Hey folks, If you’re looking for In Depth Indie Reviews, You’re in the right place! And today is going to be a treat since I’m finally tackling the sequel to Project Moon’s horror-infused management sim, Lobotomy Corporation. That’s right, I’m going to be covering Library of Ruina, which hops genres over to a combat heavy deckbuilder. That said, this one eschews the normal association with roguelites, instead focusing on a strategic, and ultimately quite narrative centric experience. That said, was this Library a treat to visit, or was it a bigger barnfire then Alexandria? I’m your host Arlyeon, Let’s find out together.
To say that horrific occurrences are commonplace within the city, would be to give it credit. Corrupt corporations rule the city- their iron grip maintained through twisted technology, and dystopian laws they implement over their various territories, their ‘nests’. A brutality that is only matched by the backstreets, an extensive ghetto that traces through its city- where the protection of murderous syndicates is still preferable to its commonplace mayhem.
And yet, something new is emerging. A hushed rumor, at first, of a strange phenomenon. Desperate individuals find themselves receiving invitations to a Library, with the promise of knowledge, of value, provided they can wrestle it away from its depths.
Something which Roland, a fixer for hire, soon finds himself learning more about firsthand- albeit after being forcibly recruited as one of its myriad Librarians, by the mysterious Angela.
And that’s about the extent at which I want to provide a prelude, because this is such an incredibly story-dense experience, and one that is just plain chock full of spoilers. For instance, it’s really not long into the beginning of the story, before you’ll start to receive massive spoilers insofar as the outcome of Lobotomy Corporation, including the ultimate outcome of the game.
That said, while this might be a bit of a problem if you’re playing through, or intend to play it’s predecessor- it also means that you’re not -too- apt to feel out of the loop insofar as particular story beats.
And there are -so- many to be found here. Primarily, the narrative is provided at the start of each of the games chapters, as well as before and after every stage- helping to contextualize the situation at large, flesh out the dynamic between Roland & Angela, and simply to build on the story of the city itself, as well as emphasize its overall monstrousness. That said, the most poignant element is the way that it takes the time to flesh out the motivations of the people who are visiting the Library.
While some of the people that venture into the library are altogether repugnant- it’s not long before things become a -lot- more complicated, both insofar as the length of some of those character arcs, as well as their long reaching consequences. It’s, honestly, a trip just tracing back the overall point at which things -really- start to get messy.
And that’s without even getting into the deeper lore. See, as you clear out the various stages (known as receptions)- you’ll gain access to books. What’s narratively interesting here, is that while they can cough up a number of useful things- one of them is keypages. An item that serves as a sort of alter-ego for your character with a swathe of perks. The reason I bring this up here, is each one provides a small bit of backstory from the perspective of the character you acquired it from- which helps build on the world as a whole. . . as well as just making you feel bad. Unironically, this game is somehow more depressing than Lobotomy Corp.
Anyways, that’s almost the crux of the narrative bits- other than, yes, there are multiple endings to pursue- but it’s not simply a matter of choices. Oh no- you need to tackle the game’s various Realizations, in order to be able to make the choices – though, even that is narratively rewarding, given they have their own associated scenes which help to add a -lot- of context to everything.
Still, if you do manage to get through every trial the game has to throw at you- the end result manages to bring the story to a satisfying close.
Anyways, I’m starting to lean a bit harder into mechanics- so, let’s get right into it. Ruina is -interesting- since mechanically speaking, it’s a combination of turn based battler, a deck builder, and a -puzzle- game.
Initially, it’s not too hard to figure out. Beat up enemies until they die, using the very basic deck you’re provided. If you can bottom out their stagger bar, so much the better- since it’ll cause them to not only lose their turn- it also makes them vulnerable to all three attack types (blunt, slash and pierce respectively).
That said, there’s a bit of nuance to factor in, even at the get go- and that’s the way combat actually breaks down. See- every character has an initiative dice- which rolls to determine who goes first. Here’s the thing. While you’ll get your pick of who to target in the instance your initiative is higher. If it’s on the low end- you’ll only really be able to intercept the attacks of any character targeting you.
And that’s important- since when two attacks collide with each other, it leads to a clash- where both cards roll off to see who wins the exchange. Which sounds simple, until you break things down further. Attacks, for instance, are an all or nothing circumstance- where a successful parry hurts the enemy, but a failure sees you soaking the entire hit. What’s more, each swipe only triggers once- so it’s entirely plausible to get -rocked- by trying to deflect multiple hits with a singular attack.
Inversely, a block doesn’t deal direct damage. Instead, it deals stagger damage when it deflects, and reduces damage by its roll even if you fail a clash. And then there’s dodging.
