Sunday, March 8, 2015

Game #36: Fatal Labyrinth (Genesis) - Is It Still a Rogue-like If I Only Play Once? (Finished)

Game 36

Title: Fatal Labyrinth
Released: August 1991 (November 1990 JPN)
Platform: Genesis
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Genre: RPG (Dungeon Crawler)
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Turn based
Series - Standalone (Although Dragon Crystal is a close cousin)

Well this was unexpected. I had fun with it, but I'm a bit glad I didn't have to repeat the entire game more than once. Fatal Labyrinth was first released on Sega's Meganet, a networked dial-up service that allowed people to play games by connecting their Mega Drive to a telephone line. The game inspired a similar title on the Sega Master System, Dragon Crystal, later ported to the Game Gear (which we'll get to soon). I assume positive feedback for the game prompted the release of Fatal Labyrinth on the Genesis. With that, we have our first rogue-like, or what I assume is one as I haven't played it through more than once.
The game begins almost immediately after the title screen, but instead of diving right into the castle the player needs to speak with everyone in town to gather some information. I walked away knowing that I should be careful when using items, and weapons have a trade off between hit rate and damage depending on the type. A dragon living in the nearby castle of Dragonia had his ghouls steal the Holy Goblet. In doing so, the land was plunged into darkness, and the call for a hero to step forward to defeat dragon was answered by a nameless warrior. Armed with only a knife, he entered the mysterious castle.
This is where the game really starts
For those that aren't familiar with rogue-likes, Rogue was a simple dungeon crawler game that randomized items, equipment, and floor layouts every game. The real charm of this genre is the sheer depth of actions available any given turn. For every action the player takes the enemies take one as well. While that's true in this game, the number actions are more limited. The player can move into or attack an adjacent square, search, or use an item from the menu. Equipping items is a free action; however, you can also throw equipment at enemies for extra ranged damage at the expense of the equipment. In this first room I didn't have much faith in my knife, so I maneuvered myself to the axe and used that. Axes are the least accurate, but at this level have three times the damage.
I'll take your car sir
The display shows the current floor, food level, and gold in addition to the player's rank, HP, and combat stats. It didn't dawn on me until the end of the game that the L01 in the above picture was the current floor level, and not the player's level. The first few floors went by quickly with my trusty axe. I felt confident enough to equip every ring, taste every potion, and read every scroll. I was very lucky not to suffer from any ill effects during this experimental phase. I decided to try out all my items because I thought I was stuck. Items come in the form of staffs, rings, potions, scrolls. Each one begins with only a color description; the only way to discover their true nature is to use the staff, equip the ring, quaff the potion, or read the scroll. Equipment on the other hand have set names, and their abilities are probably not random.
Not stuck, just needed to search every wall
Running through all the items, I identified a lot of anti-magic staffs, the healing potion, a permanent power-up potion, and rings of healing, armor, and fire. I wasn't sure what the fire ring did while equipped, but when I hurled it at an enemy it caused fire damage. The only scroll I had was monster confusion. For those looking for hints on beating this game, my biggest suggestion is to test items after clearing out all monsters and with some food nearby to pick up. Running out of food causes HP to slowly drain, and removes the natural healing that happens every 8 steps or so. The healing ring halves that number, so I had to keep switching between armor and healing rings. Even more annoying are bows, which require selecting use from the menu each time to attack.
This is the main reason I didn't use a bow more than once
I'm pretty sure this could have been simplified by combining the look button 'C' that allows me to face the character in a direction without moving them, and the search button. Bows aren't all that useful in the first place though as most enemies have some kind of range attack, they're prone to missing, and the damage is low. I flipped between my starting hand axe, to a silver sword, and then to a trident. The ability to actually hit the enemies more often outweighed the extra damage of the axe.
Level 10 was a large open room that would have killed me without a confusion scroll
Floor 10 was when the game got serious. At the time I didn't know there were only 30 levels to the castle, but I noticed the tile change. Without a confusion scroll to use on level 10, I'm fairly certain all the enemies would have line of sight and head straight for me. Confusion makes their movement random, except if they have an attack that can reach me. When moving while in range of a monster's attack, they get to take an attack of opportunity. On the very next level I ran into a ghost that outclassed other monsters. I think my armor was lagging a bit behind because I had to burn through 2 healing potions just to survive. Floor 12 provided a good number of armor upgrades along with a Shinobi Sword, which just about doubled by weapon power.
Trying to grind didn't work out very well
The blue jelly enemies split randomly, but I'm not sure how experience points and rank work as I killed over 40 of them without gaining any more levels. There may be a cap for each floor. The red tile illustrates a trap. There are only two types of traps: the alarm alerts all enemies to the trapped room, and a pit trap that drops down to the previous floor. I'm thankful the layouts don't change between visits as an endless series of random pits would be a nightmare. A hidden timer ticks in the background, and will respawn the enemies once reached. The respawned enemies will auto-target, and they are also much stronger. Not a big deal in the early stages, but quite deadly on later levels.
Dancing randomizes movement, another enemy confusion scroll saved me here
At level 20 the floor tiles changed once again, this time to yellow and grey. The levels breezed by until I ran into a couple cursed items. I wasn't cautious enough with them. Even though I had potions and scrolls to remove curses, they didn't restore my food, which dropped to zero due to the curse. At one point I had to rush through a level hoping to find food. Once I found the food I was surrounded by enemies. Luckily I had a teleport scroll and ended up in a defensible location.
While still low on food I rushed through the last two levels. Once again I lucked out that I had exactly two confuse scrolls left, so I didn't have to worry too much about the monsters. I found a Masamune, which I used through the end of the game. On level 30, I found what I assumed was the dragon, and blew through all my magic rings. It wasn't the right dragon, and found I could instead walk right up to the holy goblet. I claimed it for my own.
I missed picking up that sword as it disappeared with all the enemies when I grabbed the goblet
Blinding light emitted from the goblet destroyed the enemies and illuminated stairs to the roof. On top of the castle, the dragon lord was waiting for me. The goblet had fully healed me, and brought my food to 50. With that it's hard to imagine losing. The dragon is easily dodged, and it's possible to regain all HP. He casts teleport and dance randomly, and it can't be suppressed with an anti-magic staff, but it relies on line of sight. The dragon dropped armor that allowed me to fly back to the town.
I can fly, I can fly, I can fly~~
With that, the game is over. It would definitely have grown old after a while, and I know I would have run into bad luck on subsequent attempts. As a rogue-like(lite?) it's fairly easy and forgiving to allow as many strategic mistakes as I made during my run. Also, there's no save system, so I needed to beat it all in a single session. There are apparently continues at every 5th level had I died, but I'm not sure what it saves. On to the rating!

