me as reading in the local obituaries that “David Fartenheymer is survived by his wife of fifty years”.
But perhaps it is the fact that Deedlit, Parn, and all of their allies were walking archetypes that has impacted me so much. I have a hardened heart from years of consuming media of all shapes and sizes, and I know when I am being manipulated. I know when a hero is carrying a puppy through danger, that is a writer’s focused move to make me care about said hero and his (inevitably “his”) safety more than ever before. Similarly, when I am being told that someone important has died, and said media is not even going the extra mile to actually show the traumatic event, I know I am “supposed to” feel sad. And when I am “supposed to” feel something, I often resist. But why did I not react similarly this time? I don’t know. Maybe I let my guard down because the reveal was attached to a stellar Metroidvania, or maybe Deedlit was just enough of a “familiar, but distant” character, or… Whatever… I felt bad for Deedlit. I felt terrible for that elven pile of pixels I had been dungeoning around with for the previous few hours.
And… yeah… I know a big factor is nostalgia. I know it is a feeling of loss for the fact that my own D&D traveling party is long gone. Everyone is alive! But there are kids and jobs and exes and rivalries and all sorts of reasons we cannot convene every week to protect ponies from spider invasions (long story). I have former friends that are not the people they once were (I blame Fox News), and former lovers who were maybe never the people I imagined them to be. I am nearly 40 years old, and, though I enjoy my life and where I am, I also have decades of regrets over things that can never be changed again. Even the presence of Record of Lodoss War here colors my thinking, as I last experienced that franchise years if not decades before I ever imagined what my life would look like now. Who was that “man” that first watched Record of Lodoss War? And would I even recognize him if we encountered each other in a Wonder Labyrinth?
Bah, now I need wind-fire-switching based therapy. See what you did, Deedlit? Can’t you just have kept your emotional breakdown to yourself? I am trying not to cry over my Switch here, and you are not helping!
So if you haven’t played Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth yet, go ahead and do that. Play an excellent Metroidvania, and maybe allow yourself to embrace its surprisingly poignant finale. If you already have played it, or you don’t feel like it would be your cup of tea, then skip to step two here. Go hug your loved ones. Go enjoy the life you have. It will end one day, and, even if you are going through some hard times, there is likely something about the present you enjoy, and will miss later. You might not even know what that is right now, so go ahead and try to enjoy everything possible in your life.
One day, what is the seemingly eternal “present” will all be over, and all you will have of this time is memories. Make them good memories. Even if making those good memories just means bumping around a labyrinth with an elf.
FGC #630 Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth
- System: According to the list here, the game started (incrementally) on PC, and was then eventually released for Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox… uh… Modern. So if you have something that plays videogames right now, you are good to go.
- Number of players: Deedlit is alone. So very alone.
- Favorite Boss: Pirotess and her second fight was definitely the most interesting fight, and the one that led to Deedlit dying about ten or ten thousand times. That sticks in my head. Combo fight Djinn and Efreet get second runner up for using the “switching” system effectively, and forcing the player (or just me) into a very particular kind of thinking and recognizing that the elemental system means half the projectiles flying around the screen at any given moment are effectively distractions. A very unique experience!
- Favorite Spell: There is only one spell, and it is that one that summons some monster-seeking missiles, and I can use it all the dang time, because every other attack instantly refills the meter. I have yet to determine if this is an oversight on the part of the designers (why even have a magic meter if it is going to be replenished constantly?) or absolutely the way you are supposed to be playing the game. Deedlit is a summoner, right? It makes a sort of sense…
- This could be better: For my dollar, I feel the elemental swapping mechanic is used just enough. There are only occasional monsters that are outright invincible to the “wrong” choice, and the way the elemental levels accrue points and restore health encourage not staying in one mode for too long. But it would be nice if there was more of a visual tell when Deedlit was switching between elements. There are places to look, and that huge jewel at the top of the screen is a godsend. But I cannot tell you how many times I slashed a fire dragon with a flame sword and was confused by the utter lack of an impact…
- An end: The finale seems to point to a sequel with an encroaching war. That is actually a setup for the new(ish) novel series, Record of Lodoss War: Diadem of the Covenant, which features Deedlit as the star of a conflict that happens a century after the original Record of Lodoss War events. So I guess “how Deedlit got her groove back in a magical dungeon” is less of a sequel and more of a prequel to yet another story? Huh.
- Boss Rush: I normally enjoy a good boss rush. However, some lame brain made a boss rush part of the actual game, and then, all of ten minutes later, you beat the game and “earn” access to boss rush mode. You know when I don’t want to do a boss rush? Five seconds after I just did a boss rush!
- Did you know? The fact that the internet is not awash in Deedlit porn is a testament to how the anime adaption was released just before its time. To be clear, I am not saying there is no Deedlit porn out there, simply that the fact that there is not enough Deedlit porn to fill its own webring speaks to its epoch and popularity. Seeing Deedlit porn on any given modern site would be like finding… I don’t know… porn of the cast of Capitol Critters.
- Would I play again: This isn’t a very long game, so I am probably going to sit and wait for this one to escape my own memory a little more before I go at it again. But I will go back to that dungeon! I have some fond memories there…
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Voltron: Defender of the Universe! For the Playstation 3! Form blazing sword, and please look forward to it!
I swear I remember these dragons being friendlier…