Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is another entry in the Dungeon RPG genre, a genre that for me at least, has been growing stale. So much so the last one I played, Demon Gaze 2, I couldn’t even finish and was so bored of it I didn’t even bother to work on the review.
It a sad day when one of your favourite genre’s ends up boring you!
So when I was given this game, I have to admit part of me wasn’t all that interested. Thankfully though I did play it, and I have enjoyed it! So if you want my TL:DR on whether to buy it or not, then yes, this is a game worth buying IMO.
Like a lot of Japanese games these days, this is not only being released on PS4 but also on Steam as well as on Switch. Sadly though no vita release, which is weird since the PS4 version is a upscaled vita port. It frequently makes reference to the online manual you get with the vita releases, but not with the PS4 releases. The Switch version also has no manual, a sad bi-product of the current gaming ecosystem.
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk, as mentioned above, is a DC-RPG, however the cast is changed up for this one. Instead of being made up of living beings as in other games, this time around they’re all inanimate.
Firstly there’s you, Tractie, or thats what Luca calls you. Your real name is Tractatus de Monstrum, a book that the only person ever to explore the Labyrinth of Refrain and escape, wrote. However the rest of your team are made up of, what are essentially wooden dolls that are animated through magic. Of course though, this being a Nippon Ichi game, a dungeon crawler and characters by the Disgea legends, the dolls are all a little slutty!
In true Japanese style if you are going to play this game you’re going to need to leave your SJW badge at the door! The art styles in this game are a stereotypical as you can get, and as non-PC as you would hope.
All the dolls have 3 ‘template’ images, ranging from loli to blond bimbo and everything in between. All of them are superbly well drawn and I loved the little chibi versions, which imo don’t appear enough!! (They only crop up under specific circumstances during combat)
This amazing art work carried over to the monsters as well, which form an integral part of a DC-RPG. If the mobs aren’t interesting then your game is going to be dull! The mobs this time are really well done, though the lack of variety is a bit off putting. For example in my first run through I encountered 3 different types of ooze mobs, they all looked exactly the same. This wouldn’t be an issue normally, except one of them was an elite that literally one shot my entire party in the first round, not a fun experience!
The same is sadly applied to the dungeon itself, while it’s really well drawn, it’s lack of variety does make it a bit stale after a while.
Another thing to note is that this title is ‘M’ rated, even on the switch, and that surprised me a lot. NIS don’t usually put out mature rated titles, and do have a habit of censoring things to keep a reduced rating. Something that while I understand, I’ve never been a fan of. This time though they left it alone and ran with it. So not only do you get the slutty character art, you also very easy on get a rather raunchy scene between Dronya, and the local sexually repressed nun! Which blew me away when it cropped up because it was so unexpected.
Ok, lets talk story! I’ve no idea WTF is going on!!!! This game has confused the hell out of me, and I love it!
At the start of the game it’s made clear that humans can’t enter the labyrinth due to a dense miasma, which is highly poisonous to living things. You, as in the book Tractie, get thrown into the labyrinth and told to explore it by the Great Witch Baba Yaga….er Dronya….or a few other names she uses. Of course, being a book you cant walk, which is why you have a party of dolls to carry you as you explore. Also being inanimate dolls, they aren’t effected by the miasma
The problem is that literally straight away your party gets annihilated by the…..you guessed it, the miasma, with no explanation. Then your treated to a segment where a soul of ‘someone’ is put in the book. This is ‘you’ and you get to name it. Then its right back at the beginning again, only this time it plays out differently, and the entire segment left me with a huge WTF is going on. Thankfully this is only in this section, after that things proceed in a fairly standard way for the genre as the core game kicks in.
I’ve played around 18hours now and I’m still not 100% sure on whats going on, the first part of the game has really thrown me, and you know what, I love it! It’s brought back a sense of anticipation and suspense you don’t normally get in games anymore.