Elapsed Time: 3h52m (Final Time: 3h52m)

Next adventure?
Combatant - Combat is challenging all the way through, although the final boss is a bit of a pushover. The options throughout the game kept things interesting, and the enemies are varied well throughout. Battle prowess centered around the armor and power stats of the character. Rewards for battle are limited to experience towards the next rank, but since it's hidden it's hard to say how things are balanced; I never felt overpowered.
Rating: 6
I really don't
Admirer - Rank is advanced by defeating enemies, but there aren't any options for how to build up the character. He never gains any abilities, and magic is limited to one-time use items. One nice thing is that the character's appearance changes based on equipment, but the number of graphics to represent each piece is limited to the type of equipment. Controls are smooth considering the game runs on a series of turns of movement.
Rating: 3

Puzzler - There aren't any puzzles, although I suppose the random items offer some strategy to minimize negative effects. The main quest is laid out in the beginning, and nothing really changes. I gave an extra point here for the multiple ways items can interact throughout each game.
Rating: 2
Sounds cursed... let's equip it anyway!
Instigator - The story is just a framework for the dungeon crawl. Nothing happens between the intro and ending scenes. There isn't much to be immersed in, and there's no influence on the story throughout the game. Still, the additional descriptions for items help quite a bit, so I gave an extra point here for that.
Rating: 2
That's quite a mouthful
Collector - There's a large number of items in the game. So many in fact that I still had some ???? items in my inventory at the end. However, inventory is limited to 8 of each type. There were many instances where I had to skip over additional rings and potions. It's only possible to place items on the ground, but all those are lost after ascending to the next floor. There's no stairs down. The strength of each item is revealed once equipped or once an identify scroll is used. There's gold too, but I have no idea if it's actually used for anything (maybe for buying continues).
Rating: 4
So many potions that I just started using them to make room
Explorer - What exactly is there to see in dungeon after dungeon. At least the tile-set changed every 10 levels. The music was pretty good, but nothing amazing. Graphics were decent too. There's nothing to really discover though, no points of interest, and the atmosphere is bland. The only other positive aspect is that there's nothing really preventing a player from ascending to the top and killing the dragon except for having the proper equipment and levels.
Rating: 2

Final Rating: 19 [32%]
Let's fly home
Up next is Drakkhen. I've beaten the game before, so it's infamy doesn't phase me. I expect it to be rather short, and then it's on to a Shining in the Darkness. That's a game I played while very young when someone brought over a Genesis, and didn't have a chance to play again until I joined a game service called GameTap. I was on the beta team for quite a while and tried out many of their titles.


