I’ve had a tough time deciphering what exactly Ruins Magus is over the past few months.
Initial trailers from 2021 suggested this gorgeous adventure might be a text-heavy visual novel experience akin to Tokyo Chronos. Then, at the Upload VR Showcase in December last year, we saw the first signs of combat, and wondered if the game might feature a kind of Japanese RPG battle system. Now that I’ve played it, I can actually tell you what Ruins Magus is: it’s a VR dungeon crawler. And a very good one at that.
Perhaps the best thing I could say about Ruins Magus right now is that, from its striking art direction right down to its fantasy premise, it feels like you’re inside an anime. You play as the newest member of the titular guild, a group of warriors, magicians and engineers that explores a deep set of ancient caverns carved into the belly of an enormous mountain. Nestled just outside the entrance is Grand Amnis, a prosperous gold rush town that makes its living from the findings of your expeditions. It’s also where you’ll get new missions, shop for items and talk to NPCs to learn more about the world.
Everything from the traditional character and set designs to the excitable Japanese voice acting is on-point here. Merchants sit in trinket-filled tents and guards patrol the streets with exotic weaponry in garbs that could fit right into a classic Final Fantasy game. Especially on Quest, there’s none of that ugly texture meshing that tells you you’re playing a drastically downscaled PC VR port. Granted it might not have the technical complexity of some of the headset’s more realistic titles, but it’s not hyperbole to say this is one of the best-looking games on the system.
If there’s one thing that is off-putting it’s the strangely eye-less NPCs, which either mask their gaze with armor or, more alarmingly, long fringes. It gives some characters an unintentionally creepy look, like you’re in a town populated by the extended family of the vengeful spirit in The Ring.
When you’re not exploring the town, you’ll be taking on one of the game’s 25+ missions, facing off with enemies in the ruins. This is where Ruins Magus reveals itself as a surprisingly robust action game. At the start, players have access to a simple fireball spell summoned with the right trigger, as well as two switchable special skills used with the right grip. One is another fireball that creates area-of-effect damage, whilst the other is a charged lightning attack that covers a wider space the longer you hold it down. On your left hand, meanwhile, is a shield used to block incoming projectiles and, with the right timing, even parry them with a squeeze of the left trigger.
Smooth locomotion mixes with a blink-style dash mechanic, and you can also grab grenades and health potions bought from the item shop off of your chest. In other words, there’s quite a lot to consider here, and balancing the different attack types with the fast-paced movement can be overwhelming at first. Ruins Magus’ button-heavy control scheme did leave me tying my fingers in knots as I tried to remember which combination of inputs did what, though hopefully that learning curve can be tamed in the full game.
I definitely hope that’s the case given that, in its moments of clarity, this is a really exciting and physical combat system. Enemy attacks are big, bright projectiles that are easy to spot but tough to time, meaning you’ll need to be ready to throw your shield up or dash forward at a moment’s notice. I especially like how some attacks even wind their way towards you in a zig zag, making it hard to judge when they’ll arrive and from which angle.
I played the first few introductory missions, which took at least ten minutes or so each when you include the story sequences etc. There’s definitely a lot of potential for the combat to get even deeper and more demanding as you journey further into the ruins – I unlocked more attacks towards the end of the second mission and new enemy types threatened to both hit harder and become harder to hit. If the game can keep that pace up for its entire campaign, it should be a really dynamic and engaging experience.
Color me surprised, then. Ruins Magus isn’t the game I thought it was going to be but, based on what I’ve played, it’s also a fair bit better than I’d anticipated, too. I’ll wait until I’ve played through the full game nearer launch later this year to deliver final impressions. For now, Ruins Magus is due to launch sometime this summer, with a demo hitting Steam Next Fest this June.