If only the protagonist looked this cool.
Now that’s more like it.
DEVELOPER: Sega CS
RELEASE DATE: 11/19/90 – (JP), 04/91 – (US), 1991 – (EU)
Fatal Labyrinth is Sega’s first attempt at a roguelike, the subgenre that began with the legendary computer game, Rogue. Most of the roguelike ingredients are here: 28 randomly generated floors, non-linear exploration, and realtime turn-based combat. There’s also a healthy assortment of randomly generated weapons, armor, and other items to find. The game seems almost too generous with items at first, but as you progress, stronger weapons and armor do not always appear when they should. Since they’re critical to your success in higher levels, not having them randomly generate is a game-breaking affair.
Born to run.
You start off in a Middle Ages-era town where folks inform you that Dragonia Castle has sprung up and blocked out the sun. At first, it seems like all you can do is walk around the town and listen to the townsfolk moan about their lot. Press the ‘Start’ button, however, and you’ll find yourself in the castle with only a knife and your tattered rags to keep you company.
Great story, pops.
Once you’re in the castle, it’s time to explore and fight. At first each floor is completely covered in darkness, but as you walk through hallways and enter rooms, the area lights up. You take on enemies by running into them a la Ys, and hoo boy, are they better at fighting than you. You, a brave, but naive peasant boy, lack any combat skills. The best you can hope for is to get some good strikes in, run away when you’re low on health, then come back and finish the job.
“Have at thee, slime!”
Some ground rules. #1: You need food to survive. Not too much, though, lest you become overencumbered (too fat) and unable to walk. On the flip side, if you fail to eat enough food, your health will decrease at a fantastic speed. #2: Your health increases automatically, but you must walk around to make it increase. Pace in an empty room or hallway if you have to, just don’t stand still. #3: Killing enemies is crucial to leveling up. Yes, combat sucks (more on that later), but if you don’t fight and gain experience, you won’t be prepared for later fights.
You’re in over your head, Billy.
There’s an obscene amount of items just laying on the ground for you to take. Helmets, body armor, and shields take care of your defense. Weapons – which range from swords, spears, shuriken, and axes – boost your attack power. Bows let you attack from a distance. Magic canes either attack or affect enemies in some way, as do scrolls. Most of the potions boost you up in some fashion – although one I drank caused blindness, so they’re not all helpful. Rings supposedly beef up your stats, though I never saw any discernible changes in my armor or attack power. You do have a limited inventory, so if you find yourself carrying twos or threes of any one item, use it or ditch it.
Is he brave or foolish? Methinks we’ll know soon enough…
Where Fatal Labyrinth bogs down is the combat. Landing hits is more a matter of luck than skill, and harder enemies are added at every floor. If you don’t find stronger armor and weapons quickly, enemies will do double-digit damage and you’ll be dead fast, even if you’ve reached a high level. What if the floors simply don’t generate stronger armor and weapons? You’re out of luck. Move forward the best you can until you find some.
Na na na na na na na na, LEADER!
Fatal Labyrinth was originally called Shi no Meikyuu: Labyrinth of Death in Japan. It was first released as an Internet-only game on Sega’s Meganet service, though it later received a commercial cartridge release, as well. There are some differences between the two versions. Shi no Meikyuu places you right in the dungeon without going to the town first. It plays slower than Fatal Labyrinth for some reason. And it also has a wicked title screen that implies your impending death(s).
No need to ask. That is totally your grave.
Fatal Labyrinth initially comes across as a rudimentary roguelike. It’s basic, simple, and enjoyable… until it screws you several times over. In three different playthroughs, the game didn’t provide me with the weapons/armor I needed when I needed them. When you die, you can respawn at every fifth level, but if you’re not given the items you need, so what? I understand that roguelikes aren’t meant to be easy, but are they supposed to be fair? Is part of their appeal the luck involved? I don’t know the answer to those questions, but even if I did, it doesn’t change the fact that the game treated me poorly.
Sorry everyone, I failed. Have fun living in eternal darkness.
In the end, Fatal Labyrinth‘s inability to provide for my poor peasant boy’s most basic of needs left me cold. It’s bad enough he’ll probably die of dysentery before he’s 30. He shouldn’t have to suffer through the interminable mocking of a procedurally generated labyrinth.