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…