  1. This would have been something I would have loved to rent as a kid (remember renting video games? Can you still do that?). Too bad I somehow missed it... Never got into rogue-likes, though a shorter, easier one might have been more my style.

    I'm curious about the next game, since I never played that either, though the name pops up from time to time.

    1. Drakkhen was one of the games we rented. I think the only rental service that's still around for games is GameFly. I haven't seen a video store in quite a while. I didn't beat it as a kid, but I bought it about 4 years ago and beat it somehow.

    2. Family Video is a thriving chain of video rental stores in the midwest, and they have a decent game section.

    3. Good to know they're still out there, but it's definitely not as booming as it used to be when Blockbuster was king.

  2. I rented this as a kid. I remember it being a budget Genesis title. It was too hard for me as I didn't get very far at the time having never played a rogue like before. I maybe tried 10 playthroughs of varying success before returning it. I always just had to try out every new thing. Much to my detriment. But yes everything g does change each playthrough and the dungeons are always different.

    1. Good to know. I can imagine this being very hard with the mentality of using/equipping everything as soon as it's picked up.

  3. Some of the rings, like the fire one, only function as throwables, which is strange but also an interesting idea.

    1. Ah, good to know. I think it'd be interesting to have some kind of hidden increase like extra damage, extra attacks/actions, or the ability to always escape without taking a hit. I guess they wanted to keep it simple though.

  4. Can't believe you beat the game on your first attempt! I played it a long time ago and I think I didn't get further than about 20-25 levels without dying.

  5. Congratulations on beating Fatal Labyrinth without save states! Luck smiled on you. Equipping a cursed item in this game is pretty much a death sentence, and the "continues" still leave the hero bereft of most of his equipment, as I remember.

    Since you didn't die, you didn't get to see one of the most widely cherished and remembered features of the game - the tombstone marking the hero's grave after his death. The one and only use for all the hero's amassed gold is to embellish this tombstone.

    I read a FAQ that suggested testing items by throwing them against a wall instead of using/equipping them on the player. This sacrifices the item, but other items of that type remain identified for the rest of the game.

    Dragon Crystal, the "cousin" of Fatal Labyrinth, is almost exactly the same in terms of gameplay mechanics. Dragon Crystal also has no story other than the framing narrative of its intro and ending. A dragon follows the player around, but it never does anything. At all.

    Looking forward to Drakkhen and especially Shining in the Darkness. I loved SitD back in the day. It's a bit of a grindy dungeon crawler, as JRPGs go, but it isn't nightmare-inducing like Wizardry.

    1. Yeah, so lucky! I equipped two cursed weapons, the Blood Sword (should have known better, right?) and the Golden Axe. I took a chance on the Shinobi Blade. Good to know about continues.

      Tombstones... I almost want to play again to see that. I did think of throwing items at enemies, but that didn't seem to help identify them. Maybe walls are better for that.

      I saw someone play a bit of Dragon Crystal. Should be fun, but seemed more random with equipment drops. I remember the dragon helping to protect a side at least.

      Drakkhen should be wrapped up this week I think, unless I get stuck somewhere. I'm looking forward to Shining in the Darkness as well. I played up to a locked door before, and that's all I remember.

  6. I'm really looking forward to you hitting Uncharted Waters, a game that's far more simplistic than it appears, but I loved the SNES game as a kid and still play the DOS version (which plays a bit faster) now and then.

    The sequel, New Horizons, is nearly universally praised as a better game, but I think it's junk and have reasons why I think so, but I'll save those for when you actually get to the game.

    1. Well, I'm looking forward to both games. :)

      I hope no one minds that I'm skipping over the NES and Genesis ports.

    2. I'd be willing to forgive that if you played the Genesis version of New Horizons, I hear the first game is a probrably better on the SNES due to how due,ing is handled or something.

    3. Is there a difference? I only have the SNES version, but if you want to send me the Genesis cart I'd be happy to send it back once I'm done; otherwise, I hope you'll settle for the SNES.