Until yesterday, rare Japanese PC game Labyrinthe, developed by Caravan Interactive, was long thought to be lost forever. That is until the almost mythical third game in the already obscure Horror Tour series was found on a 67GB folder of ROMs on a private forum. Other rare games from the folder are expected to become public soon.
Since its release in 1998, retro gaming fanatics have scoured the web for this game but come up empty. The game has a listing on Amazon Japan where the cover appears, but where it has never been in stock. A May 2014 post on Hardcore Gamer 101 reads “Labyrinthe is completely lost, and begs the question as to whether it was released at all.”
Labyrithe’s prequels have also proven difficult to find. Horror Tour, also known as Zeddas: Servant of Sheol in the West, was playable on Sega Saturn and PC. In the game, you are trapped in the confines of a castle where you must solve puzzles in order to proceed and inevitably kill an evil demon named Zeddas. Horror Tour 2 was released solely in Japanese for PC and was rediscovered in 2014. The game ends on a cliffhanger, and gamers have been desperate to find out what happens next for two decades.
Now, they’ll finally know what happens, even if we don’t yet know where the newly leaked Labyrinthe came from. According to a YouTuber called Saint, who posted a video of him playing the game and a link to download it on Mega, Labyrinthe and as many as 70 other rare or never-before-released Japanese titles have been circulating in a file sharing directory on a private torrent site.
Labyrinthe, alongside other rare titles including Cookie's Bustle, Yellow Brick Road and Link Devicer 2074 were in a folder called “DO NOT UPLOAD.” Members of the private forum hesitated to upload Labyrinthe in the fear that the private collector would take down the folder and leave the collection out of reach once again. This hesitation demonstrates the often tense relationship between game preservationists and private collectors. According to a screenshot uploaded by Saint, the private collector threatened to pull the entire folder of content from the directory and stop uploading games altogether if anyone leaked Labyrinthe.
In uploading the game to Mega, it’s possible the folder will be pulled from the internet. But in doing so, the person advanced the interests of game preservationists worldwide by leaking the this game and others.
Phil Salvador, a librarian and digital archivist who runs the The Obscuritory, a blog about little-known games, told Motherboard in an online chat that the existence of many of the games that have surfaced weren’t even known to Western gamers.
“It's odd because when people talk about finding ‘lost games,’ there's usually a few notable titles that folks have been trying to track down,” he said. “This collection has a ton of games that there's nearly no English language information about, that people didn't even know to look for, so it's exciting almost in a quiet way.”
Salvador wrote on Obscuritory that the games have been circulating since earlier this year, but have only now been uploaded to "avoid any interpersonal harm," considering their private nature. Salvador has uploaded Labyrinthe and several other games to the Internet Archive, and he hopes there are more to come.
“It's a weird situation because this really is not a great way to be preserving games, just collecting things that leak out,” he said. “Ideally we should be collaborating with collectors to share games like these. But unfortunately a lot of game collecting and preservation happens in the margins like this.”
Additional reporting by Jason Koebler.