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Ruinsmagus Review: Gorgeous, Repetitive VR Dungeon Crawler

Ruinsmagus boasts fantastic art and solid combat but its dungeon raids can’t stave off repetition. Read on for our full Ruinsmagus review.

Speaking as someone that doesn’t have any special affinity for the medium, I have to admit anime works really well in VR. You can really feel those big, bug-eyed characters staring into your soul and the connective tissue between player and NPC grows faster than it does in more realistic worlds. Plus the overall visual style really pops inside a headset.

Ruinsmagus uses this to great effect. It’s a warm-hearted adventure that features many of the hallmarks of great anime: an enthusiastic and personable cast, sprawling lore to flesh out its idyllic world and a sweeping score that perfectly touches on both the comedic and dramatic at the right moments. As with Tokyo Chronos and others before it, it really feels like stepping into worlds previously only glanced at in manga and on screens. As a piece of VR presentation, Ruinsmagus is a love letter ready to be signed, sealed and delivered.

Some of its other elements aren’t quite there yet, though.

There is, in fairness, surprising depth to this VR dungeon crawler. Playing as a member of the titular guild, you spend your days venturing beyond a small settlement and into a set of ancient ruins to gradually uncover their mysteries. Stone guardians stalk the hallways, ready to dish out bullet hell-style attacks. To fend them off, you wield a variety of magic attacks as you defend yourself with a shield.

To its credit, developer CharacterBank has put a lot of thought into the game’s combat. You have a standard ranged attack backed up by two special moves — all of which can be swapped out with new abilities unlocked through story progression — and a combination of short dash moves and timing-based shield parrying give you lots of options on both the offensive and defensive sides.

And, when it clicks, Ruinsmagus’ action is pretty great. You can preemptively cast an ice turret or magic shield to hide behind before enemies pop up, and then circle aroun d them with dashes to avoid damage as you throw fireballs, summon lighting or charge a barrage of bullets. It might not be an excessively physical experience, but the use of shields and some gestures at least keeps the action rooted in VR more than a lot of other games can muster.

But this much versatility comes at the cost of some intuition. The control scheme can be awkward, with major actions assigned to strange combinations and gestures. Reloading requires you to point downward and then press both the right grip and trigger buttons at the same time. Without staring directly at your hand to view the animation, you never quite know if you did it right. Changing items is done by flicking an analog stick upward, which makes it tough to quickly cycle through them in the middle of a fight and can be frustrating when you’re in dire need of a healing potion.

Your familiarity with the controls will improve with practice but the overall layout could do with a rethink. Items are located on your chest and you can easily grab them by accident instead of summoning a special move, and many spells require you to actually throw your attack which is a historically imprecise science for VR.

What’s more problematic, though, is that Ruinsmagus is an inherently repetitive game in just about every respect. The same handful of rooms are used time and again to face off with an increasingly familiar pool of enemy types that don’t require you to change tactics, and many levels feature bullet sponge boss battles that bloat the otherwise brief mission structure.

Though the genre’s already well-served in VR, I suspect this would have worked better as a sharper, more varied roguelite that repurposed many of these mechanics and staved off the tedium. You can practically hear CharacterBank acknowledge these issues as the story progresses. In one section, some of the caverns are redecorated with graffiti, and a smattering of new enemy types are introduced as you progress into new acts.

None of these fundamentally change the core experience, though, and some of the side-plots ultimately come off more as padding than anything else. Unless you’re absolutely speeding through the campaign without taking in the story it’ll take you at least seven or eight hours to see through all the missions, but there isn’t enough variety here to sustain your interest all the way through.

But, while sometimes stale, the game’s combat is never bad, and fans of anime in general will likely find it worth seeing through to enjoy the other aspects of the game. As you play, more areas of the town open up and, though superficial, it’s a soothing delight to explore, meet wholesome characters and take pictures at cafes and stores.

There’s even the occasional flash of genuine brilliance like boss introductions take place through 3D virtual windows and offer fun, stylized sequences. Some of the cast you’ll meet are a joy to interact with like your plucky sidekick, Iris, and the combination of beautiful cobbled streets and calming violin tracks is enough to make you want to stay a minute or two longer in some areas.

Some of this is spoiled by some fairly common launch bugs, including one that makes characters appear as ghostly silhouettes missing their textures, and the dialogue could use another pass for typos, but I’m hopeful these will be fairly quick fixes.

Ruinsmagus Review – Final Impressions

Ruinsmagus is a gorgeous game with a lot to love, but it’s a padded experience that quickly succumbs to repetition. While the combat itself is engaging, heading into the same set of ruins — often even the exact same rooms — to fight the same enemies for the 100th time soon wears thin, and more could have been done to switch up the experience over the course of its campaign. Still, from a purely presentational perspective, the game is an absolute delight and a joy to spend time in. For some, that will be enough to love Ruinsmagus, but the game would need some core structural changes to become a true VR classic.

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