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Fatal Labyrinth: The Most Cynical RPG!
by: Dr. Boogie

At its heart, an RPG is all about assuming the role of the hero and guiding him to glory and victory over the forces of evil by power-leveling him until even the most challenging foes are unable to lay a finger on him. Sometimes, a story gets worked into that mix, but stories are for suckers, anyways. The bottom line is you're in it for the long haul, starting off as a shrimpy little guy struggling in his encounters with slugs and rats, and work your way up to master of sword and sorcery, cleaving your enemies in 'twain with your mighty Sword of Storms, turning aside their blows with your Dragonskin armor, and blasting them to pieces with meteors summoned from that magic ring you found in the Demon's Watercloset. There are a few breaks from tradition here and there, and I'd like to call your attention to a couple of those in an old Sega Genesis game entitled Fatal Labyrinth.

Trademarks exist even in fantasy!

Like I said, plot and storylines are for chumps. In this case, it's about getting some Holy Goblet or something from the bad guy at the top of this castle that just happens to sit right next to the town that you live in. In typical RPG fashion, you set out from town with little more than the shirt on your back and a pocket knife for fighting off the armies of the damned. Then, it's sink-or-swim time as you scour the enemy's dungeons in search of better gear and monsters to slay and fill your experience meter. Pretty standard fare, really. Then there's the food...

Screw silverware!

You'll need to keep yourself well-fed as you explore the titular labyrinth. However, you only packed enough food for around ten minutes of exploration. Luckily, there's a lot of spare meat just lying around on the floor in the labyrinth. Mmm-mm. Here's where it gets weird, though: sure, you have to keep yourself fed, but if you eat too much...

Must... eat... more... floormeat!
You die.

That's right, you die. Your character does not have enough self-control to stop eating before a nasty case of death sets in. To make matters worse, you can never tell how much food is in that pile of food you just found on the floor (and by the way, the fact that you found it on the floor is of no concern), and so you may yourself accidentally stuffed to the point of bursting when all you wanted was a little gnosh. Life is indeed cruel.

Speaking of death, that brings me to the next unique feature in the game: gold.

Gold, measured in dollars.

Gold itself isn't that unique when it comes to RPGs. If you're looking to buy yourself that shiny new armor, or a fancier sword than the one you took from that random encounter a short while back, odds are your transaction is going to be gold-based. Sometimes, the designers will try to work in their own monetary system like gil, or meseta, or what have you, but gold is the most widely-accepted currency in the realm of fantasy. It's even used in Fatal Labyrinth, but in this case, it's used for a slightly different purpose. In RPGs past, you could buy new equipment and spells and such with your gold, but in this game, gold only buys you one thing:

Planning for retirement.
A better tombstone.

In a way, it kind of makes sense. I mean, you wouldn't expect the keeper of this huge labyrinth to be running any shops. If he wants money so bad, all he has to do is kill the offending adventurer. Then again, maybe some of the more intelligent monsters would open a shop to squeeze a little extra scratch out of the protagonist and line their monster pockets. Whatever the case, gathering gold in this game is, let's face it, kind of pointless. A fat purse will only serve to glorify your death, and so really, the only people who'll pick up gold along the way are pessimists. That's why I always picked up the gold along the way. Further complicating this utterly uncomplicated situation is the fact that certain bags of gold in the later levels will actually turn out to be mimics that will attack you when get too close, which is quite the dilemma: do you try to pick up that seemingly innocuous bag of gold and risk getting to your fancy grave a bit earlier?

No, you don't. Damn, I guess it really isn't much of a dilemma after all.

Still, I have to say that with the overeating problem and the bit with the gold only buying nicer digs for your impending death, this game is one of the most (if not THE most) cynical RPGs out there. Heck, while they're at it, why don't they just give the game's early weapons names like "puny dagger," and "sissy axe," or just name them all "filler"? Why not make the game's early enemies creatures like "noisy horsefly," or "lethargic puppy"? Maybe I'll just save those for when I make an RPG of my own. You'll fight only the weakest, most pitiful enemies you can think of in the early stages, and instead of gold, the only currency in the land will be those crappy weapons you find early on. Want that shiny new spear? That'll cost you eight shortswords. A new suit of armor, perhaps? Twelve rusty handaxes and three wooden daggers. Plus, instead of becoming more powerful, leveling up will only mean that you're one step closer to death, just like in real life. Awesome.

Eye live on an eye-land in eye-daho, or w-eye-oming.

Questions or Comments about this piece?
email Dr. Boogie

*** You too can play Fatal Labyrinth! ***


Note: to play this game you'll need a Sega Genesis emulator.

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