Now lets talk voice acting, you have a choice, you can have the english cast from NIS or you can have the original japanese. Now, you all now me, I’m a purist at heart and have always advocated for using the original cast. However, for this game I find I have to advocate the english cast. These guys have done an absolutely amazing job with the cast, all except Luca (more on this later). Dronya’s voice actress is spot on! I fell in love with her almost straight away, she brings the character to life perfectly.
The other I’ve come to like is the sexually repressed lesbian nun Marietta, who admittedly took a bit more getting used to. For the english side they gave her a fake russian accent that initially I didn’t care for. However I have to admit it’s grown on me, and it does fit the character design. It’s also why the game was given a ‘M’ rating.
Next we have Luca, who has so far become the only character I detest on the English audio. Her voice, as with a lot of English VA in Japanese games, is an adult trying to do a kids voice, and failing…hard. What should have been an adorable character is in fact now my most hated, based purely on the voice.
Now lets move onto mechanics…
Simply put, no matter what sort of dungeon crawler you’ve played there’s a high chance the mechanics are going to be here. The big exception being the shrines in the Demon Gaze gamester getting items and stuff.
So, you’ve got several resources to manage. Reinforcement, Silver, Mana, Donum. Reinforcement points are static (I believe) at 100. Every time you begin a delve you have 100 points. It costs a certain amount to begin the delve (3 at first, rising the higher the party is). You can then use the rest to use various skills in the dungeon itself, such as breaking down walls, or buffing your defence and attack; the last two can be done 3 times each.
Mana you gather while exploring the dungeon from both battles, as glowing orbs, or on marked walls. Mana directly impacts your delving as the more mana you have the higher your item drop rate is. However it also directly impacts the difficulty as the more mana you have the more you have to fight.
Mana is also a form of currency used in the base camp to buy skills, increase or decrease the game level. So having more is always good. Though admittedly for me there’s not enough skills in the game, and they’re drip fed to you making mana feel like a redundant currency.
Donum, in any other game would be magic or mana, but since mana is already used here they decided to call it donum. Personally I would have called mana donum and donum, mana. Just to make life easier. donum is used to cast the dolls skills, which vary based on their classes. Watch out though as you burn through it very fast. Even the mage class can burn their entire pool in a few attacks. It’s better to conserve those for the boss and elite fights.
I’ve not gone through some of the mechanics here, as I feel they’re best explored and enjoyed on a play through, rather than me spoiling them here! Lets just say that the systems in place for party management and formations are interesting.
A quick final points for those worrying about it. NO, this game is not censored, even on the Switch. Also, as far as i can tell, the translation is solid. NISA have, imo knocked it out the park this time and deserve praise for doing a good job. Switch players will also be happy to known that it runs perfectly on the platform with no degradation in handheld mode. Most will however prefer to play a title like this in docked mode because it does progress slowly.
So, for the conclusion. Would I recommend this game, yes I would. As I mentioned at the beginning I was in a place of boredom with the DC-RPG genre, and this game was not boring. Sure it suffered from the pitfalls of the genre, but unless there’s a major change in the way the genre plays you are always going to have those pitfalls.
In truth there are only two areas that frustrated me. Navigation is a pain the ass, and there’s a clear lack of direction or hints at where you’re supposed to be going. Which at times can lead to a lot of pointless meandering around and the wasting of RF points as you break down walls trying to find out where you’re supposed to be going.
The second is tied to the above as well, auto navigating. In almost every other game of this genre I’ve played, once you’ve uncovered an area you can set an auto walk so you don’t have to manually do it. Sure if you get intercepted by a mob you can’t avoid it, but that fine.
These are the only two real issues I have with the game, and honestly they’re minor frustrations, though the first is definitely bordering being a major pain in the ass! However I feel the characters, their interactions, and the story are more than enough to carry the game. The dungeon crawling part of the game is just icing on the cake!
The copies of Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk used for this review were provided by it’s publisher, NIS America. Also feel free to check out gameplay of the game on Twitch.