Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi Review (Switch)
The Nintendo Switch has slowly but surely built up an impressive library of first-person dungeon crawlers over the years. Its repertoire has broadened substantially from the early days of Heroes of the Monkey Tavern (2017) and The Lost Child (2018). Now, we’re sometimes getting multiple DRPG releases each year, with 2021 alone ushering in Mary Skelter Finale, Vaporum: Lockdown, the Saviors of Sapphire Wings / Stranger of Sword City bundle, as well as a brand-new adventure (and topic of today’s review) by veteran DRPG developer, Experience: Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi.
I’ve always had a soft spot for dungeon crawlers, but after being somewhat disappointed by both Demon Gaze Extra and Mary Skelter 2 earlier this year, I was hoping that my next crawl would be one to remember. And as it turns out, this game fits that bill perfectly by packaging a gripping narrative with modernized systems that should appeal to DRPG fans and newcomers alike.
Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi takes place in late 1970’s Japan, where an entire city was mysteriously replaced by an massive, otherworldly structure (known as Yomi) 25 years ago. Research would soon reveal this monolith housed a mysterious, but highly sought after resource known as argen, and that Yomi’s massive structure jutting from the earth paled in comparison to how deep its chasms actually went below the surface. The discovery of argen sparked a massive race to mine as much of the resource as possible, with many companies cropping up to take advantage of the new “gold rush.”
Argen mining isn’t for the faint of heart, though. Yomi is infested with otherworldly creatures that can only be combated by argen-enhanced humans known as Undernauts. But even as an Undernaut, the risk is high, though the profitably provided by the trade makes it appealing nonetheless. That said, argen mining has seen a decrease in popularity over the past few decades, leading to even more demand by companies willing to pay the price for those still willing to take on rather dangerous jobs.
This ultimately leads to a band of Undernauts that serve as the focal point of the story. A high-paying, but equally dangerous job contracted by the Cassandra Company would have a set of green Undernauts mining the new, unexplored District 99 within the sprawling labyrinth of Yomi. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be long before a string of horrific and shocking incidents would see the denizens of District 99 trapped, many wounded or killed, and with no way to return – let alone communicate – to the outside world. As they search for a solution, and simply try to survive, the Undernauts soon discover that there’s far, far more to the labyrinth of Yomi than meets the eye.
Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi spins a genuinely dark, disturbing tale that is steeped in lore and should leave the player guessing for the entirety of the adventure. While a chunk of this is gated behind a text-based glossary, there are still plenty of beats that unfold through natural game progression. Experience veterans may see many similarities and parallels to previous works, but Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi very much remains a standalone adventure that anyone, including newcomers, can enjoy. All considered, it is easily one of the best narratives told by developer Experience.
Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi is a first-person dungeon crawler that follows a band of Undernauts that explore Yomi’s District 99 and beyond. Players will map out a wide variety of dungeons in a grid-based fashion, while periodically returning to camp to refresh and re-stock supplies. Occasionally, a mysterious entity will inject themselves into the company’s radio line with some cryptic and oftentimes disturbing bits of information. And with the transceiver incapable of two-way communication, there’s naught the party can do but listen and do their best not to be shaken by it.
Dungeon diving in Yomi requires the frequent use of Yomi flowers – tools that can alter a dungeon by adding bridges, doors, ladders, nullifying traps, hazards, and even downright deleting/adding static enemies to a map. Both the Yomi flowers and the overall might of the Undernauts themselves are ingrained in the very same resource of which they seek: argen. This leads to a continuous cycle of defeating enemies and mining argen in order to bolster the player’s toolkit to reach even further into the depths of Yomi.
One of the most important things to prioritize in any new section of a dungeon is activating the latent argen throughout its flooring and walls. By fighting a specific static enemy (denoted in purple), players can activate nearby argen to permanently nullify enemy ambushes (or “strike first” situations), as well as increase the player’s view distance (can be more useful than it sounds). Side quests (task list) are designed to be rather “hands off” by simply rewarding the player at various milestones with EXP, resources, and a lot of useful items.
Before setting out, the player must create the Undernaut chief before soon filling out the party with five additional Undernaut subordinates. Each new character begins with a default profile that can then be tweaked to best suit the player’s tastes. These customizations include name, portrait (that surprisingly pulls from both old and new Experience DRPGs), background (initial stat distribution), job (or classes), trinket (bonus stat), and finally, bonus stat distribution. Many of these components can be adjusted later, including stat distribution and job choice, making it one of the more approachable DRPG character creation systems out there.
