In anime, there is a popular genre called isekai, which means “another world” and is characterised by the protagonist travelling from their normal, boring world into one filled with magic and monsters. Normally, it is a light-hearted affair, with the main character settling into their new life and eventually managing to save their new home while also falling in love with one or more well-endowed ladies. Lost Ruins shows a more brutal side of the isekai formula, sending a young woman into a dark and dangerous castle and tasking her with surviving.
Developed by Altari Games, Lost Ruins is a survival-focused Metroidvania in which the player controls a young woman who has been summoned to a dungeon with no memories of who she is, even forgetting her own name. She is told by the suspiciously helpful mage Beatrice that she has been summoned to the castle to defeat the Dark Lady that has been sealed away in the castle. According to Beatrice, defeating the monsters that guard the Dark Lady is the key to restoring the Heroine’s memories.
The story of Lost Ruins has a few twists along the way, but it is largely confined to the background while players focus on the exploration and combat that fans of the Metroidvania genre will expect. Between the pixel art style and punishingly difficult combat, this game is a retro love affair. Unfortunately, that isn’t always a good thing.
The game takes place across the sprawling castle that the Heroine finds herself in. There are the kinds of environments that you’d expect, starting in the dank sewers you’re initially dropped into. Monsters range from slow and easy-to-kill to annoyingly fast and deadly, but most can be avoided through liberal use of the dodge roll feature. Because there isn't a levelling system in the game, there isn’t much reason to engage in combat with all the enemies you come across, aside from the items of wildly varying quality and usefulness that they drop.
Combat can be frustrating at times. Many of the enemies can throw combos at players that instantly kill them, especially on the higher difficulty levels. Picking and choosing how you engage in fights is one of the most important skills, with certain monsters being weak to different spells and weapons or having easily learned attack patterns. This means you’ll spend a lot of time switching between weapons and equipment in the menu. This can be a slow, repetitive process and the game is crying out for a quicker way to toggle between equipment sets.
You are going to die a lot as you play, which will poof you back to your most recent save point. These are frequent enough that it won’t feel like a huge setback each time, but, unlike many Metroidvania titles, the save points don’t restore health or mana. This makes the few restoration items that you pick up even more valuable. The balance between difficulty and payoff is crucial to these games and it doesn't feel like the developers got it quite right here.
The exploration aspects of Lost Ruins are more fun, with weapons and equipment scattered around the castle in regular troves. There are also quests to complete, most of which are totally optional but also give valuable bits of equipment and lore. An early quest, for example, rewards players with backstory on the first boss as well as a swimsuit that makes them immune to lightning damage in water, something that changes the first boss from overwhelmingly difficult to merely challenging.
Exploring the castle is pretty straightforward for the most part. There are the occasional puzzles to solve, but usually it is just moving from one side of the map to the other, either avoiding or killing the monsters that populate it. Quick travel points, vending machines, and ancient desktop computers are scattered around, allowing you to use some of the gold that enemies drop to purchase new weapons and armour. We would have liked more puzzle-solving integrated into the game, but the puzzles that are there are interesting, if a tad simple.
The boss fights pose a healthy challenge and are likely to take several attempts to learn their patterns and abilities. Many can take out the player in one or two hits, so mistakes are punished swiftly and decisively. Visually, these are the most interesting parts of the game, most with multiple phases and designs that rise to take up most of the background. The biggest key with the boss fights is sorting out your equipment ahead of time and going in with the right magical and ranged options. Health and mana restoring items are fairly rare, so avoiding taking damage and making every spell count is more important than anything else.
Occasionally, you will stumble upon other summoned schoolgirls that are in the same situation as yourself. As might be expected, you’ll eventually need to fight them as well, but getting to know them a bit ahead of time helps flesh out the game. This is especially interesting since one of the extra unlockable modes allows you to play as a combination of three of these displaced girls. It is fun to see how they interpret the events of the game and, potentially, escape the deadly castle. These, along with the few NPCs that you run into, breathe life into the otherwise harsh and empty world.
The most appealing part of Lost Ruins is the retro-inspired pixel art, which looks great in both handheld and docked modes on the Switch. The challenge of this art style is making all the enemies look unique without everything blending them into the background, and Altari generally succeeds. While some of the darker areas could do with a touch of texture to help bring the backgrounds to life, most of them are vibrant and fun just as they are. The giant bosses that loom over you look great and feel just as dangerous as they should.
Between multiple endings that can be unlocked depending on what quests you complete and more difficult game modes for those who like a punishing challenge, there is a lot to each playthrough of Lost Ruins that will keep players coming back. Though the overall combat can be a little repetitive, there is enough exploration and weapon variety to ensure that there will be a combat style to suit you. If you're a fan of Metroidvania or survival titles, or very attractive pixel art, there is a lot to enjoy here, but the challenge can be unbalanced at times.