Review: Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls In a Dungeon? Infinite Combate

26 Aug 2020

At a certain point, you simply have to accept that there are certain flaws in your approach to life that you clearly do not have much interest in solving. Between this and Fairy Tail, it is obvious that I have a bad habit (some might say an unconscionable one) of picking up titles based on established franchises wherein I do not have the necessary experience of that franchise to evaluate these things from the perspective of a fan.

But then, that might actually be an asset. I mean, sure, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? Infinite Combate is meant to be a game specifically aimed toward fans of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? as an established series of light novels, manga, and anime. But the game is a standalone product, and it should be possible to review and evaluate it separately from fandom.

Heck, a good game can actually help with that. Sure, maybe you weren’t interested in the property before, but a good game can give you motivation to actually take a look at something in a closer capacity. Even if not, you can hopefully understand what made people a fan of the property in the first place, to get a sense of what made this series acquire the audience that it has.

Other times… well, not so much.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? Infinite Combate has a title which is far too long, but it is also available right now for PC via Steam as well as PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. The PC version was played for this review.

Is It Wrong to Expect to Empathize With Any Characters in a Story?

Reasonably enough, the first thing I did in this particular situation was to look up some valuable information about the actual storyline, especially since DanMachi: Infinite Combate (the nickname we will be using for the remainder of this review, because I am already tired of typing out that title) is very closely following the first season of the anime in overall plot structure. What I discovered was that fans of the anime are very insistent that even though it looks like a fairly generic harem anime, it’s not that, it just… looks like it from the plot description and character designs and all of that.

Obviously, I don’t know if that’s true or if it’s another case of fans not wanting their silly harem anime to be marked as a silly harem anime. I can’t summarize the plot of the anime, regardless. What I can summarize is the plot as presented by the game, which is… actually not even working its way up to silly harem anime.

Bell Cranel is a 14-year-old boy with white hair and red eyes who was told by his grandfather that dungeons are a good place to pick up women. He thus moved to the city of Orario, which is built around a single dungeon that spawns endless monsters and has a whole set of deities wandering around justifying the RPG mechanics universe everyone lives in. He joins up with Hestia as part of her “familia,” like a guild overseen by a specific patron deity who lives with you… and only him, since Hestia only has Bell within her grouping.

At any rate, Bell quickly falls head-over-heels in love with a girl-shaped mannequin named Aiz Wallenstein, whose personality consists of “must grind more in dungeon,” when she rescues him from a minotaur that got up to a higher level of the dungeon. Aiz herself feels bad about… scaring him, apparently?

What follows is what I’m pretty sure is supposed to be romantic hijinks but may actually be a singular hijink. The core problem here is that while the cast is reasonably expansive, no one seems to ever have a personality that goes much beyond one-note. Bell seems to have no actual interest in picking up girls, Aiz is the one and only woman he expresses any interest in, and he’s just such a generally milquetoast nice guy that it’s impossible to feel much for him. He’s nice, but he’s nice in a way that means girls getting jealous over him always feels like they’re at fault because he’s completely uninterested in anyone other than Aiz.

Aiz, meanwhile, is just an emotionless robot who seems to regard basic human interactions as something alien. Lefiya’s sole personality trait is that she has a crush on Aiz, but that’s played solely for laughs. Hestia is clingy despite Bell having nothing less than utter devotion to her. Loki is just a pervert. You get the general idea.

Again, I must stress – it is entirely possible that these characters have more robust personalities in the source material. I can’t judge based on that; what’s in the game is what’s in the game, and it’s a collection of one-note characters standing around and talking at one another, helped not one whit by dialogue that hasn’t been very well translated and a presentation that somehow always feels rushed.

This is also not helped by the fact that while it supposedly contains stories for both Bell and Aiz, what this mostly means is alternating back and forth for a bit… and usually finishing up a Bell chapter by showing what Aiz was doing at the same time, which is mostly “fighting in the dungeon” and “thinking about Bell.” Be still my heart.

What is to the game’s credit is that there’s a fair bit of post-game stuff to unlock for the various characters. Less to its credit, though, is… well, none of it is too compelling unless you already know and care about these characters, because the versions you meet here are basically nothing.

Is It Wrong to Adjust to Mechanics That Make No Sense Whatsoever As An RPG Element?

Ah, the game mechanics. Here’s where things start getting really messy, starting with the fact that for an RPG set in a world wherein everyone acts like RPG mechanics are a real thing anyway, this is an awful RPG.

I don’t mean that in the sense that the flow is a problem. Sure, the flow isn’t great, with most chapters consisting of “see a story thing, fight through a dungeon floor, repeat, chapter over.” There’s no real overlap between the visual novel intermediary sequences and the dungeon crawling, in other words. But fine… so there’s no exploration or whatever, that could still lead to a fun game.

It’s also fine that, say, Aiz and Bell control identically in every respect. That’s kind of boring and makes you long for more options, but… fine. And it’s fine that everyone else just shows up as a character you bring along for a screen-clearing magical attack if they come into battle. That’s… that’s fine. It’s fine. This is fine.

What’s less fine is when you get to leveling up. More specifically: you do not.

No, I’m serious. No matter how much time you spend grinding in the dungeon, you only get what amounts to a level up that increases your base stats by clearing story quests. There is no other way to improve your stats… except by grinding out skill points to invest in your skill sheet, which is universally just basic “improve this stat by a percentage” boosts instead of anything interesting.

