Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? – Infinite Combate (which mercifully also goes by name DanMachi) is an anime that follows a 14 year old boy called Bell Cranel. He is part of Familia Hestia in service of the Goddess Hestia. She is a literal goddess, one who descended from heaven after creating the universe on the condition its inhabitants never use their godly powers, except one: the ability to level up. Like in a video game!
If you’ve seen DanMachi, or read the book it’s based on, this is probably stuff you already know. If you haven’t, it probably all sounds a bit weird. Now, being a bit weird isn’t a dealbreaker by any means – most of my favourite things are at least a little bit weird – but unfortunately, as an anime and a book already exist to tell the story, Is it Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? feels entirely pointless.
The story is retold here in a visual novel style, which means it’s all mostly still images of impractically dressed characters with moving mouths to approximate speech and blinking eyes – it’d look even creepier if they were just staring. You’ll be doing an awful lot of reading, as the entirety of the story plays out in those dialogue boxes whilst the characters blink at you. Much of the dialogue feels unnatural and stilted as well, often outright saying things that would, in a game with cutscenes and more animation, be communicated visually.
The story is pretty complex, but the problem is that when things happen you don’t see them, there’s just some sounds and a change to the music, accompanied by a different still image if you’re lucky. The dialogue is all in Japanese with English subtitles and the subtitles themselves have more than their fair share of typos and words split in half across lines, all of which serves to keep you at arm’s length.
You venture into the dungeon each day in the game, but this simply entails wandering through long, featureless underground corridors with the occasional rock sprite you can walk through, and rarer appearances from a bigger rock that you actually have to walk around. There are floors of the dungeon that look different to others, but even they become repetitive remarkably quickly as there’s no distinguishing features or landmarks anywhere. It’s just long corridors and wide rooms all the way down. Always has been.
You might think that combat and dungeon delving could be the game’s saving grace, but it is shockingly simple, to the point of getting boring within an hour or two. You have three attacks, light, heavy, and magic, the latter of which isn’t unlocked until hours into the game. The blend of attacking, defending, and dodging around feels stiff, as there are brief pauses on the end of all the actions, like the character is posing. The thing is, there’s no reason to ever use anything other than the light attack combo.
You see, there’s a brief pause after you attack, during enemies can hit you but you can’t dodge away. This pause is longer on the heavy attack, whereas the light attack combo deals more damage than a single heavy attack and lets you dodge away more quickly. The consequence of this is the player just running from room to room hitting circle over and over again. There are also special attacks eventually unlocked for Bell through the story and available from the off for the other playable character Aiz. They’re provided by Goddesses through story reasons and are announced by a full screen appearance of the character in typical anime style, but they have pretty lengthy cooldowns on them, so they’re best reserved for when you really need them.
The best place to use your special attacks is to save you some time fighting during a “timed mission,” which in video games really just means “forced stakes.” The timed missions in this game don’t even come with story reason for having a time restriction, and they just make you run past all the enemies, because you don’t know how long the dungeon is, so you don’t know how much time you have spare to fight. Running past enemies isn’t challenging as they’re slow, and it certainly isn’t fun, so why timed missions are even here is anybody’s guess.
Eventually, once you’ve earned enough cash, you’ll be able to purchase more weapons that come with their own fighting style. They all tend to boil down to bashing the same button repeatedly then doing the same against the next enemy that gets too close. You can also upgrade the weapons/armour you already have using drops from enemies in the dungeon. The upgrades are mostly small, incremental upgrades though that don’t really capture your imagination. You only need them to make enemy health bars drop a little quicker.
Speaking of which, enemies themselves look less like the reasonably imposing monsters from the anime and more like tamagotchi. Outside of the boss, they look like they’ve been chibi-fied, even the bigger ones look weirdly adorable for creatures that are supposedly terrorising people. Their AI is also awful, so they sometimes just stand still for no discernible reason, wander off instead of coming after you, or get caught on one of those solid rocks I mentioned earlier. They often spawn in immediately on top of an enemy you’ve just killed, whilst other times they spawn near each other at slightly different times and bounce each other around as they do so.