Nippon Ichi has long been one of my favorite developers of RPGs since I first played Disgaea so many years ago. While they don’t always hit a home run, they continually release interesting titles that satisfy pretty much every subcategory of the role-playing genre there is. Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is probably the most unique RPG I’ve played in years. It seems to be categorized as a dungeon-crawling exploration game that features some of the old-school battle systems that many turn-based games have, but it’s really all the other things they tossed in that really sets it apart from anything close to resembling it. Let’s dive in to see what it offers.
First, the most interesting part of Labyrinth is the composition of your battle party. Are they people, creatures, or anything like that? Not exactly, while the members of your team may look like people, they are actually puppets given life through witchcraft by imbuing souls into them. That’s right, you’re fighting the monstrosities of the underground with puppets. Not only that, but you get to customize your puppets starting from six classes and two sexes of each. While the only thing that seems to separate male from female is the nicely drawn character models, it only begins there.
Once you have chosen the type of fighter you want you then decide on a plethora of different aspects that will affect how they grow, level up, and what they learn along the way. This gives you so much control over the team that you almost become overwhelmed with choices. However, the developers obviously knew that for some players this may be the case, so they do have a randomize option to quickly create your team. I really enjoyed going through all of the options and choosing the ones that I thought sounded like they would benefit the group. The bottom line is you have total control over playing the way you want to play. Take as much time investing in team creation as you want. There really aren’t any wrong choices, just the possibility of poor planning and wasted trips to the dungeon. You will most likely experience this anyway, so enjoy it at the level of depth you want to.
As you explore the 3D dungeon you are going to come across many items and monsters. As you proceed further you will collect Mana. The catch is that you can only collect so much with each dive into the labyrinth. If you harness too much, the game punishes you and it starts to affect your team in negative ways. Speaking of punishing, anything bad that happens to your puppet brigade becomes a punishment when you leave. Your puppets can lose limbs as well as die in the catacombs. Not only that, but there is a foul stench in the form of Miasma that can, and will, destroy you if you linger too long without protection from it. If you come back out of the maze after a complete team wipe, the game punishes you even further. This system really makes you want to prepare well before you take your puppets into the fray because you obviously want to be successful each time you go in and come out.
You, the player, are the fabled cursed tome, Tractatus de Monstrum. The game does an excellent job of explaining what that is and how it all fits together. You find yourself to be in the possession of one named Dronya the Dusk Witch. As you play, you will form your own opinions of her, but I found her to be arrogant and angry. In fact, she doesn’t seem to be very kind to Luca, her apprentice who happens to be a lovable young girl who cares very deeply about people and animals. You will also be introduced to many other non-playable characters along the way. Your goal is to please the witch and from her behavior you can imagine how difficult that will be to accomplish.
I found a lot to love about Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk as I played. I was fairly confused in the beginning because the game seems to start without much explanation and I fell into a hole and wound up in a strange place guided by a mysterious voice. I don’t want to give anything away here because, while I really love the gameplay itself, the story is compelling and hooked me right away. The graphics are well done, characters are interesting, and the control you have over every aspect of the gameplay is deep and rich. The only complaint I have is in regards to the voices of the characters throughout. It’s not that they are bad in any way. In fact I liked the quality of the voice actors and felt they did a very good job. However, in some places the end of sentences seems to get cut off a half second or so early. I hope it’s something they patch in the future as I found it distracting and annoying. Honestly though, that was my list of complaints.
I believe that Nippon Ichi found a possible franchise with this one and hope they expand on it in the future. I liked it so much that I don’t really want to go into any more detail than the videos and official website already do because doing so would possibly steal a little of the wonder from you as you play. I just want to emphasize that this is definitely a game that I am thrilled to have in my collection and would recommend it to anyone who loves RPGs. If you’re still not sold, try out the free demo on the eShop!
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk Review
Final Thoughts: EXCELLENT
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is a fun, rich, challenging, and deep dungeon crawling RPG experience. There are a ton of mysteries and anyone who loves to explore and find every nook and cranny of the environment will find many things to enjoy. I do recommend the TV experience over the handheld way to play, however both will give you an immersive and satisfying gaming experience. Do yourself a favor Nippon Ichi fans and pick this one up.
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.
Jay has been an avid gamer since the Intellivision days. His hobbies include building PCs, 3D modeling and printing, and spending time with his children and dog.