This is a really bad system, because it means that if you’re stuck in a certain part of the game you really are stuck. Grinding to get more power is not an option in the slightest. Worse yet, sometimes you can’t invest in your skill sheet due to story reasons… and things are made even worse when Bell in particular starts the game with lower stats and can only fight things that give 1-3 skill points per kill, when even basic skills cost upward of 150 points.

You can, however, improve your gear! But that’s also kind of silly. The top level of gear improvement is a +5, but Aiz starts with a great weapon and Bell gets one handed to him in the third chapter. Already upgraded a weapon? Too bad! That was wasted time, effort, and resources. Jump back into the dungeon and grind to get the resources back! Not that it helps much, since even upgraded gear is not significantly improved over its base form.

This is “mitigated” by the fact that the dungeon crawling itself is very, very basic. You have one button for a light attack, another for a heavy attack that is functionally useless due to its long cooldown time, another for a magic spell if you have any, and a backstep you will abuse a great deal. Pretty much every non-boss enemy is best dealt with by smacking it until it dies with your light attack, or if it doesn’t die, hitting the backstep just before the last attack of your combo finishes. It runs toward you. You whack it again. Rinse and repeat.

Repeat a lot.

What makes things more annoying is that everything seems to do insane amounts of damage when it hits you, but the healing items barely nudge your meter back up. Boss encounters become irritating patterns of waiting for the handful of moments wherein you can safely hit the thing for a bit of damage, followed by backsteps and running away. It can get difficult, but only in the sense that it’s tedious and slow.

I’m going to be honest, the fact that you don’t just level up alone is a big turn-off for me. Not because you should be easily able to grind to top level in the span of an hour, of course, but the result is that you never feel like you’re gaining in power so much as keeping pace. Especially keeping in mind that you don’t really gain much in the way of new skills or abilities as you hack away at things.

There is, as mentioned, a lot to be unlocked by grinding in the post-game. Sometimes this can be a good thing. But when the actual stuff you’re grinding isn’t all that fun, do you really want to?

Is It Wrong to Request Graphics That Feel Appropriate For The Scenario?

A lot of the static illustrations in the game feel subtly wrong somehow. It’s not that you can really claim they’re off-model or anything, but everyone’s sprite for talking sequences is a non-animated flat staring-straight-ahead pose that barely even has different facial expressions. The sprites are also repeatedly bobbed down or shaken left and right to indicate nods or shakes of the head, which looks much worse than I am probably making it sound.

The backgrounds look decent, at least. A bit generic and devoid of character, but decent. Which is good, since you’ll be seeing the same ones a lot over the course of the game.

Of course, once you start dungeon crawling you’re into the more animated bit… and, well, these parts don’t look great either. The dungeon is divided into rooms and hallways that I think are randomly generated but look as procedural as any similar set of corridors from games far, far older. There’s little in the way of interesting points, either, and both the monsters and the player characters have pretty stiff animations. I’m reminded of Recettear in terms of how the dungeons look and feel… but that game had the advantage of being an indie title on a shoestring budget that also had a ton more to it than the dungeon crawl.

It also had more charming characters. And a better story. And better music. And… gosh, I am getting wildly off on a tangent here, let’s bring this back.

Music! Yes, the music. The music is an oddly catchy set of earworm tunes (although I’m not very fond of the title track, it’s not bad or anything). It has that going for it, at least. What doesn’t help is that the music is looped badly; you can very clearly hear where the track ends, fades out, and then starts over from the beginning. especially since many things have the same track every time (it’s not like you’re going to different towns or anything), this gets really notable.

The musical fade-out and then restart that feels like trying to just loop a song on an MP3 player speaks to an overall amateur-esque feel to the whole presentation. It feels like a project wherein you find out everyone was working out of the studio owner’s basement, and I have nothing against that as a concept… except for when the game in question is $40 and a licensed title for what at least seems to be a reasonably popular and profitable franchise.

Is It Wrong to be Disappointed When You Didn’t Expect a Great Deal Anyhow?

When it comes to this game, I keep thinking of Fairy Tail again. I reviewed that having never watched the anime or read the manga. And yet even though I walked away with no new desire to do so, I could understand why someone would. The game, on a whole, was designed very well as not just a recap of the story but as a game in its own right, and while it’s not a game I really want to replay I can admire that it did things well.

By contrast, DanMachi Infinite Combate just leaves me unclear as to why anyone would be all that invested in the series in the first place. It feels like it has to be a poor representation of what the franchise has, because otherwise it’s very much a bland harem anime without much compelling to recommend it at all.

This isn’t a terrible game. If you’re a fan of the series and really eager to have more of it, it’ll probably serve decently for those purposes, but that’ll still mean overlooking things like weak translation, poor mechanics, and a slipshod feel across the board. But if you aren’t already a fan, there’s little to nothing to recommend it to you, much less to inspire you to learn more.

And, last but not least… yes. It’s very wrong to try to pick up girls in a dungeon. Those girls are trying to do something other than pick up dates. Respect their time and interests. Come on.

~ Final Score: 5/10 ~

Review copy provided by PQube for purposes of evaluation. All screenshots courtesy of PQube.