Jobs and Skills
The flexible character creation system is one thing, but the ease of adjusting jobs and skills takes it a step further. Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi allows virtually untethered freedom to explore any kind of build and setup that the player wants, without having to worry about setting much of anything in stone. Undernauts can change their job from camp, and can reallocate skills pretty much anywhere without restriction. The only caveat is advanced jobs, which are only sparingly available and vastly increase both the potency and depth of any given job’s toolkit (and do not auto-promote a new job upon change). While hardcore and old school fans of dungeon crawlers may be turned off by the amount of carefree customization in the hands of players here, it undeniably lowers the barrier of entry for everyone else, including subgenre newcomers.
Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi utilizes a fairly straightforward turn-based combat system with a couple noteworthy considerations. The party consists of a vanguard and rearguard, but unlike some previous Experience DRPGs, it is fixed for three of each rather than allowing the player to adjust that based on their own needs. Also making a return are certain party-wide buffs that will last until the party returns to camp, though some of these can be erased by certain enemies. The party as a whole has access to the Switch Boost system, which infuses the Undernauts with one of three argen-based boosts for a single turn, some of which are integral to downing more nefarious creatures and ultimately simplifying the majority of encounters. “Overcharge” makes all skills cost no MP while maximizing potency, “duracharge” reduces incoming damage by a substantial amount while also healing the party for a small amount, and “neurocharge” vastly increases the party’s accuracy, evasion, and spoils if an enemy dies with it on and a treasure chest is awarded at the end (more on this later).
Switch Boosts are fully recharged at the beginning of each fight, but require at least one turn to recharge before using them again in combat. This ultimately means that the party could spam high-powered moves for free every other turn, or could play it safe by reducing a significant amount of damage in the same manner. Smart use of this will trivialize the vast majority of encounters save for a handful of boss fights and the postgame, depending on how much grinding is done.
Should the party meet their demise, the game typically won’t be over. There is no permadeath in Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi thanks to a plot-related boon thats specifics will not be spoiled here. Essentially, fallen undernauts will be revivable in exchange for a certain amount of argen, further straying away from the genre’s more hardcore roots but is very much a welcome addition in my eyes.
Farming Made Easy
Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi simplifies the grinding and item farming process by way of “monflowers,” which are yomi flowers capable of setting static encounters anywhere within a dungeon that automatically regenerate each time the player goes to the base and returns to the dungeon. Defeating the monsters spawned by monflowers will always result in a treasure chest, the contents of which can be multiplied by landing a killing blow with the aforementioned neurocharge switch boost activated. It’s still up to the player to best the treasure chest’s lock – unlocking can and will go wrong – but spoils are always guaranteed. By exploiting this, the team will soon be inundated with useful treasure that can be equipped, enhanced, or broken down for argen back at camp.
The steady, satisfying gear treadmill is one of the most appealing systems in Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi. There are tons of gearing options for each job to choose from, and the UI makes these frequent comparisons a relatively painless process. There are many instances where one may want to hold on to situational gear – or sidegrades – for the sole purpose of handling specific situations with more ease. All equippable gear can also be enhanced back at the base in exchange for argen, though this can get expensive fast. The sheer amount of viable options available to each character and job makes the gearing process consistently fulfilling.
If there’s one thing that Experience has improved upon considerably over the years, it has been their aesthetic toolkit. Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi feels like the next cog in that natural progression. The new portraits and many of the static backdrops exude a mid 20th-century feel thats appeal is undeniably fresh. But even outside of that main setting, there is a ton of variety in terms of locales that the Undernauts will traverse, including poisonous swamps, decrepit castles, ominous mines, and even towers made of gold. The game also features some exceptionally designed character and enemy assets despite the latter suffering from quite a bit of recycling. The weakest link in the presentation of Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi is the soundtrack, but that is simply due to it not being overwhelmingly memorable rather than actually being poorly implemented or designed. Every track feels properly placed despite that general lack of being really memorable.
Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi may lack the brutal difficulty often synonymous with the subgenre, but the culmination of QoL features, compelling narrative, and unique setting make it shine nonetheless. While some may struggle to swallow the game’s full retail price tag, I feel that its 30+ hour base game plus a post game more than matches the cost of entry, especially for those that want to play through multiple times with different party compositions. Minor potential complaints aside, Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi is still one of the best DRPGs that developer Experience has to offer.