Imagine if Nippon Ichi Software worked their grindtastic magic on something other than video games like the Disgaea series. Cars could go up to ten billion miles per hour if only you held the accelerator for long enough. Computers would be infinitely expandable, allowing you to have thousands of hard drives if you so chose. Restaurants would offer steaks in sizes of six, eight and a hundred ounces. It might be best if these guys stuck to making games, now that I think about it; Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is evidence that their skills remain sharp.
The town of Refrain is a sleepy little burg without much to mention…so why would the powerful witch Madam Dronya stop by? Well, it might have something to do with the Well of Khalaza. There’s an incredibly vast labyrinth underneath Refrain, y’see, and the Well is its entrance. Using a magic book called the Tractatus de Monstrum – the player character – and an array of artificial puppet soldiers, Dronya is able to remotely explore the poison-filled well and try to discover what secrets lie within.
As with most Nippon Ichi titles, Labyrinth of Refrain hides a surprising amount of complexity behind its gothic-cute (gothicute?) exterior. This is a first-person dungeon-crawler, sure, but it’s NIS-ified. Your party has a whopping fifteen active members at any given time, for instance, arranged in separate squads in a fashion somewhat similar to niche RPG (and personal favorite) The Last Remnant. That’s saying nothing of the back-line party members offering buffs. It’s a little insane, and there’s definitely some value in the game taking it easy on you at first before introducing the full extent of that insanity.
Once you get past that insanity, though, Labyrinth of Refrain ends up feeling like a pretty standard dungeon-crawler. There are some interesting quirks here and there; you’ve got a catch-all resource called Reinforcement that can be used to buff your party, heal damaged puppets and even break through walls, for instance. Generally, though, you’re exploring, mapping and working out how to steadily make your way further each time you enter the dungeon.
Successful exploration allows you to report your success back to Dronya and progress the plot ever so slightly before moving on. We’ve been doing this since Wizardry and it’s always got that classic appeal. The Disgaea-esque crazy numerical aspects of the game and near-unlimited character development serve as icing on the top of a well-baked fundamental cake.
Speaking of Disgaea, you’ve played that, right? Then you’ve got an idea of what to expect from a presentation standpoint with Labyrinth of Refrain. Again: “gothicute.” It’s worth mentioning the monster designs, though, which trend hard toward the gothic side of the equation and actually edge on horror. Voice acting is standard for NIS titles, with special mention going to the oh-so-cruel Dronya.
Just like Zettai Hero Project NIS-ified roguelikes, Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk amps dungeon crawlers up to 11. Fans of the classic Wizardry titles are bound to enjoy the spice this adds to the genre, while NIS diehards can take this as an opportunity to explore yet another take on numerical nonsense. Regardless where you fall, if you’ve got the time and attention to devote a chunk of your life to its bewitching charms, Labyrinth of Refrain is a great choice.