Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is the latest game from Nippon Ichi, the makers of the Disgaea series. Rather than being one of their typical strategy RPGs, this is a first-person dungeon crawler where you’ll get to spend many hours creating your perfect team, as well as searching every inch of the map.
The game takes place in a mysterious town called Refrain, where underneath lies a deadly labyrinth that is rumored to contain many wondrous treasures. Its treasures have remained untouched due to a poisonous miasma that permeates throughout and the hordes of terrifying monsters that lie in wait.
The secrets it holds are about to be uncovered as a beautiful, raven haired witch called Dronya has arrived in town with the intention of exploring its depths. Accompanying Dronya is her young apprentice, Luca, as well as a legendary book known as the Tractatus de Monstrum.
What Rhymes With Witch?
Dronya is quite an intriguing character, but she’s not one that you’re likely to grow very fond of. Many of the things that she says and how she acts towards others can seem downright cruel at times, but the further you get into the story the more you start to catch glimpses that there is more to her then first meets the eye.
To counteract Dronya’s negative personality, there is her sweet-natured assistant, Luca. Luca’s very easy to warm to as she’s very kind hearted and also has an eternal optimism that would make anyone smile. She’s pretty much the exact opposite to Dronya! There are also lots of quirky townsfolk that you’ll get to meet including a seductive nun who seems to be quite infatuated with Dronya.
In a somewhat unusual twist, you won’t be playing as either Dronya or Luca. Instead you’ll be playing as a soul that has been sealed inside the Tractatus de Monstrum. This book is said to have been written by the only person to have explored the labyrinth and survived.
Dronya’s caravan will be your base of operations, and is where you can prepare before heading off into the deep dark depths of the labyrinth. As you’re a book, you obviously don’t have the ability to fight, but thankfully you’re not sent down there alone. Dronya can create soldiers out of puppets, and these will be used to fight for you.
Create Your Own Hero
Building your own puppets is quite a cool process as you have a lot of control over various different aspects. To create a new soldier, you just need to find a soul and some puppet parts, after that you can then name it, select its character portrait, voice and job class.
Where things start to get really fun is in deciding how you want its stats to grow, you can make the puppet become really specialized or turn it into a jack-of-all-trades. You can also select certain skills for it to learn, as well as deciding if you want it to be more of an offensive or defensive type. If you’re the type of person who loves looking into the stats of your characters, then there’s a lot for you to sink your teeth into.
You’ll also gain access to more customization options and job classes by finding specific treasures in the dungeon and by asking Dronya for new options. All of these things mean that you’ll be constantly encouraged to experiment and create new puppets.
Of course, the game isn’t just about creating new puppets. You’ll need to actually venture into the labyrinth; after all, those treasures won’t find themselves! As it is a fairly typical for a dungeon crawler you’ll be viewing things in a first-person perspective, and you’ll be moving around one square at a time.
The labyrinth is really large and has a lot of different places for you to explore. It can feel pretty addictive to try to uncover every square on each floor of the map, and I felt like I was constantly finding new areas and things to discover.
There are plenty of traps ranging from poisonous floor tiles to switches and also holes in the floor that will drop you to the levels below. While this is all quite similar to many other dungeon crawlers out there, there are a few new things that spice the game up a bit.
You’ll come across some pretty nifty new tricks, the most interesting of which is the ability to destroy walls. This comes in very handy when there’s a locked door that you don’t have a key for. Not all walls are breakable but it really adds a new element to exploring when you realise that you can find secret pathways by destroying sections of the dungeon.
As you would expect, there are many enemies wandering around the labyrinth. They’re visible on screen and are depicted as big black spheres with a giant eye on the front. Every time you move to a different square, they’ll also move one square. This gives you the opportunity to set up surprise attacks, but if the enemy spots you first it will chase after you. If you touch a black sphere, you’ll be whisked away to the battle screen.
Battles are turn-based affairs, but what makes Labyrinth of Refrain different from other dungeon crawlers is how you can set up your party.
You will be able to take up to five units, called covens, into battle, and the type of coven you choose will have a big impact on that unit. Some types of covens will allow you to have up to eight puppets in a unit. This means that, in total, you could potentially take up to forty puppets into battle with you.
The type of coven you select for a unit will also impact what magic it has access to and the passive benefits to your unit. There’s an absolutely huge number of different types of covens and you’ll find more from treasure chests and also enemy drops.
While this might all sound complicated, the game really encourages you to just play around with it. It’s easy enough to create new puppets or swap your coven types around so you’ll never feel like you’ve completely messed up and need to restart the game.
As you explore the dungeon you’ll occasionally get notified to report back to Dronya to tell her what you’ve found, and you’ll also be able to see what she’s been up to. Some of these scenes are quite light hearted and funny, like when Dronya casts a love spell that backfires, causing her to fall in love with a flock of sheep, or when Luca finds out about the concept of a birthday party.
At other times, the game can be a bit dark. For example, there was one part of the game where I was trying to find surviving members of an exploration party, but almost everyone I found had either been beaten to death or eaten by ogres.
I’m so used to JRPGs being overly cheerful that it was a bit of a surprise and rather refreshing to play something that wasn’t all about the power of friendship overcoming everything. Thankfully, the game does flit between happy and sad events so it never becomes too somber.
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is definitely not a fairy tale, but if you’re okay with playing something with a darker, more mature tone then it’s worth giving this a go. Exploring every inch of the labyrinth is addictive, and its unique battle system and an in-depth character creation system will keep you busy for quite a while.
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.