DEEP LABYRINTH / Atlus / DS
When I hear that a game has been designed by Masato Kato (designer of Chrono Trigger/Cross), and scored by Yasunori Mitsuda, naturally my hopes get up for it, even when the absolute best review I can find of it gives it a rating of "C". My hope was that I would find something to appreciate with this one that the "mainstream" critics might have missed but, alas, they were pretty much right on in panning this one. It's clunky to play and there's just nothing much exciting or interesting going on.
Deep Labyrinth is a 3D dungeon crawl, broken up into two separate scenarios, both of which you can play right from the get-go. The first stars some kid whose family car breaks down on the road during a vacation, they wander into a nearby mansion looking for help and disappear, and when the kid follows them he winds up in Dalaam doing quests for some purple elephant or something. The other scenario stars a guy who wakes up in some weird dungeon, under attack from a skeleton, and has to plow forward killing monsters while figuring out what the hell is going on. In both cases, the stories are pretty tedious (the first more so than the second) and by themselves don't offer a compelling reason to play.
That leaves us with the gameplay, which really doesn't work out all that well either. The 3D engine looks OK, given DS standards, but it's Wolfenstein-era as far as movement goes. You use the control pad to move around in stiff four-direction-only style, and you have to drag the stylus across the screen to swing your sword in various ways (although it usually doesn't make a difference as far as what swing you use). Even though the movement and combat is clunky, the combat always winds up being really easy due to two things. First, the monster AI is ridiculously stupid - there's apparently only two settings, they attack aggressively when you first see them, and then when you hit them once or twice they run away at top speed. Second, you level up insanely fast. After only twenty minutes of play I was on like level 7 with a "sword level" of 10, and killing all the monsters in new areas with one blow (and this was in the "tougher" second scenario.)
The other major problem with the game is that, to open many doors, you have to either scream or blow into the DS microphone (always a finicky proposition, and not something you really want to do on the bus or train), or you have to cast a spell. Spell casting is the absolute worst aspect of the game - you have to draw a pattern on the screen using the stylus for each spell, but the game is so finicky about precision of the lines that 9 times out of 10 you fail even the easy ones, and have to do it over a ridiculous amount of times.
That leaves us with only the Yasunori Mitsuda tunes. The man always puts forward a top-notch soundtrack, even when given a muddled mess of a game, and this one is no exception. However, it is more subdued than his other efforts, with no real standout songs, and there's relatively few different tracks of music. I thought it was worth downloading for later listening, but in-game it isn't enough to pull the whole thing out of the water.
* Gameplay Video