One thing that stands out about Nippon Ichi Software titles is they’re always more than meets the eye. Disgaea routinely took seemingly silly plots and made them, if nothing else, interesting. Similar things happen with The Witch and the Hundred Knight series. They start as fairly silly experiences that lead to a much deeper experience. Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk has all the makings of a great Nippon Ichi Software title. Cute art, quirky characters, familiar mechanics and so much more. However, will they continue to find success or do they need a new approach?
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk tells a seemingly simple story. Refrains acting governor wants to explore the mysterious labyrinth and calls in the infamous witch Baba Yaga to do it. Armed with the Tactatus de Monstrum, a legendary book written by the only person to ever make it out of the labyrinth alive, and a variety of puppets, Baba Yaga hopes to uncover what secrets the labyrinth holds and come out ahead. Even if there isn’t much on the surface, it quickly becomes a more complicated adventure, complete with dark twists and unexpected turns.
Beyond the overarching story, character beats and relationships should be familiar to fans of Nippon Ichi Software’s other titles. Baba Yaga, otherwise known as Dronya, manages to be the ever lovable quirky main. She is full of herself, flirtatious, dislikes children, despite her foil and sidekick being a child, and at times, quite charming. Her assistant Luca is a young child filled with optimism, cute mannerism and ever so easy to tease. They make for a cute pair and help drive the story during the slow bits, as does exploration.
The labyrinth acts as a fairly familiar dungeon system. Players start by creating puppets to do their bidding. Knights are good at damage, Fortress units are tanks, Maze does magic and the other classes fulfill other specific roles. Players can then alter their gender, appearance (at least skin tone/color), affinity (how well they work with a given item), bonus skill (innate bonus ability) and more. It offers just enough to make it feel good, without it being too complicated for the casual observer. From there these characters are placed in a group, followed by formation and these will be your fighters.
Upon entering the labyrinth players will find it plays like your average dungeon crawler. Everything is in first person, maps need to be explored, some paths exist for shortcuts and plenty of treasure to find. What stands out in Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is a hostile indicator. By playing it just right players can avoid battles, though it will hurt you in the long run, or ignore it and face as many foes as you happen to run across.
Battles are pretty straightforward. Whatever foe you’ve come across will appear on the screen and you need to overcome it. This can be done through magic, attacking in a specific order, figuring out its weakness and more. If you have enough power and/or items and don’t mind monitoring health, a lot of battles can be done on auto pilot. This will make it harder to capitalize on chain bonuses and other things, which give you additional power to overcome difficult challenges, though these are only so useful against sub-boss tier characters.
Defeating an enemy will give you experience and mana to further your team. These will increase stats, give new abilities and other things to aid your adventure. Mana can be used to pass petitions to alter the game, similar with the aforementioned Nippon Ichi Software titles. So if you want it easier, buy that and the game will be easier with progressing being harder. Likewise, you can increase the difficulty at the cost of things being easier to do. There are other things to pass, such as the ability to find more items, making it an important resource.
Said items can also be found, bought or obtained to boost a character’s stats. They’re important to monitor, as every little bit goes a long way. Especially since there are plenty of things players will be punished for doing.
Unlike most games, holding a certain amount of mana, losing and other things have stiff punishments. Not only do they make things harder, it adds a deeper level of tactical play. Now you have to do something or deal with the negative, with the most important thing being limbs. Puppets with a reduced number of limbs are less effective on the battlefield and will be a hindrance unless fixed or replaced. It makes for an interesting failure penalty, since it’s a more overt way to punish that taking cash or outright progress.
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk isn’t perfect but it manages to stand out in its own way. With Baba Yaga/Dronya and Luca being a charming couple, it helps the story from dragging, ultimately leading down an interesting path. While gameplay isn’t perfect and at times very paint by numbers, it’s fun enough for this not to be a problem. So, if you’re a big fan of Nippon Ichi Software or enjoy dungeon crawlers, give Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk a go.
[Editor’s Note: Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk was reviewed on PS4 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]