Labyrinth of Refrain : Coven of Dusk review – What another Dungeon Crawler ?!?!
- Developer:Nippon Ichi Software
- Publisher: NIS America
- Genre: JRPG Dungeon crawler
- Release Date: 18/09/18
- Platforms: PS4/PS Vita/Switch/Windows
- Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch on 1080p HD Samsung TV
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
On no, not ANOTHER Japanese JRPG dungeon crawler ?!?! Yes, yes damn it yes it is. However sit up and take notice as this one is made by the same quality developer who have made the Disgaea series.
From the opening scenes it is quite obvious a lot of attention to detail has been made for this game. The visuals and artwork in the cutscenes are breathtaking. Not since a Vanillaware game have I seen backgrounds so lovingly created. However, playing the game in the dock most certainly is not as tight or smooth looking as when played on just the handheld screen. A bigger screen certainly shows the jagged edges. That’s not to say it’s ugly, far from it, just that it was noticeable.
The cut scenes are of excellent anime quality, but that dips when you enter the dungeon in question. Dungeons are, as dungeons do, repetitive, boring, dull looking corridors. It’s hard to jazz it up anymore than it is, but i always find dungeon crawlers put themselves into a corner simply by being a dungeon crawler. This then means the levels frankly lack variety and can get very boring. There are different kinds of tunnels to navigate, but most of the time it’s the same old thing on the poor old eyes. It doesn’t help that for as much effort that was put into the cut scene drawings, there seems a lack thereof for the actual dungeon. The same cut and paste walls time after time, ( sigh ) with no new details or great textures or lighting.
So why are you in a dungeon at all ? Well the story starts off having you think your playing as a pretty cold, heartless witch called Dronya and her sidekick Luca. However soon into the game you realize you will be playing most of it as the spirit locked within a magical book called “Tractatus de Monstrum” or “Traccy” for short.
Dronya masquerades as a puppet show entertainer, but with the help of Traccy, transforms her puppets into a fighting force to take on the maze of the dungeon in the middle of the town called Refrain. Why is she doing this and for what gain is at the heart of the story, and the narrative gladly panders to this theme to hook the player.
However, don’t be tricked by the visuals the content at times is very adult. This is a shame as it will offend younger players. The main moment that I would warn against players under 16 playing this game is fairly soon into the game and a rather crude, uncomfortable, nearly, but not quite rape scene. It’s out of place. Rape scene aside there are also liberal amounts of swearing and crudeness too to warrant the 16 year old rating for sure.
Audio, is of excellent quality, and most certainly standout is the voice acting of the witch Dronya, and the brilliant soundtrack background. The soundtrack is a mix of eastern European, almost circus type music that is infectious and performed beautifully. Each character you meet also has superb gravitas, but still a slight slapstick to their performances to be utterly engaging.
Finally the meat and potatoes of the game is the combat and game mechanics. Navigation of the dungeon could not be simpler. It’s form a first person point of view, but simple one steps on either forward/backwards/left or right. You will occasionally find treasure chests with simple one button press to open, and the same for locked doors. Search for the switch for it and press a button to activate.
When you come to the combat, it’s definitely a case of less is more. You can create and micro manage your puppet army ( by the end of the game to around 40 ) with a great array of customizable options, to link abilities into small squads of three ( called Covens ) to make them more effective. The game also encourages you to experiment with your teams ( Covens ) to maximize their potential, and it’s rewarding to do so. This is helped by the fact that the combat is fairly simple and not complicated at all.
Basic attacks, spells, and other abilities like defend for a turn to be stronger for the next, means that there is still a fair tactical depth, but wrapped up in a fun simple turn based system.
So as you explore the dungeons, you find and set off events and boss fights to progress the story, to uncover the truth behind the Labyrinth of Refrain and it’s only survivor.
There are a lot of Dungeon crawlers out there on the market, and many in the genres history of the past. Labyrinth of Refrain, doesn’t bring anything new to the table but, with a great narrative, characters, and simple combat system, makes this adventure very accessible to new players to the genre.