‘RUINSMAGUS’ review – Fantastic anime vibes, rinse and repeat dungeons – The road to VR
RUINSMAGUS is a Japanese role-playing game with a strong focus on dungeon crawling and magic-based combat. The game’s anime-related graphics and storytelling are welcome and familiar pieces, and end up delivering the kind of action you’d expect to find in VR games built around a much larger, more established universe. Fighting is mostly effective, and it stretches you to implement everything they have at your disposal, although it is ultimately held back by a weak inventory system and repetitive dungeons. This, along with a series of flat-screen holdovers, makes this first-person magician fight feel like it’s a little too strict to the conventions to be truly innovative.
Available at: Quest, SteamVR
Release Date: July 7, 2022
Price: $ 35
Publisher: CharacterBank, Mastiff
Reviewed on: Assignment 2
Ruinsmagus is full of anime drama reminiscent of some medieval-style pillars: Attack on Titan, Sword Art Online, Full Metal Alchemist—you know, a kind of show where the main character is destined to become OP badass who saves the kingdom. It’s a fun combination that sticks to some well-known world-building concepts, and that almost makes you feel like you’ve gone head first into a much larger anime series than the 26-mission game suggests, thanks to the characteristically rich and expressive world.
I say “almost” because, as you can imagine, there are some reservations that can pull you out of your full dive into the Grand Amnis, a city perched on top of a huge maze of ruins filled with magical villains. Still, there are some laughs, romances, deliveries, betrayals – anime fans will feel at home.
To avoid spoilers, here’s a rather vague summary of the story: you’re a silly wizard (Magus) who gradually gets worse as you take on two dozen sequential dungeon-crawling missions into some ancient ruins. The world is looking for you to find some pretty important things that will do… something important that will affect the whole world. By your side is the scientist Iris who is your constant companion. While away on dungeon missions, her voice comes through a small floating Chibi guy, who can also project Iris as a blue hologram. Iris is basically the game’s waifu, so that’s it.
The story has quite a broad appeal, but (as shown above) if you do not understand oral Japanese, this is where the “subs vs dubs” crew wins the day. Ruinsmagus is voiced exclusively in Japanese and the text in English or Japanese, so take it or leave it. Subtitle windows float around the center of your view and can be communicated with either “A” to continue or “B” to skip the entire section.
At the beginning of the game you get the choice between Easy, Normal or Hard. There is no indication of what these three content means, and there is no way to change the difficulty level once you have blindly chosen one. For the record, I went with Normal, and about a fourth way through the game increases the difficulty quite a bit, taking you from an area where you can easily defeat any enemy to dungeons that may require more attempts. It’s more of an advisory than a criticism, but do not say that I did not warn you.
Starting with combat, the game’s fighting system in fighting style is a bit mixed, but I will consider it mostly a success in translating fast and tactical gameplay to VR. You get a choice of a maximum of 14 magic spells, of which you can choose three (one primary and two secondary) to bind to the right hand.
Magic ammunition is endless, although you will need to recharge the glove at regular intervals, which is done with a satisfying downward motion. The small vials on your arm go down while using magic, which provides a good visual indicator.
With just a few exceptions, magic is mostly range-based, which means you either shoot magic from afar like a gun, or cast magic for area effect. Holding the ‘A’ button on the right controls instead of pressing it, you can charge each function for a greater effect. Ganking baddies also fill up an ultimate ability, adding a fourth sporadic power to your arsenal.
There are also shields to physically protect yourself from incoming projectiles and parry range attacks, sending their attacks straight back at them. The shield strength is replenished automatically, but if the status bar goes all the way down during a match, you need to be light on your feet so as not to take too much health damage.
And being agile on your virtual feet is a real must, since the hundreds of subjects you will meet with periodic bosses will often telegraph area attacks that can mean immediate death or serious injury if you do not quickly jump out of the way, a kind of quick move you will find yourself using constantly.
