PhantomZ2 heads deep into the miasma to uncover Nippon Ichi Software’s Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk for the Nintendo Switch.
I’m no stranger when it comes to playing a Nippon Ichi Software game. They’ve made one of my favorite franchises of all time, Disgaea, and have also published plenty of other interesting RPGs like Mugen Souls and many more games coming to Switch. However, this time I’ll be stepping foot into a genre of RPG I’m not very familiar with: A first person, dungeon crawling, RPG. Come with, and let’s dive deep into the Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk. A great thanks to NIS America for providing us with a review code.
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk tells the story of the beautiful witch Dronya and her apprentice, Luca, traveling across Tranis – a world filled with mana. In this world, is the town of Refrain, a rundown town with a mysterious underground labyrinth at its center. With it full of miasma, a substance that kills any human who touches it, it is Dronya’s goal to discover the secrets and treasures of this labyrinth. However, that’s where your role in this story takes place. As the player, you are the Tractatus de Monstrum, a creepy-faced black paged book that holds the secrets of the labyrinth, as written by the only person who ever survived the Labyrinth. Now, you must explore the Labyrinth of Refrain at Madam Dronya’s request, whether you like it or not.
The story of this game is very questionable. The game starts off with our characters first heading into town and exploring the labyrinth, but once you die – the real introduction of the game starts and they’re re-entering the town. It comes off as very confusing, almost as if that never happened.
However, I do enjoy the interaction between Dronya and most of the other characters. Her sarcasm and the different situations she falls into does make the game very comedic.
Although you are the Tractatus, you’re not actually the one going into battle. The gameplay of Labyrinth of Refrain is a first-person dungeon crawling RPG where the player will have to uncover multiple floors and rooms, while also fighting against a variety of monsters with your puppets. Your puppets are essentially your created character. Using puppet parts, you can create puppets and have them serve as different classes under different pacts so they can act as your brigade as you travel through the labyrinth. You have the option to customize their stats, equipment, pact, and even their design – to a degree. The game will start you off with three puppets, but as you progress you can find more puppet parts and form your brigade to become stronger based upon their weapons. If they’re using a sword or hammer, they’ll act better as a Vanguard, a front liner on the team. If they use a crossbow or bell, they’ll work better as a Rearguard. But, if your puppet uses a Lance or Lamp, they’ll work well as either.
Amongst the labyrinths are treasures and mana for the player to find. The treasure can, of course, be puppet pieces, weapons, health items, or even more pacts for you to form with your puppets. Mana will be easily gained through searching walls or defeating monsters and can be used for witch petitions. Witch petitions allow you to change the game’s difficulty or allow the Tractus to gain abilities that will make traveling more productive for the player. One such ability allows you to see enemies on the map, allowing you to carefully pick your battles. However, that doesn’t completely mean you’re free from random encounters – some enemies can still randomly spawn in the same room as you. Each level of the labyrinth has a mana threshold. If the amount of mana you’re carrying goes above the threshold, expect some bad things to happen.
The gameplay can end up feeling a bit confusing and misleading as the story doesn’t always tell you what’s the next goal or guide you onto the right path for that goal. I’ve run around between floors, breaking down random walls, getting myself killed, breaking my puppets, and losing items simply for not knowing what I should be doing to progress.
Labyrinth of Refrain has a few strange decisions in the way that it decides to present itself. The introduction of the game’s story and the way the game introduces the player when they start the game gives it a very storybook-like atmosphere. I really wish the game took that aspect more seriously in presenting the rest of the story or when you’re actually playing the game. Maybe instead of having character portraits as a static image with occasional mouth movement, the characters could have flipped between different poses or move around with picture book styled aesthetics. There are certain scenes, further into the story, that do use the storybook aesthetic a bit more, but I wish that was part of the game always.
However, I do love the character design. Takehito Harada is a long-time inspiration of mine, so seeing his art and designs outside of the demonic RPG, Disgaea, is very interesting. The music, as done by Tenpei Sato, is also very good.
Although I’m a fan of many of NiS titles, Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is a very mixed bag. The story needs the game in order for you to progress, but they seem to not work very well with each other all the time. If the game had a bit more visual flair and a better sense of direction, I would enjoy it a lot more. With that being said, Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk gets a 3.5 out of 5.
Thank you once again to NIS America for providing us with a review code. If you’re interested in Labyrinth of Refrain, the game will release on September 18th, 2018 and you can also purchase the limited edition that comes with a deck of tarot cards, hardcover artbook, and more. If you liked the video, you can leave a like and your own thoughts in the comments section below. Thank you to our super patron, the Duke of Dorks, as well for supporting us, thank you for watching, and always remember to return to the source.