This game has a dark tone that brings down the experience. The story has comedic moments, but is routinely mean-spirited to a key side character. You are unable to prevent tragic events from happening right in front of you. Plus, you will be punished repeatedly for your ignorance.
Genres: Dungeon Crawler, JRPG
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software, Inc.
Publisher: NIS America, Inc.
Release date: 18 September, 2018
I’ve had Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk (LRCD) in my library for a couple of years, and started playing it more than a year ago. However, I lost momentum due to cheap deaths in the first dungeon, and rage quit. Coming back to it later, I still had some issues in the early area, but it was less pronounced, and I got much further into the game. However, history repeated itself, as I kept running into frustrating situations, and have decided that I won’t continue on to beat LRCD.
LRCD is a dungeon-crawling RPG, where fights are broken into rounds where each unit gets one move per round (some enemies not playing by that rule). Your units can attack, use magic, defend, or try to escape. As you explore dungeons, you’ll find one-use chests, shiny spots and mana pools that respawn each time you return, and events marked with exclamation points. These tend to advance your exploration, though some have prerequisites you have to meet first.
When not in the dungeon, you’ll be able to organize your puppets in different pacts, unlock sealed items and new abilities with mana, or buy and sell items. There are other mechanics as well, though most of this will not be available until you’ve cleared the first few dungeons and invested a few hours into the game. This leads to a slow burn, but once it gets rolling, the game becomes more engaging. Plus, each new mechanic is explained with a short tutorial so you have the basic idea in mind.
You can play with either the keyboard or controller, and I found the controller worked well. Movement is controlled with the ‘D-pad,’ and you can strafe left and right with the ‘trigger’ buttons. ‘Y’ brings up the menu, ‘X’ progresses time 1 turn, and ‘A’ interacts with items. There’s also useful shortcuts that can be used by holding down the ‘R bumper,’ and pushing a direction on the ‘D-pad.’ Depending on the direction pushed, you’ll bring up menus like the puppets’ status or the map. Later on, the ‘R bumper’ is also used for abilities you unlock by hitting buttons like ‘B’ to break walls.
I find the premise of LRCD interesting, as you follow the perspective of a witch, Dronya, and her protege, Luca. They utilize a squadron of puppet soldiers, and a journal, Tractus de Monstrum, IE Tractie, written by a rare survivor of this bizarre well, to explore its depths and unlock its mysteries. In my first attempt at playing LRCD, I could sympathize with Dronya’s bad attitude due to everyone leering at her. However, as I got further into the story, the way she treats the ever-likable Luca is grating, and I found myself despising her. Overall, I found myself disliking the game’s grim tone, particularly because you encounter many situations where you have to watch as someone is killed, with no chance to intervene. This can shift on a dime though, as there’s lots of humor as well, which can be jarring. The game is also overly eroticized, as you’ll get items like Soiled Undergarments. Charming.
Furthermore, the early parts of the game seemed to emphasize her interaction with Tractie and actively engaging with the well’s exploration, furthering the cause by amplifying the journal’s magical abilities. Throughout the 3rd dungeon and where I’d gotten to in the 4th one, she only intervened once. It seemed like the developers got sidetracked too much, instead of focusing on the reason for being there to begin with. Admittedly, I did find myself enjoying the small displays of personality that my puppets had. When you spend so much time fighting as them and setting up their inventory, there’s some level of attachment, which surprised me considering that they’re almost mute automatons I deploy. Then again, we’re used to silent protagonists by now, so this isn’t that different.
There’s good art design with how characters and enemy models are made, with enemies slightly moving during battles. I like the visuals shown during cutscenes, as the characters have good artwork. Some of the items you interact with in dungeons don’t look very good, such as objects you crash into to destroy, but this was one of the few weaknesses I observed. Also, enemies having icons you can see and dodge is something I appreciate in an RPG.
The music is pretty good in LRCD, with an appropriate fantasy vibe to them, though dungeons would benefit from more variety with how long you’ll spend exploring them. Sound effects fit attacks and getting damaged well enough, with nothing coming across as obnoxious. Of note, many if not all of the story cutscenes have voiceovers, and I found the voice acting to be of good quality. The cutscenes in dungeons are silent though.
- As you unlock new mechanics, the game starts opening up and becomes much more interesting. When I got the ability to break walls, the game changed tremendously.
- The maps are a lifesaver, giving useful information to help you navigate dungeons. Part of me wanted some more details, but I’d not give it up for anything.
- The world-building was less detailed outside of the well, but I found the settings and situations in the well fascinating. I was rather drawn in by this.
- Weak enemies can break your puppets’ limbs, which is expensive to repair. If you are defeated too many times early on, I’m pretty sure you’d be unable to advance.
- Despite playing for more than 25 hours, I didn’t know what increased my karma, which is an instrumental, basic function in the game.
- Maybe I just didn’t figure it out, but I didn’t see a way to use items during fights.
- I’m no expert with puppet creation, but as my characters were leveling up, I found the ones I had made flat were less useful than their sharp and double sharp counterparts. However, those with low HP were basically useless, so don’t sacrifice HP growth for other stats. Make lucky numbers even and diversify the classes and genders.
- Stockpiling experience is very useful as it multiplies the XP you earn. However, if you’re defeated or flee any fight, all of it is forfeit.
- Power level. You can never be too overpowered in this game. Also, if the game warns you about something, take it seriously.
It’s disappointing how things turned out with LRCD, but it’s simply too punishing to be enjoyable. The final straw for me was when I was in an area recommended for level 33 minimum, and my puppets were in their high 40’s and mid 50’s, with the next dungeon being for level 44. I activated an event showing a huge enemy I was warned not to fight. Then, I went to the next event marker that said Hide, so I activated it thinking I’d be safe. Instead, I was forced to fight this monster, with the ability to flee removed, and was easily wiped out, in spite of my theoretically high levels for the area. This felt like such a pointless, cruel trap, and it was the breaking point for me. In spite of what LRCD does well, I can’t recommend it, and won’t finish it myself.