The enemy’s variety, outside of periodic bosses that are generally fun and interesting encounters, is felt on the low side. Although enemies gain new powers as you move through the game’s two dozen missions, it’s basically: little guy, tank guy, fast guy, flying guy and giant guard. The enemy’s spawn points are also super predictable since wide open areas always signal a battle.
I do not want to spoil and control fights, but all are designed in classic action RPG style, where the environment is shaped around the boss’s abilities – think The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and many of these encounters feel as if they have been torn out of the clutches of Nintendo. And that is great praise!
Both the shield and the offensive magic are pretty straight forward and work well. One thing that is guaranteed to strike you is the relatively huge number of consumables you have available, many of which are unlocked around halfway through the game. These include various health drinks, several styles of grenades and a handful of syringes for magic defense and seizures. All of this is all well and good, but inventory management, or the lack of it, makes the whole experience of using these items basically an endless climb of cycling through each item.
Your inventory is represented as a single coffin casing. By pressing a button on the right controls you go through these items one by one, which means you have to go through the whole list during combat just to get to something.
What usually ends up happening is that you just throw up what’s in your inventory while trying to dodge magic missiles, shield yourself, shoot back, while looking down at the holster to visually confirm that you’re actually on straight object.
And buying them is an absolute chore as well. Here’s how: complete an assignment, see your score, browse a text description of the items you have, teleport to the store, browse each item, click on the item you need, add the number of items you need, buy the specific item class, go out of the store to teleport back to the hub, experience what a piece of history it may be, and go into the next mission.
Because you are constantly using consumables, you must mechanically complete these steps for each item you need for each and every mission in the game. And it stinks objectively.
Outside enemies, dungeons feel very similar and seemingly empty, which is a shame. There are no thefts to look for, or roads to explore; All rewards are imposed on you at the end of the mission, where you are graded on your time, death and deadly performance. I was expecting ever larger, more labyrinthine dungeons, but everything Ruinsmagus seem to be able to serve up are the same dungeon pieces on repeat with different colors.
Total, Ruinsmagus took me over eight hours to complete, which included several deaths through dungeons and boss fights. The game has such a mechanical nature that it may be best played for shorter periods than my hour-long game sessions.
Ruinsmagus wraps up a bunch of fun moments that make you feel like you’ve stepped into an anime. The story may be a bit predictable, but the creators show a skilled hand in creating a world that feels alive and lived.
The game’s music is also just as fantastic, providing swell orchestral arrangements to emphasize the most important narrative beats.
My only wish is that I could have it more of these moments, and that they were not so broken by the mechanical nature of the game. Basically, I hate the idea that, outside of combat missions, most interactions take place through 2D menus with laser pointers. Object interaction is quite non-existent except for a few leaves you find lying around, all of which are attached to your hand at difficult reading angles.
Whether it is the task force – which has only one mission at a time – or the almost constant occurrence of forced teleportation during narrative sequences, you are constantly reminded that you are not a participant, but rather a monitor in what is happening. You can be “faded to black” three times in a matter of seconds just as you enter a rather insignificant chat. It seems that the developers decided to segment individual narrative encounters so nicely that every time a new character enters the chat, you are faded to black to reset the scene, which is not good for player agency. Overall, I would have liked Ruinsmagus to have made me feel that I was more of an active participant and not just a faceless protagonist who was always led by the nose to the next mission.
Ruinsmagus also suffers from both preloaded tutorials and early show dumps that set some expectations early. Immediately you know that this will be an experience that focuses exclusively on combat and passive storytelling – the kind of dialogue I am used to from a lifetime Final Fantasy game. There is no real surprise from a JRPG, but in VR it all feels a bit too outdated since empathy and player agency are such important elements for the medium.
Ruinsmagus is frantic, but it is ultimately very comfortable thanks to some built-in comfort options. There are a few moments when your movement is forced during narrative chunks, although these are slow and very few.
‘Ruinsmagus’ comfort settings – 7 July 2022
|Interchangeable movement hand||✖|
|Adjustable degree of difficulty||✔|
|Two hands required||✔|
|Real squat required||✖|
|Hearing is required||✖|
|Adjustable player height||✖|