Library of Ruina Review - Screenshot 1 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Library of Ruina is less than the sum of its parts. While this visual novel's dialog sets up a well-established, deep world with interesting characters, its talky repetitiveness eschews plenty of opportunities to make the most of what it's trying to set up. And even with a compelling, card-based battle system that rewards clever play and a measured approach, both story and gameplay move too slowly to lend a tangible sense of progress thanks to poorly optimized menus, which ensure that any momentum falls through the cracks. We can see its charm for fans of a very specific type of visual novel, but coming in as fans of the snappy, tactical, and luck-driven satisfaction of other deckbuilders, this didn't scratch the itch we'd hoped it would.

You play as Roland, a street thug in Library of Ruina's cyberpunk dystopia who's been magically teleported to a mysterious library. Library of Ruina follows Roland and his custodian Angela as they attempt to build out the library and uncover its secrets. In order to fill the library's seemingly infinite credenza, Roland must defeat and kill other humans in battle to gain possession of their books which in turn earns him new cards to experiment with.

Library of Ruina Review - Screenshot 2 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Fighting opponents boils down to a turn-based and card-based combat system that will click with you pretty quickly if you've played any sort of turn-based game before. Small tweaks to this formula pop up here and here, but this card combat is largely familiar. Status effects, priority-based moves, deckbuilding, and the like are all part of the equation in Ruina's combat. Knocking your opponents' health bars down to zero requires an understanding of both its combat system and attack weaknesses and exploiting those weaknesses damages a secondary meter called the Stagger Meter. Characters with a depleted Stagger Meter can't attack and are vulnerable to every type of attack.

This adds in mini-objectives to play towards and strategize around, allowing for more frequent moments of satisfaction and a stronger sense of progress within each battle. Expanding your repertoire through deckbuilding provides extra depth as you unlock a handful of cards for each enemy you defeat and book you obtain. You can even burn books to get new cards. It's kind of similar to executing or fusing Personas in Persona 5 Royal.

Of course, understanding and accessing this, and plenty of Library of Ruina's other mechanics, hinges on being able to navigate its unwieldy menus. Slow and unresponsive, they are riddled with illegibly small text and with no option to make it bigger. Paired with frustrating design choices that make simple actions a confusing drag and then exacerbated by a lack of touchscreen support, this ported version defines unintuitiveness. If this were a shorter game whose gameplay wasn't almost entirely driven by paging through menus, this wouldn't be nearly as offensive as it is. But based on our research, this game takes anywhere from 120 to 250 hours to beat depending on how you play your cards. And based on our experience with the Switch version, at least one-third of your time playing will be spent digging through menus. Because menus drive nearly every aspect of Library of Ruina except for its visual novel-style cutscenes and make up most of the game's connective tissue, such a painfully prickly web of opaque options is unforgivable.

Library of Ruina Review - Screenshot 3 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

This rotten cartilage undermines so much of what Library of Ruina sets out to accomplish. Suddenly, every mechanic becomes less approachable as you fumble between two different screens to make sure you're adding the right cards to your deck before a battle or try to find the right page to help progress the story. It eventually clicks after hours of trial and error, but it never begins to feel natural or good. The best way we can describe it is like a mild bout of Stockholm Syndrome.

Library of Ruina's world is pretty interesting, though. Ruled by shady criminal organizations, you meet murderous denizens, each with their own reasons for coming to the library and facing death. Somewhere beneath the surface, there's a cool story about free will and just how far some are willing to go to get ahead in life.

Unfortunately, it treats much of its cast as disposable. Each chapter plays out the same: you send an invitation to someone on the street. After a brief introductory scene that establishes who's being invited and what they do, they all come to the library before being greeted by Angela. Then, you take them out. This vicious cycle paints a clear picture about the kind of dour world these characters live in, but it also makes each new group of characters feel disposable and indistinct from one another.

Library of Ruina Review - Screenshot 4 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Just like the combat, there's plenty of potential here, but in the hours that we've spent with Library of Ruina, we haven't seen this potential yield much more than hinting at something greater. But as we mentioned earlier, this is an incredibly long game and we haven't been able to see it through to completion during the review period. Unfortunately, its scope and length just don't match up; we'd much rather spend extended periods of time with these characters before killing them off so quickly. It could be so cool to see more from the cannibalistic chef or the fixers who've replaced most of their bodies with machine parts, but instead they meet their fate five minutes after being introduced. In rushing through these opportunities to revel in its world, Library of Ruina often speeds past some of its most compelling moments and characters.

Note. We're continuing our playthrough and will be updating this review with further thoughts in due course.


We wish we liked Library of Ruina more than we do; its world and characters touch on clever themes and storytelling devices, but never fully lean into its potential. Slapdash pacing coupled with sluggish, nerve-wracking menus makes playing Library of Ruina an exercise in courting digital whiplash as you cycle between rushed, truncated story beats and glacially-paced menus. If it had more engaging combat and a more efficient narrative setup, Library of Ruina would have really impressed us. Sadly, we don't feel very compelled to see it through to completion.