We’ve looked at several games over the past few months with a focus on fanservice: some of them offering cheeky, inoffensive fun in short bursts (Dead or Alive Xtreme 3: Scarlet); others spicing up some lacklustre mechanics with surreal frivolity (Panty Party); others still that utterly fail to disguise boring gameplay with jiggle (Senran Kagura: Peach Ball). Following this run of diminishing returns, we approached Matrix Software’s Omega Labyrinth Life with a degree of caution. Defying the censors (on Switch at least) with the series’ first western release, we're pleasantly surprised to find a solid little dungeon crawler beneath the skimpy lingerie and absurdity, although whether it’s worth the hefty asking price is really down to your affection for the series.
It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch, but the foundation is solid, if unimaginative. The series started on PS Vita in 2015 but mechanically, there’s nothing going on here that couldn’t have run at lower resolutions on a PS1 and at times we wished it was a little more ambitious.
Besides the outstanding student body of Belles Fleurs Academy itself (more on that later), the pride asset of the institute is the Grand Garden that has been in bloom for a hundred years. Just before arriving, exchange student Hinata Akatsuki inexplicably finds herself flung into a strange multi-floored, monster-filled cave. One thing leads to another and the Holy Blossom that keeps the flowers in everlasting bloom is compromised causing the entire garden to wilt and die. Oopsie daisy.
It’s up to Hinata to discover the cause by making friends and battling through umpteen dungeons to recover the Holy Blossom and get to the bottom of things. You’ll be taking on monsters with a partner character (or alone, if you so choose) in a host of randomly generated dungeons, harvesting seeds, tending the garden and generally restoring the colourful academy grounds to their former glory. As the story progresses, you’ll find gear, befriend students and buff both with a variety of enhancements through the sexiest of means.
This includes sizing up unassessed items by grinding phallic ‘Ambiguity’ crystals between your character’s breasts, playing TFT (that’s ‘Tit-For-Tat’, a chesty version of Rock-Paper-Scissors) with your girlfriends and resident garden fairies, and ‘augmenting’ the girls by stimulating them in the greenhouse (not a euphemism). Skill Blooms involve touching various zones across their bodies indicated by flashing hearts to learn new skills and level up. Obviously, the touchscreen can be used for this interaction, or you can use a clumsy cursor to drive the girl into a frenzy until liquid sprays the screen.
Yes, all the fanservice you could want is present and correct, although after the third or fourth time of visiting the spa and watching the same event play out again, you’ll be thankful for the option to skip to the end and just get the stats boost.
The game is fully translated with English text accompanying Japanese audio. You can switch between five text speeds, hit ‘Y’ to toggle Auto mode or skip the story entirely with ‘ZR’. The writing is serviceable and might even raise the odd smile, although interestingly an f-bomb caught us totally off guard and felt conspicuously out of place; odd for such a supposedly ‘adult’ title, but Omega Labyrinth Life is fuelled by a juvenile appeal. There’s nothing wrong with that – it was just strange that a curse word felt so jarring in a game that’s very much 18+.
Significant character interactions take place with character portraits and text boxes and the ladies bounce each time they speak. Hitting the ‘+’ button at any time brings up a hand icon (or you can simply use the touchscreen) enabling you to ‘interact’ with them at will. The girls respond with varying degrees of embarrassment and/or irritation as you poke, prod and pull at their billowing chests. Whip-like jiggle physics make them wobble like blancmange; we found it comical and a little confounding.
The very first thing you’ll notice upon talking direct control of your chibi-style (in the dungeon view) protagonist is her strict 8-way movement on an invisible grid (hold 'Y' and it appears). There’s no interstitial animation between those eight directions and it doesn’t make the best first impression. From a visual perspective (putting aside the excellent character portraits), Omega Labyrinth Life is functional; assets are clean and colourful but no more– think 3DS grade but super sharp.
Every step you take is a turn and enemies only move when you do. In a way, it’s not dissimilar to the Fixed Beat mode in Cadence of Hyrule, although tapping ‘Y’ enables you to change the direction you’re facing without using a turn. There are various control shortcuts to speed up dungeon traversal, although a hunger meter limits exploration time (unless, of course, you pack food).