Why two defensive options? Well, dodges fulfill a unique role, since- while a failed dodge sees you soaking full damage- a success negates the damage, -and- continues to carry over to the next roll- potentially letting you evade an -entire- enemies barrage if you set things up right. Unless you clash with another defense card, in which case, it abruptly ends.
So, Yeah- there’s a fair amount to think about- and that’s not even factoring in that any attack that -isn’t- clashed will simply slip through and feed damage to the target. Something you’ll both be taking advantage of- and worrying about.
But none of that will save you, if you’re not mindful about your Light. Light essentially serves as your resource for playing costly cards. You start out with a cap of 3, initially, and only regain 1 a turn- requiring you to be mindful of what you play.
That said- as you clash with enemies, and roll extremes on dice, you’ll also generate ‘emotion’. Gain enough, and your character’s emotion level increases- raising your Maximum light capacity for that fight, as well as replenishing it- allowing you to make a renewed offensive.
..Admittedly, your enemies can take advantage of this too- but it’s not all bad news there. See, when the enemies have an overall higher emotion level, it causes them to turn into a large quantity of books when they’re killed.
And this is immensely important, since books are essentially card packs -centered- around the various characters. And I do mean this, since, burning each book causes them to explode into a random assortment of thematic prizes.
Specifically, two kinds. The first is more combat cards- and this is how you get into the real nuance of deck building- since, not only will they provide more -powerful- cards, you’ll also begin to find ones with unique mechanics, or interesting bits of utility as you progress further into the game.
Take ranged, for instance. These have the advantage of -always- resolving first in combat, albeit with unique caveats- the most prominent being their weakness to melee clashing. See, while ranged attacks can’t clash with each other, a single melee attack has the ability to deflect an -entire-barrage of bullets. There’s ways around this, but it can be rough, before you clue in. There’s also counter abilities, which only activate when you’re -not- clashing with an enemy targeting you- allowing you to defend or even -kill- an enemy trying to take advantage of a one sided attack.
And then there’s Singleton, Perhaps the oddest to build around. See- your deck is essentially a very simple arrangement of 9 cards, and if you so choose, you can have 3 of any one card (or 1, in the case of rarer cards). That said, to activate a singleton ability- every card in your deck has to be different, forcing you to be -very- careful about the cards you choose in order to make a functional consistent deck.
Especially as you gain additional speed dice, and find yourself needing to worry about being able to draw enough cards to keep up with your ability to play them -and- your light reserves.
It’s honestly a joy to see this gradual unfurling of mechanics, as well as having a, well, literal library of cards to customize your experience with. Especially since even cards earned earlier in the game can still find a place in your deck as legitimately viable options near the end game.
Just, uh, remember to empty your books from your decks before you tinker with the -other- reward from burning books. There were two things, remember?
And this latter element is a -very- important element of the experience- namely, Key Pages. Essentially, these allow you to -don- the identity of a character you’ve beaten, granting you increased health, damage resistances- as well as passive abilities which can drastically influence your abilities, synergize with other existing key pages. Essentially, these serve as a fundamental core to what you’ll be building your decks around, and your overall strategizing.
And the customisation doesn’t even end there- since later on, you’ll also gain the ability to – attach- keypages you aren’t using to another one, to grant a passive or few in order to -really- maximize the carnage you’re dishing out. Admittedly, there are some limitations here. Different abilities have different point costs, and you only have a limited cap which gradually increases as you get further in the game. What’s more, keypages that are naturally loaded with abilities can’t be -overloaded- which is something to be mindful of.
But yeah- it’s overall neat stuff, and definitely gives you a reason to tackle a stage repeatedly, in order to earn everything it has to offer.
Just, don’t get too burn happy, given that, in order to progress further in the story- you need an intact copy of a given book. Admittedly, the game -does- tell you which book you need when you select the given chapter, but- there’s been more than a few times where I’d ignited one carelessly- or worse. I got to the stage -ahead- – burned a book further back, and then -lost- the fight I was working on, which- uh, consumes the book used. And thus required me to do a fight further back because I was -careless-.
And this can be a bit of a doozy- because the earlier fights are fairly straight forward. Ruina’s difficulty isn’t a curve. Around the midrange, it starts to become a steep hill- and then the endgame becomes a friggin oppressive wall to overcome, replete with fights which often feel more like -puzzles- then wild melees.
Enemies will begin to have -very- daunting abilities, both passively and on their cards, which can wreak a sizable amount of havoc on your crew- and will even require you to build entire decks around mitigating what they’re throwing out.
Something which -also- saw me fiddling around with the general receptions. These are something introduced mid game, and essentially provide you ability to trigger extra stages by throwing a bunch of arbitrary books up as invitations. (There -is- a logic to this, but anyways). The early ones are, well, potatoes- but, once you get a bit further, you start to encounter some fairly unique enemies, who have access to -extremely- good keypages and cards, which often put in a -lot- of legwork, insofar as carrying my ass to the finish line.
