Help! I’m Lost! | Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk Review
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk for the Nintendo Switch
Alright, confession, but I’ve never played a DRPG before, despite having owned Etrian Odyssey IV. I know, blasphemy, and to make matters worse, that game was condemned to my backlog until sold. Truth is, every judgment I made was based solely on visuals, not my own enjoyment; never even played it! I knew I needed to rectify this, so when I heard NIS America was localizing Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk, that was my sign. From the creators of Disgaea comes NIS America’s maiden voyage into the DRPG genre. Come and join me as I venture through this maze, hoping to reach the paradise of enjoyment.
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk was released as a Japanese exclusive for the PlayStation Vita in 2016, before hitting the PlayStation 4 the following year. Now, thanks to the localizing genius of NIS America, westerners will finally experience this intriguing title. In it, you’ll follow the story of the Dusk Witch Dronya and her companion, Luca. They’ve travelled to the City of Tania to explore a mysterious well that also happens to be the entrance to a labyrinth. With the help of the Tractatus de Monstrum, a legendary book, the pair hope to uncover the secrets held within. You see, this text was written by the only man that successfully reached the end. In it, he wanted to share the discoveries he made, however, that wasn’t all. There is something else that he encountered, something truly horrific.
If you asked me to describe Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk in one sentence, I’d say it’s a Disgaea title with the soul of Etrain Odyssey. The gameplay is essentially split into two sections; there’s visual novel story-telling, and then 3-Dimensional dungeon crawling. As you might have guessed, this means dialogue is super heavy. Luckily, characters are well-written and although the story isn’t anything ground-breaking, the execution was still satisfactory. What truly made the literary work come to life was the excellent voice-acting. The delivery, the subtle tone shifts, and mannerisms all came together to further create immersion. One character I’d love to point out is your companion, Luca. She’s a little girl that accompanies Dronya, is innocent, and can sometimes be an annoyance. For instance, the two of them will come across a sheep early on. Luca immediately falls in love with the little guy and even gives him a name. Maybe I just have a soft heart but I honestly melted when she called him “Bah-Bah”. Anyway, Dronya felt differently about this and tossed Bah-Bah down the well to mass protest. I loved the banter between the characters here and the believability of Luca as a child was bang on.
The way the story progresses in Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is quite linear. After you’ve explored an area or completed an objective, you’re asked to return to your caravan. Here, you can choose to advance forward, but also purchase new abilities. Sometimes, the items that you’ve found grant you a new ability as per the game’s progression. Funny story but early on, I came across a wall that suggested the way was behind it. I freaked out and shamefully searched for an hour, thinking maybe I missed something. I didn’t and after completing my current task, I’d go on to unlock the skill to pulverize walls. Not only is this skill useful for creating shortcuts, but you’ll also discover hidden chests. This does use a point system called Reinforcement though. So, keep an eye on it as you’ll be limited on how many walls you can hulk smash but otherwise, explore everything!
The above methods aren’t the only way you can earn new abilities either. On the mini-map, you’ve probably noticed green spots that look like grass. It isn’t and if you were to bang the wall in that position, you’ll get “Mana”. No, not magic; Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk deals with Dorum for spells. You can also find this commodity by battling or stumbling on floating orbs. Once you return to your caravan, if you go to “Select Petition”, you’ll uncover what I’ve dubbed “The Mana Shop”. Here, you can purchase the previously mentioned abilities, but there are other things as well. For example, you can lower or increase the difficulty of the game. I wouldn’t suggest lowering it as I found the game simple enough. Going up though, it provides a tougher challenge, definitely. I reverted back because, well, as the kids say, I couldn’t “git gud”
For anyone that’s familiar with NIS America, you’re aware that most of their titles deal in sexuality. Be it with hidden innuendo or a direct statement, it can usually be found. Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk doesn’t shy away from thrusting you in naughty bits. For example, during a conversation with a drunk man, he’ll comment on your “Huge Knockers”. The crudeness is subtle and I loved how they weave it perfectly into the character. It felt authentic to what an actual intoxicated individual would comment. Again, and I know I said this already, but the voice work in this game can’t be understated, Bellissimo.
There is one specific scene though that’s rather controversial in my inner circle. Later in the game, you’ll encounter a nun that’ll bring you to her shrine. She does this because after the bell tolls three times, the streets of Tania are dangerous. Once there, Luca is dismissed to her own bedroom, leaving the other two alone. Now, the nun will begin seducing our Dusk Witch, partially undressing before sitting down beside her. She’ll continue chatting before slowly sliding her hand up Dronya’s dress, to which the witch reacts in disgust. Okay, this is an assault by definition but if I’m being honest, I wasn’t bothered by it. In an era where you can grope boobs or take panty shots, I felt like this was tame. I also felt that from a narrative standpoint, this scene made sense. See, the nun’s being seductively creepy so for me, her actions seemed like a natural progression. In other words, the writer wanted to stay true to the world and the personality of the character. As an author, I feel that sexualization or any sensitive topic can be explored, but it must be in a way that makes sense. Blatantly throwing it in just for the sake of having boobs or groping does not make any sense. It hurts the overall narrative and realistically, there are crappy people in the world, so why not in fiction?
The battling in Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is deceptively plain looking but complex in its execution. Because the labyrinth is overrun by miasma – a substance fatal to humans – you will use puppets to explore. While doing so, you’ll discover various types of souls, as well as shells, that go into improving your army. Just simply return to the caravan and you’ll be able to customize voice, appearance, gender, as well as stat growth. What do I mean? Well, you can choose from various templates the offer differing stat growth. Say you choose the “Brave” option, you’ll be shown just how each stat increases with letters. So say the ATK has a SS beside it, this indicates that with each level, it’ll substantially grow. Your DEF, however, has a D beside it; as you’ve probably surmised, this means the growth is limited. What I appreciated is that template selection isn’t permanent. You can change it at any time and play around to create the ultimate puppet. Simply select one of your warriors, view status, then toggle over to custom. happy experimenting everyone!
In conclusion, Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is well-worth your time. While the dungeon environments are lacklustre, the beautiful hand-drawn art and music will draw you in. Being from the creators of Disgaea, the music did remind of that genre. While not a bad thing, it would have been nice for this very enjoyable game to get music with a unique vibe to it. That’s not to say it’s bad, let me be clear here; I just would have liked the game to stand on its own two feet. The writing was excellent and I noticed some subtle foreshadowing sprinkled in. The only real flaw that I encountered were the tutorials; they’re just in your face. They were intrusive, and it would have been nice to have them tempered a bit or presented differently. The voice-acting was definitely MVP and I swear I heard Gundham from Danganronpa 2 in one of the voices your puppets can have. I quite enjoyed my time with Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk and can whole-heartedly say that yes, it’s worth the full price.
Reviewed by Fernando Da Costa on the Nintendo Switch. Game provided by NIS America.