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    Library of Ruina Review – Intriguing, Complex, and Frustrating

    Will you be adding it to your library?

    When I first started playing Library of Ruina, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I knew that the game was something of a deck-builder, vaguely reminiscent of Slay the Spire. Additionally, I had heard good things about ProjectMoon’s previous game, Lobotomy Corporation, but I have yet to play it. Nonetheless, I was intrigued to see what Library of Ruina had in store and whether or not the title is a good fit for Nintendo Switch

    A Killer Library

    Roland and Angela and Roland talking

    While not particularly challenging, Library of Ruina‘s first few hours can be quite overwhelming. Players follow the story through the perspective of Roland, a man who has found himself in the game’s titular library without any apparent reason as to why he got there. He then meets the library’s director, Angela, who isn’t exactly pleased to meet him. She is confused as to how he entered the library without an invitation, and with Roland being unable to answer her questions, she proceeds to remove all of his limbs.

    Roland later wakes up to find himself restored and in perfect health. Meeting Angela again, he agrees to assist her and perform the duties of a librarian. There’s certainly some tonal whiplash here, but it’s a perfect opening in this regard. It shows what players can expect from the game in terms of both narrative and even gameplay.  

    As you might be able to tell, this library certainly is no ordinary place to borrow books. Guests can enter the library via an invitation, where they can take out any book they like, but there’s one condition. Guests must overcome an ordeal of which they will likely not survive. If they fail, they die and become one of the library’s many books. 

    Adding to the Book Collection

    Library of Ruina combat

    As odd as the story may seem, it does contextualize Library of Ruina‘s gameplay quite well. It is the responsibility of Librarians to meet with guests and defeat them in combat. These receptions are what make up the majority of combat encounters. As you kill more guests, you will gain access to more books, which essentially act as card packs and keys to progression. 

    The game may seem easy in its opening hours. The guests you will meet are quite weak and don’t really stand a chance against the library. At this point, it’s entirely possible to get by without thinking too much about preparation. However, this is somewhat concerning, as there are a ton of mechanics to learn. 

    The lack of a natural difficulty curve made me constantly question how much I understood the game’s mechanics. The best way to learn is by failing, but for a while, victory was basically guaranteed. This made the game somewhat difficult to approach, but the narrative was intriguing enough to hold my attention.

    An Unconventional Story

    Guests before they enter the library

    Library of Ruina presents the player with troubling ethics to consider very early on. Each guest visits the library of their own will. They know the potential consequences of doing so and they only agree to the library’s conditions by entering it. This is the ethical justification used by Angela for killing people and turning them into books. 

    Some characters the player will fight may seemingly deserve their fate, while others will make the player question their actions a lot more. Some who enter the library may just be curious to discover more about it, but others may enter the library as their only retreat from a life-threatening situation. Regardless of who enters, they will all meet the same unfortunate fate. 

    As the player, you have no choice in the matter. It’s your job as a librarian to kill any invited guest, even if you feel bad about it. The only way to stop this is by putting down the game. This adds a wonderful sense of horror to the game. A lot of the characters you meet will die and it’s thanks to you. 

    Library of Ruina is All About Preparing

    Library of Ruina invitation

    Earlier, I made a comparison to Slay the Spire, but this does not accurately represent the game by any means. There are no roguelike elements and combat heavily relies on dice rolls. This means that a lot more emphasis is placed on preparation instead of moment-to-moment gameplay. In fact, much of the game is played through menus before the player even enters combat. 

    While I did say Library of Ruina starts off easy, eventually the game will make you learn the hard way, which is a bit of an understatement. If you have heard people discuss the somewhat infamous difficulty spike, there is no exaggeration here. The game will absolutely beat you down until you properly learn its mechanics. You must make sure your party is prepared to face the next set of guests.

    This sharp increase in difficulty can result in a decent amount of grinding. If the player fails, they will lose any books they have bet on the reception. To get these books back, you may need to go back and repeat old combat encounters. Having more books also means having more cards, which allows for more options. Grinding can be worth it for this reason as well. 

