Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi

Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi

released on Jun 12, 2020

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Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi

released on Jun 12, 2020

Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi is a Dungeon RPG from Experience inc., the combat is turn-based and uses a party of 6 characters.
The game is set in a dystopian 1979 Tokyo where the Yomi has appeared, a giant structure full of valuable resources.
Originally announced in 2016 as a Hack and Slash RPG for the Xbox One, the game was delayed multiple times and the project was eventually restarted as a Dungeon RPG.

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I had been curious about this for a while and finally took the plunge. The premise is fun, but I feel like the game, about 7-8 hours in, isn't really sticking the landing. The few characters are likeable enough, but story beats are padded out by long dungeons filled with backtracking, repetitive and easy fights and a lot of waiting around for the auto-walk to get to a destination.

I've always found something interesting about the grid-based dungeon crawler genre and its narrative tendencies to plunge characters into some weird spiritually complicated worlds, and it seems like that's the case in Undernauts.

While I'm still interested to see where Undernauts goes (I just got to the Cemetery area), I'm not very into the loot/upgrade loop. I can't really tell how useful my stat upgrades are - I'm still steamrolling every encounter, but occasionally enemies one-shot my characters with a magic spell and I have to warp back to revive them. The party size of 6 feels too big, I don't like having to go through menus fairly often to re-optimize.

Now, here's the thing - I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt that later on in the game, encounters get more complicated and interesting. But there are literally JRPGs out there that give you interesting battles within 10 minutes - it feels silly to sit through what would probably be 10+ hours before getting to more interesting fights!

Also, the game has narrative plot beats that are paced so slowly! It took me 7 whole hours to get the first 3 Thingies and get to the first non-boring-cave dungeon. I like the weird idea of Sinners and appreciate some of the historical connections to Japan (although I feel like the writing is a little perfunctory/going through the motions?)

I think the design vocabulary of the grid dungeon crawler is really neat and has a lot of cool potential. And Undernauts has a lot of ideas, but they also feel like weird conflicting compromises at times... the texture of the dungeon crawling feels kind of flat. I think the constant treasure/loot loop emphasizes that - to me, it feels like enough flexibility to let you allocate skills, but adding a layer of all these items and upgrading the items...? Feels excessive and slows down the pacing. I think there's a lot of room for a designer of this genre to cut down on, what I assume, are decades-old conventions that are around because they've always been around.

That is to say, well, I do wish I could finish Undernauts but I don't have the time to slog through everything it's asking of me, sadly!

Fantastic game! One of the best turn-based RPGs I have played. Exploration is fun and character builds are very flexible.

Repetitivo hasta decir basta. Los diseños tanto de personajes como de enemigos son tan genéricos que parecen sacados de los assets por defecto de RPG Maker y el combate no entrega nada que cualquier otro juego del género de hace 20 años no haya hecho ya.

Una mezcla rarísima en lo narrativo que mezcla una historia de fantasía, crítica al ultracapitalismo de Japón de los 80-90 y parte de ciencia ficción chunga. Todo con un presupuesto que se estira todo lo posible para un DRPG accesible y divertido pero sin excesiva profundidad

It feels like it's been a long time since we have had an all-new DRPG from Experience and it's been worth the wait. The setting is interesting (early 80s Tokyo, basically playing a miner brought in as all the 'best' people were already bought up by the big company in the area), though the story does kind of run out of steam by the end. In fact I'd argue the whole thing kind of settles into an old groove after about 15 hours; that said, it's a groove that I was looking to settle into anyway, and the whole game system has been made that bit nicer for the player.

The biggest concession is an extremely regular autosave which triggers every time you beat an enemy, go to a new area or even open and close the field menu. As a result, combined with the infinite use dungeon escape item you get after a little while, battles end up being relatively low stakes. This feels like Experience's final answer to the question raised by them still sticking fundamentally to the classic Wizardry game system, including instant kill critical attacks. There's no raising of characters in the field so it's still inconvenient to have someone struck down but the stakes aren't ever more than a few minutes of gameplay.

Overall, while I was a little disappointed that they didn't go further with the new setting and the battle system changes (though 0 MP abilities have been removed, you soon get the ability to take a turn without using any MP; this is actually a great balancing measure as it does limit the ability of a tank to just block everything for you while still making it possible for casters to attack regularly and combined with the other special abilities you get it becomes a new choice that I enjoyed having to make) it's the easiest Experience game to play without actually removing any of the systems that tie it back to that original Wizardry game in 1983. Well, there's one they removed but I'm not sure people will be that sorry to see it go.

In the end, I don't think it quite fascinated me like Stranger of Sword City did, but it came quite close. Well worth the time and money for any dungeon RPG fan who wants to map out some levels and hack some slashes.

Looking forward to what they put out next. Next time, I want to see curved corridors in the maps. I put on Shining the Holy Ark a little while ago and the maps in that are insane compared to this - and that game came out in 1996!

I was the navigator for my wife as she played through Undernauts, a role that had me digging around the internet until I finally found a Japanese guide site that could help us with the various stopping blocks we knew we’d come across from our time with other Experience games. At some point in our playthrough, I wandered onto the page with frequently asked questions, hoping to gleam some small tips that might help us. At the top of the page, though, it was impossible to ignore a certain question, nestled right under an explanation of what type of game Undernauts is. It asked, bluntly, “Is it the usual Experience game?”

Just as bluntly, the answer given was, “You wouldn’t be mistaken in thinking so.”

It’s a harsh assessment, but a fair one, and one that I’m sure isn’t given with any sense of malice, considering I doubt anyone would want to make such an extensive resource for a game they didn’t have at least some affection for. As for myself, I can’t find much to disagree with in the guide maker’s sentiment, at least as far as the game’s mechanics go. I don’t think there’s much new Undernauts does at all to expand on Experience’s prior works outside of some quality of life changes, and I truthfully found its dungeon aesthetics to be a bit repetitive due to later areas reusing assets from earlier ones. As someone who has played a fair few of their games, it really was nothing new, almost bordering on underwhelming.

Ultimately, though, I can’t say I dislike Undernauts. In fact, I really enjoyed it, because all of the gaps left by its weaker aspects are nicely filled in by its amazing vibe. I love the concept of corporate slaves in the Japanese bubble economy diving into a fantasy hell-mine to get some inexplicable super-resource managed by an obviously evil company looking to monopolize its use. It’s a great premise for the genre, and it’s reinforced by grungy, grimy art that crosses ‘80s aesthetics with tabletop RPG rulebook art in a way that’s totally unique and memorable.

To me, Undernauts’ true strength is in being a weird melting pot of corporate nihilism, ‘80s clothing, isekai, divinity, forbidden magic, and hobbled-together technology that somehow blends all those elements together cohesively into a fairly compelling narrative and game, despite a few fumbles here and there.