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Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk

Posted by GG Goblin On October - 2 - 2018

Like a puppet on a string. In a dungeon.

 
If there is one thing that you can be certain of with a Nippon Ichi game, it is that it will be strange. Quirky games seem to be their super power, and the latest to come over from NIS is up there with the strangest. There may be nothing particularly odd about a dungeon-crawling JRPG, although the first-person viewpoint and slow progression is perhaps not as common as it used to be. But when you throw in the fact that the player is actually a book, the heroes are actually puppets, and it’s all controlled by an obnoxious witch who has the good sense to stay well out of the dungeon, and harms way, that is when you start wandering into NIS territory. Welcome to Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk, now available on the Nintendo Switch.

 
lorcod1 (Copy)

 
First up, cast aside any thoughts of Disgaea, Labyrinth of Refrain is a much more adult adventure, one filled with foul language and questionable goings on. This alone may be enough to push some players away from the game, as the combination of chibi and cute with adult themes is not something all gamers can take. But this is not the first game to straddle that boundary between decency and disgust, and it won’t be the last.

 
Anyway, the story revolves around a particularly nasty witch called Dronya who, along with her ward Luca, is heading for the town of Refrain, where she has been tasked with clearing out an underground labyrinth. The problem is that the labyrinth is is filled with a substance deadly to humans, and so rather than putting herself at risk, Dronya sends down a magical book, the Tractatus de Monstrum, along with a bunch of magical mannequins to do the work. While in the dungeons, the player takes the role of the magical book, seeing everything through its eyes/pages.

 
lorcod2 (Copy)

 
Through the course of playing many hundreds of games, I can’t actually remember ever playing as a book before, and certainly not in a first-person dungeon crawler. It’s a cool idea, and it is not the only one. The idea of the usual party of adventurers being replaced with expendable living puppets is another nice twist, and the fact that players follow the story of Dronya and everything that is going on in relative safety above ground, while the book and puppets do their thing in the dungeons, is really quite genius.

 
So, above ground the player can follow the story of Dronya, Luca and the various other equally obnoxious characters that they come across. It’s an entertaining story, but it does have a tendency to drag on a little, with some particularly long cut scenes, while most players will only want to get back to the action in the dungeon. Still, it works well as a reason for being there, and builds an interesting world in which to play.

 
But it is in the labyrinth that things get really interesting, and a little confusing. The problem with Labyrinth of Refrain is that there is quite a lot to pick up, although it does all flow together well after a while and becomes second nature. But still, at the beginning, it can be a bit intimidating.

 
lorcod3 (Copy)

 
First of all, there are the puppets. These are brought to life by infusing them with souls, and players can choose from six different classes for their puppets to take on. So far, so good. But then the game allows the player to put these puppets into teams, or covens, of which the player is able to take multiple into the dungeon. The result is almost an army of puppets to clear out the dungeon, and a whole lot of fiddling around for players who love to tinker with stats and micro-manage their teams. It is quite a lot to take in.

 
As the player wanders the corridors of the labyrinth, choosing when to head back and get some puppets repaired, and when to continue into the maze, the teams will get into combat quite frequently, although avoiding combat is more of an option than in many games of this type. Thankfully, the combat system is actually quite straight forward in comparison to the multiple menu-driven management. It may be a little too straight forward for some, with a hefty amount of button mashing generally being the order of the day. But then you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

 
Despite the wealth of options and stats for players to wade through in the menus, Labyrinth of Refrain is quite easy to get into, thanks in part to the fact that players can choose how much or how little they want to tinker as it doesn’t have a huge effect on the gameplay. Anyone who is already accustomed to games of this genre should be able to pick things up quite quickly and enjoy the dungeon crawling. The dungeons themselves can be a little repetitive and somewhat dull to look at, but this comes down to following the theme of older first-person dungeon crawlers.

 
lorcod4 (Copy)

 
With an enjoyable, if long winded, story centred on a witch, and a book that commands puppets in a dungeon, Labyrinth of Refrain has already started out as an odd take on the first-person dungeon crawling genre. But once the interesting team mechanics are added, which can again be long winded, and the fairly easy combat, and you have a game that makes enough changes to the genre to spark interest. With hours and hours of content, Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is a worthy addition to any dungeon crawlers Switch library.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 



 

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