Game Review: Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk [NIS America]

ESRB: Mature
Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence
Release Date: Sep 18, 2018 (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Steam)
Category: Role-Playing
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software, Inc.

Have you ever had an event happen in your life that shook up your schedule or daily routine? While the immediate detriment is most loudly noticeable in the action of the disturbance, the most harrowing ordeal is the attempted return to routine. In other words, trying to upkeep a previous rhythm is no small feat in the wake of a disastrous event. Take, for example, Hurricane Florence. See, Florence and I have a special relationship, in which I live smack dab in her target audience in Eastern North Carolina. I not only had to weather the storm, I also had to weather the roller-coaster of maintaining a schedule in the wake of the storm AND in the aftermath. This review was originally supposed to be written, edited, and posted on September 11th. It obviously was not because I was derailed by what was (at the time) a category 4 hurricane barreling straight for me. As we all know, it ended up turning south and then severely downgrading a day before its effects really made landfall. All the same, preparing for the storm and then riding it out really threw a wrench in my personal editorial content. But, the storm has passed; the writing continues; the show must go on! Without further ado, let us dive into the Nippon Ichi Software developed and NIS America published Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk.

The game is a first-person dungeon crawler akin to the original Shin Megami Tensei games and the Etrian Odyssey series. In fact, the game seems heavily influenced by them with the way the map is revealed as the player explores the dungeon, named of course the Labyrinth of Refrain. Then to keep the familiarities flowing, the player will be able to build a team of companion, wooden puppets in this game as opposed to Demons in Shin Megami Tensei. The team can be built and customized as the player sees fit for the circumstances that lies ahead of them at any point in the game. Now it would not be a heavily influenced game if the developers did not come up with a new name for traditional aspects to match their lore. In this case, what would be named magic in other games is called “Donum” and has casting costs applied to them as per the genre usual.

Along with the turn based combat that you would expect from a game similar to the aforementioned games, there are some gameplay mechanics and quality of life aspects that helps lend the game to being a mixed bag for the player. The first being the traditional visual novel cutscenes presentation of highly detailed character models connected to a text box of their dialogue. While being one of the easiest and cheapest ways to present the cutscenes, it really does feel like a lot of developers have just gone with this style and not explored other ways to do the cutscenes. Especially with a solid voice acting performance for this game, using actual video cutscenes would have done it more justice. Another gripe is the fact that the enemies the player is fighting has no visible health gauge to know how close or far away from defeat they are. One quality of life aspect I enjoyed was chests just open up as you walk over their square.

As far as the story goes, the opening cutscenes includes the boisterous foul-mouthed witch Dronya who has a young child named Luca in tow as she travels to the town of Refrain. Her job is to enter the labyrinth of tunnels below the city to rid them of monsters, however this maze like system is full of a green substance called miasma that is deadly to humans, but can be collected as mana for the wooden puppets in the party. So the actual game kicks off with Dronya throwing an old fabled book named Tractatus de Monstrum (which Luca had given a cute pet name to) down into the well and it turns out that the player will be playing the role of the book. In typical fashion, the book is important because it was written by the only human that supposedly survived a trip into the labyrinth. From there, the story beats are predictable, but are helped by the dash of dark humor included and the chemistry the voice actors have in their performances.

Conclusion

Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is a game that will likely see decent sales numbers on the Nintendo Switch due to the fact there are not many dungeon crawlers on the system. With that said, it may very well be in an ARMS situation where as soon as more games begin releasing to fill that niche, gamers will forget about it quickly. Even though the story is decent even, NIS America has the much better The Lost Child already out and Shin Megami Tensei V should hopefully see its release in 2019. With all those factors playing a role and the game just not that interesting, this is a truly skippable experience unless it’s bought at the right price during a game lull. (Ryan Williford – Gaming Editor)

5/10

Review copy provided by NIS America.

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