…Especially once I started tackling the Abnormality fights. These are just- Remember when I said some of the normal encounters feel like puzzles? These ones straight up are, with -very- specific mechanics you’ll need to encounter and overcome. While they start out fairly simple- you’ll eventually culminate in horrible nightmares like ‘needing to tactically kill a number of enemies in a certain amount of turns, while you’re only given 30 seconds to plan things out’. And- uh, the birds. The goddamn birds.
Seriously- these are neat enough that I don’t want to get heavy into spoiler ville- but, they’re a -very- neat, and a somewhat optional part of the game. That said, the benefits for doing them are -huge-. Not only does clearing one on a given floor of the library increase the maximum amount of emotions you can have (boosting light capacity, book drops and even extra speed die as it ramps up)- it also provides access to abnormality pages. Passive abilities that can either affect a specific librarian or your whole team. Though, whether it’s strictly positive, or a mix of good and bad is something else entirely.
And each of the libraries’ various floors have -very- different abilities, which help to provide them unique identities- and to really emphasize building different teams themed around them.
Which, yeah- you’ll -really- want to make a few back ups, because while some stages only allow you to use one team- others will grant you the ability to swap to another one, or few. And they frequently do so with -very- good reason. Like, you can expect to get your teeth kicked in -thoroughly-.
But hey, at least you’ll be drop kicked in style- since, Ruina is aesthetically a -lot- of fun. Whereas Lobotomy Corp had certain stylistic choices due to the ‘Cognition’ filter- there’s no such element this time around- which means, you’ll get to revel in all the awful details the city has to show you. And, well, there’s a lot to be found in the visual novel segments. The overall character design is a -lot- of fun, too- with a very diverse cast of characters, even for the ones who only really show up for one scene.
And this isn’t just limited to the visual novel segments, either. The stages you visit are a -lot- of fun to see, given that each floor has their own specific visuals- as do a number of fights (such as the Abnormality encounters.
Admittedly, the combat character design is a bit…cuter- given they’re essentially little nuggets battling it out. That said, they’re fairly customisable, since- not only are they influenced by the keypages you equipped- they also can have their features tweaked fairly freely. There’s also battle symbols to play with- a large array of small visual details you can equip to your librarians, such as bandages, scars, or even rat whiskers- which are earned by achieving certain actions during a fight. Technically, there -are- mechanics related to these, but given they tend to have things like 5% odds of proccing- well, I didn’t -overly- feel the need to focus on them mechanically.
Still, as fun as these all are, my favorite element of Ruina has to be the sound design. There is just -so- much good music packed into the experience. Some of it, you’ll be introduced to fairly early on- such as the unique battle music for each of the library’s floors- though, it’ll take a bit for you to hear the better variants of those themes- given they only cue up once you’ve reached a certain emotion level.
It’s legitimately neat- but, even those don’t hold a candle to the boss themes. Like, the moment you hear a Mili song pop up in this game, you are both in for a treat- and a hell of a time, since it generally signals that shit is about to get -real-.
Also, while the voice acting -is- specifically in korean, I actually quite liked listening to it, because it still manages to convey a lot of raw emotion- which really paired well with the lines I was reading. It’s so good.
But, uh, yeah- this was a -lot- of words. Which, I guess is pretty understandable, since I invested -166- friggin hours into this game. And I’ll admit, there were a lot of moments where it was a frustrating endeavor. I think Children of the City and Iron Lotus will likely live in my head Rent free for the next year or so.
And that wasn’t even the full extent of things. While I touched on anomaly fights, and their -blistering- difficulty- they pale next to the culminating challenges. Vicious bosses where each phase has -myriad- of mechanics you’ll need to adapt to,, while controlling a potentially dwelling crew of characters. It’s..rough. Like there were times I was definitely overcome with a sense of … Remorse.
That said- while I certainly needed to take the occasional break? I kept coming back. Ruina is a -beautifully- crafted game mechanically, with challenges that made me want to rise to the occasion, again, and again. Gradually learning everything it had to offer was an absolute treat- and it felt so rewarding to push forward and make just a bit more progress.
And on a narrative front? It does such a phenomenal job of further opening up the world introduced in Lobotomy Corp, of providing a bleak but riveting horror story, that still finds room to sometimes be sweet, or funny- or to high a genuine pathos for the characters caught in its web.
Quite frankly, this game is actually solid enough, that even with its systemic sadism- I cannot recommend this enough, to the point that I’d call it a Crit Hit. I -genuinely- believe that it builds up to such a satisfying conclusion on so many fronts.
Which makes it -extremely- interesting that it doesn’t just end there. Because there’s another Project Moon game I haven’t talked about- but we’re getting there.