Unlike Cadence of Hyrule, you press ‘A’ to attack the monsters and you can also move and attack diagonally. Defeating the assorted fiends unleashes Omega Power – stylised with the lowercase Greek symbol as 'ωP' – which accumulates and magically increases the size of your bust for the duration of your dungeon stay. Starting with Hinata’s C-cup (you can also play as other characters with different vital stats), a bountiful bosom increases your strength. If you thought that all that wallowing cleavage was simply for show, you’re obviously got a filthy mind.
Equipping your choice of stat-boosting bras and panties, you’ll find lingerie and all manner of loot strewn about the dungeon floors which you can collect and equip immediately on yourself or your AI partner (we usually wouldn't go anywhere near a pair of undies we found in a cave, but video games). This being a roguelike, dying will eject you back to the academy minus all your gear. You’ll discover ways to mitigate this risk – you can pay to ‘track’ up to ten items which can then be repurchased above ground, use Fairy Wings to retain your kit after being knocked out, or use an Escape Tome to scarper back to the academy with your spoils intact. Combining equipment using the synthesiser makes it stronger and you can add buffs in up to four slots, so you’ll want to ensure you don’t lose your best gear.
Shortcuts to menus, projectiles and special moves are accessed via the shoulder buttons. You unlock the ability to fast travel to locations rather than traipse through the flower beds of the school, although the menus could be more intuitive (and there’s no touchscreen input beyond touching the girls). The framerate chugs while moving around the garden – disappointing considering there’s nothing on display that should tax the hardware. On the plus side, the 8-way dungeon movement gives way to full analogue control, which feels more natural as you explore, chat with students, complete fetch quests, plant seeds and harvest nectar.
This ‘slow life’ section is a particular selling point (“Roguelike X Slow Life” the back of the imported box proclaims), although it amounts to tedious busy work. You soon unlock the ability to manage all your flower beds from the Bulletin Board, and even speed up time via a Flower Dial, but gardening is still a joyless grind and the surroundings are drab despite the searing colour.
The base dungeon crawler beneath all the bounciness and blushing is unremarkable, but solid. The variety of enemy types, weapons, potions and tomes are enough to entertain on their own and the game’s roguelike nature means you’ll soon be approaching rooms with the utmost caution and strategy, scanning for unseen traps, drawing enemies into corridors and using the dungeon layout to your advantage.
It’s rewarding, but it takes a while to get into. The first few hours are filled with unending tool tips and unlocks and an early difficulty spike forced us to build our entire inventory again by repeating previous dungeons several times over (hard resets don't work on the game's single save file). Soon, though, a whole economy involving Omega Power opens up, so as long as you keep some in reserve, you can expand the academy, do some landscaping and enjoy galleries of all the characters.
However, despite offering a change of pace, those 'slow' sections outside the dungeons never feel satisfying and could do with more polish. Many trees, bushes, fountains (interchangeable ‘curios’ as they’re called) have no collision detection and for all its colour, it feels distinctly 'budget' and old-fashioned. Elsewhere, inventory menus are a tad cumbersome. The dungeons are entertaining call backs to generations past, but returning afterwards to the stuttering, barren-looking academy hub cheapens the whole endeavour.
These things would be forgivable if this were a budget release, but D3 Publisher is charging full retail money for the base game, and there’s obviously DLC available for purchase, too. Simply put, the asking price is too high for an unadventurous genre game with a double side-order of fanservice. Strip away the sauciness and you’re left with fair roguelike dungeon crawler on a system with far more satisfying alternatives for a fraction of the price. Series stalwarts may find plenty to chew on, and the gameplay isn’t unsatisfying, it’s just unimaginative and there's very little to get your pulse racing.
Omega Labyrinth Life is a Whopper of a game – delicious and juicy on the poster, but it's really just salt and stodge. If you’re after some decent dungeon-crawling filler, it certainly does the job and there’s pleasure to be had, but there are far cheaper, more adventurous meals on Switch eShop that are ultimately more satisfying and won't leave you feeling mildly guilty. If you’re a curious onlooker whose interest is piqued, we’d wait for a sale; fanservice isn’t enough to justify the asking price at launch for anybody but diehard Omega Labyrinth devotees.