Ruinsmagus preview: A beautiful, flawed virtual reality JRPG

Shaking a character's hand in Ruinsmagus
(Image credit: CharacterBank inc, Mastiff)

The Quest 2 has a surprising lack of RPGs. There are a few, like Until You Fall and Zenith: The Last City, that run natively on the headset; but a majority of the best VR RPGs, such as Fallout 4 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, are only playable on Steam through Oculus Link. I’ve been looking forward to Ruinsmagus since it was first revealed for this very reason. A JRPG in VR with an emphasis on spell slinging rather than sword-and-shield combat? Sign me up!

Ruinsmagus has an awful lot going for it in terms of presentation. While I found its anime aesthetic visually appealing in trailers, I was still initially hesitant about seeing it in VR. It’s not the first VR game to use that particular style, but it’s the first that I’ve played personally. My main concern was a potential sense of uncanny valley to it all; that seeing anime designs as full scale, 3D beings would come across more as being in a themepark full of costumed mascots rather than a world full of living and breathing people. Thankfully that’s not the case.

I was immediately engrossed in the world of Ruinsmagus the very moment I stepped inside of it. There’s a great sense of depth that makes interacting with the characters feel more realistic and natural than I anticipated. The same can be said about the robotic enemies you encounter in your dungeons crawls, which give a strong vibe reminiscent of the hybrid fantasy/sci-fi aesthetic of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. They occupy their virtual space well and feel threatening as a result. But it’s those enemies that give way to the weakest part of Ruinsmagus so far: combat.

Encountering a boss in Ruinsmagus

(Image credit: CharacterBank inc, Mastiff)

This is a shame considering the entire game is based around it. You start with a couple spells, the most basic being a blast of fire that you cast from your hand. It’s the fantasy equivalent of shooting a pistol, which wouldn’t necessarily be bad if it it weren’t for the fact that landing shots doesn’t feel satisfying. There’s just a lack of oomph that gives impact or weight to the attack. The other spells in your initial repertoire aren’t very enticing either. 

One holds you in place while you charge it and unleash a blast of lightning around yourself, but that’s rarely a good idea since you’re surrounded by multiple enemies in every encounter that are constantly bombarding you with attacks. You also have access to a fireball spell that functions as a magical molotov cocktail and a grenade, both of which are lobbed by swinging your arm. The problem is that doing so feels incredibly imprecise.

Battling an enemy in Ruinsmagus

(Image credit: CharacterBank inc, Mastiff)

It’s entirely possible this issue stems from my end as a player, though I don’t have trouble arcing my virtual arms to toss grenades in a game like Resident Evil 4. Between the poor risk/reward of the lightning AOE attack and the poor execution of grenades, a majority of my available spells were effectively rendered useless, forcing me to rely on my puny basic fire attack.

You’re equipped with a shield to block the constant stream of enemy attacks and can parry them right back if you time it right. That’s great, except that the shield is so large it obscures your vision and in turn makes it difficult to tell when an attack is going to hit you. Trying to deal with that while having multiple enemies attacking you — some shooting at you from the skies, others blocking you with their own shield and releasing shockwaves on the ground — just isn’t fun. A dash/dodge ability attempts to help but it has a slight cooldown and a short range, so it’s not a viable or useful tactic.

Casting a spell in Ruinsmagus

(Image credit: CharacterBank inc, Mastiff)

This isn’t even to mention the very awkward control scheme. Swapping through your items is tied to the analog stick, which frequently resulted in me going to chug a health potion only to find that I’ve accidentally selected a grenade or defense booster. Your character needs to reload a gauntlet between spells, but rather than that being a simple button press, you instead need to point your hand downward before the button combination will work. I had to constantly crane my neck to the side just to make sure the reload was even registering. Combat might be more enjoyable later in the game when you unlock stronger spells, but I’ve only found it frustrating.

Outside of gameplay, there are also a ton of translation errors. Any avid player of JRPGs will be used to that — mistakes are bound to happen because translating a game isn’t nearly as simple as some might think. However, the mistakes are common enough that it becomes genuinely distracting. Navigating the menus in the build I played is rough, too. Text overlaps on top of itself and makes it hard to determine which option you’re selecting.

Talking to a character in Ruinsmagus

(Image credit: CharacterBank inc, Mastiff)

A word of warning to any Quest 2 owner that gets even the tiniest bit of VR motion sickness: this game might be a rough time. I’ve played VR for quite awhile and have grown used to more intense experiences, but there’s something about the movement in Ruinsmagus that made me physically ill. It’s not a good choice for anyone looking for a game that’s friendly toward those who get queasy in VR.

As a lifelong fan of JRPGs, I really want to like Ruinsmagus and hoped that it would another great Quest 2 game. It’s very clear that it’s been crafted with a lot of ambition and care. I admire a lot about what it’s setting out to do. The fact remains, though, that the overall gameplay design has felt like a bland and boring chore. Going from one annoying encounter to the next in very empty, basic dungeons isn’t the most exciting time, especially when wrestling with poor controls and lackluster combat. Ruinsmagus is a beautiful game, but based on what I’ve played, there isn’t much depth beneath its charming surface.


RUINSMAGUS: $35 at Oculus Store
As a member of the renowned RUINSMAGUS Guild, your goal is to help strengthen it with magic, resources – and wisdom! – as you embark on more than 25 unique, story-driven quests. Face off against guardians tasked with protecting the ruins from intruders – and solve the deadly puzzles hidden within.

Nick Ransbottom
Freelance writer, VR/AR

Nick is a freelance journalist and games reviewer with a passion for RPGs, bad puns, and VR. When he isn’t guesting on podcasts or streaming on Twitch, he’s probably playing Borderlands with his husband.