Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is a Dungeon Crawling RPG developed by Nippon Ichi Software and published by Nippon Ichi Software America. Labyrinth of Refrain is available on the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, and on PC. Labyrinth of Refrain was released on June 23, 2016. It is very reminiscent of a similar series by the name of Etrian Odyssey. It is played in a first-person view as you delve through dungeons and map out their layouts all the while managing a party of characters. You play as a book known as the Tractatus de Monstrum and help a character known as Dusk Witch Dronya explore a labyrinth along with her apprentice Luca.
Because you play as a book essentially, you will create new characters to join your party known as puppets. The game gives you the freedom of completely creating every puppet from a decent amount of preset art and voices, with other options that you may unlock later on. There are 6 classes otherwise known as facets. Some of these classes include: Aster Knights, Shinobushi, and Mad Raptors. They are traditional classes in the sense that some will be backline support units while others will be frontline tanks.
Gameplay in Labyrinth of Refrain consists of exploring and plotting dungeons while taking part in old school turn-based tactical battles. Party and equipment management is a huge entity of Labyrinth of Refrain as you will constantly be finding better equipment to suit your puppets with. As the game and story progress, you will have the ability to expand your party and have numerous puppets fighting simultaneously. Other than dungeon delving you will be visiting the town which serves as the hub in the game. The town has many services such as merchants and the ability to create and manage your puppets. There is a ton of exploration in Labyrinth of Refrain. For any completionists such as myself, there are plenty of different paths to explore and treasure to be found.
I found great joy in exploring every nook and cranny that the dungeons had to offer because treasure ranged from new equipment items to new art presets for puppets. If you are familiar with the franchise Etrian Odyssey, Labyrinth of Refrain plays very similarly to Etrian aside from the fact that you will not be plotting the dungeons maps yourself, instead they are automatically drafted. Lastly, a really nice component to the party management is the use of Covens. Covens are essentially groups that you will place your puppets into so that they may act together and utilize spells specifically tailored to their Coven. I really enjoyed the use of Covens along with the segment of rearguard and vanguard. Simply put, Rearguard and Vanguard are whether or not you choose to position a puppet on the frontline or backline. These combined aspects added even more depth to the party management component.
The visuals in Labyrinth of Refrain are very anime esque. If you are familiar with Nippon Ichi’s previous work such as the Disgaea series this will come as a surprise to you. The dungeon design for the most part is very unique, although as you progress more and more the dungeons get longer so the designs can begin to feel a bit monotonous.
I thoroughly enjoyed the soundtrack throughout the game. It certainly adds to the ambiance of the game and helps lock you into the atmosphere. The game has a relatively dark theme and the music portrays that well. From the town hub to the dungeons the music helps add an extra layer of depth to the setting.
The writing is extremely unique and the story is riveting. It can be a bit obnoxious at times, but once again, if you are familiar with other Nippon Ichi titles this will be no surprise. (I’m talking about you Seraphina in Disgaea 5.) The story is written very well and advances in a manner that leaves you wanting more and more.
Labyrinth of Refrain is very well made and I was extremely excited to dive into a title that shares a lot of similarities with Etrian Odyssey. In saying that, there is definitely a fair share of critiques I must point out. To start, after a while the battling can feel monotonous and more bothersome than intriguing. However, the boss encounters are an entirely different story. Although every dungeon introduces something new to the table, the dungeon design and experience overall can also become stale relatively quickly. One other component that can be frustrating to deal with at times is the limb breaking mechanic. This is when the enemy gets a special hit on one of your puppets called a gore hit. A gore hit will break a puppet’s limb reducing its stats until repaired. Now initially I really enjoyed this mechanic as it added more difficulty to combat, but after a while repairing these parts become very expensive and tedious.
Labyrinth of Refrain surely has more positive attributes than negative. Some elements of the game that I really enjoyed was the character creation along with the ability to find hidden presets to introduce new looks and feels to existing classes. The story was genuinely interesting and kept me intrigued to the point where I would continue delving through a dungeon just to see what came next. The dungeon design also seems linear at first but as you progress you learn how to read the map and see where there are hidden paths.
By destroying certain walls you will be led to a hidden area with more treasure and enemies and this was something I really enjoyed. This attribute really leads the player to discover every little nook in the dungeons. I also really enjoyed the overall dark theme of the story. I am a huge advocate of party building games in which you have complete control over the look and feel of your characters and Labyrinth hit the nail on the head with this element.
Labyrinth of Refrain is a fantastic dungeon crawler in the light of Etrian Odyssey with a classic Nippon Ichi theme. Although the combat and dungeon experience can become bland relatively fast, the puppet creation and management paired with the story and atmosphere make it a solid trade-off. The general combat can feel a bit stale at moments but each and every boss encounter is exceedingly well thought out. Each dungeon you enter is thematically different but you’ll find yourself navigating through them in a similar fashion time and time again. Overall, if you are a fan of the Etrian Odyssey series and previous Nippon Ichi titles this game is a splendid combination of both and is sure to please you.