First-person dungeon crawlers are easily one of my favourite genres in gaming. Combine that with the storytelling styling of Nippon Ichi Software and I’ll sign up in a heartbeat. Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk then should have been right up my alley, but I can’t help but have mixed feelings after my time with it.
Taking on the role of the Tractatus de Monstrum, affectionately dubbed Tractie by the witch’s apprentice Luca, where your soul has been trapped you now serve The Dusk Witch Dronya. As the fabled cursed tome your able to traverse the deadly miasma infested underground labyrinth that lies beneath the town of Refrain. The labyrinth has claimed the lives of a confirmed 568 people so far. With the labyrinth’s sole survivor spending his remaining days before succumbing to the effects of miasma, scribing the legendary – Tractatus de Monstrum.
Being just a book you rely on the many puppet soldiers that you can bring into the labyrinth to explore and fight on your behalf. The puppet soldiers form your party and range across a number of classic classes. With the addition of Covens, a group of assigned puppet soldiers, you’ll continue to boost your might in battle. Covens can contain multiple puppet soldiers with each soldiers power affecting the group as a whole. Eventually, battles will consist of multiple covens working together to overcome enemies.
Labyrinths, like most dungeon crawlers, are a 3D dungeon explored in a first-person perspective. The dungeon levels are equally fun to explore and challenging, while repetition is a given there is always something new to unlock on each visit. Enemies within the labyrinth are both random encounters and on screen. The on-screen enemies are represented by symbols on the map and can be easily avoided if you wish. The random encounters are not quite random as there is a bar at the top of the screen that’ll indicate the increasing chance of triggering an encounter. Battles take place in the usual turn-based format with the addition of Covens to add a unique flavour to the game. It’s a shame the game doesn’t make use of the actual characters in the game to act as your party. On the plus side when creating puppets each class does have a selection awesome NIS style avatars to choose from.
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk throws a lot at you in the early stages of the game but does little to help you understand them. You’re often left unclear about how to proceed and while the game likes to keep the dialogue as long as possible there never appears to be a clear objective. The story elements of the game are not the strongest when compared to other Nippon Ichi Software titles and act more like random skits to break up the amount of time spent in the dungeons. However, the characters are largely very likeable and most of the skits are pretty funny which is a bonus.
There’s a lot of different features at play such as Reinforcement Points and Witch’s Petition to name a few that while adding to the game they could probably take a back seat. This is probably my biggest gripe with the game in that it introduces a lot of interesting features that should add to the experience but largely made me disconnect with it. I think a more simple approach to the genre combined with the very unique Coven mechanic would have made for a more enjoyable game.
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is a good addition to the first-person dungeon crawling genre but tries to do too much and without a more compelling story to pull it along makes it feel more of a chore to play. The addition of Covens and how that affects the battle system and player customisation of the party is what really shined through during my time with the game.