    The Definition of a Slow Burn

    selecting passive attributions

    Library of Ruina is perfect for those who aren’t particularly busy. A single playthrough can take well over 100 hours of your time without the use of a guide. There are several reasons why this is the case. First of all, the game’s story is presented as a visual novel, with lots of reading required. Secondly, the gameplay loop itself has a rather slow pace. Add a healthy amount of grinding to this and the hours stack up. 

    Unfortunately, the game takes many hours to reveal the true depth of its mechanics. It’s likely that the game won’t grip players in its early hours. The twisted narrative did a lot of the heavy lifting to maintain my interest for the first 10 hours or so. However, Library of Ruina‘s gameplay does start to become a lot more engaging if you have patience. 

    Eventually, the player will gain access to more Abnormality Pages. These are special cards that depend on which Floor (party) the player chooses and can really spice up combat. Additionally, you will also be able to customize the passive skills of each librarian, allowing for more complex strategies. This is why so much time can be spent exploring the game’s menus, and it’s actually quite a bit of fun. 

    A Questionable Handheld Experience

    Selecting a card in combat

    I spent all of my time with Library of Ruina on Nintendo Switch. With this in mind, it should be noted that I rarely use my Switch in docked mode. I didn’t think I would have much to worry about in this regard, as a turn-based game should be a perfect fit for a handheld. Unfortunately, the portable experience is a bit less than ideal. 

    Many elements are difficult to see on a small, 6.2-inch screen. In some instances, I had to hold the display uncomfortably close to my face to read tiny text. This game is a particularly egregious example of poor UI scaling, and I know this because I have rarely encountered this issue with handheld games in the past. I have a lot of experience with playing games never made with a small screen in mind thanks to being a Steam Deck owner.

    Of course, if you play Library of Ruina on a bigger display, this should be less of an issue, but it’s worth keeping in mind. Fortunately, the art direction and soundtrack somewhat make up for this. There is some great use of color and sounds to establish a thick atmosphere. Additionally, there are at least a couple of fantastic battle themes here. In this regard, Library of Ruina is impressive. 

    Library of Ruina is a Niche Experience

    Angela and Roland artwork

    Whether or not you will enjoy Library of Ruina is dependent on several factors. If you like visual novels, card games, and turn-based RPGs, there’s a great chance you will find something to enjoy here. Sadly, the game does suffer from glaring flaws that may or may not significantly impede that enjoyment.

    An awkward UI and an unforgiving difficulty spike make Library of Ruina seem a lot more frustrating than it should be. Despite this, I overall enjoyed my time with the game. People who can put up with these issues may find a new favorite cult classic, but others could just as easily be turned away. 

    While this title is more than worth the price, it is a huge time investment. For those who are interested, this will likely be the deciding factor on whether or not to purchase the game. If you do decide this game is for you, just make sure to play it on a larger screen than I did. Your eyes will thank you. 

    Library of Ruina is currently available for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC via Steam

    Disclaimer: Arc System Works provided Final Weapon with a copy of Library of Ruina for review purposes. 

    SUMMARY

    Library of Ruina is both a fantastic and frustrating experience. A twisted narrative and complex mechanics make for what could be a cult classic. Unfortunately, the lack of a natural difficulty curve as well as some awkward UI issues will make this game significantly less appealing to some. Overall, it is worthwhile, providing you have the time to fit it in your schedule.
    Itch
    Itch
    Itch has a strong passion for PC gaming and retro consoles (especially the Dreamcast). From Melty Blood: Actress Again to Forza Horizon, he will play just about anything that catches his eye. Ever since playing Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit as a young child, he has been in love with the medium of video games and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

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    Library of Ruina is both a fantastic and frustrating experience. A twisted narrative and complex mechanics make for what could be a cult classic. Unfortunately, the lack of a natural difficulty curve as well as some awkward UI issues will make this game significantly less appealing to some. Overall, it is worthwhile, providing you have the time to fit it in your schedule. Library of Ruina Review - Intriguing, Complex, and Frustrating