Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk
Only the Most Dedicated Explorers Need Apply
Nippon Ichi Software has been showing a lot of love for the Nintendo Switch. The most recent release in its popular strategy RPG series Disgaea, Disgaea 5, was a launch title for the system last year and they have been releasing a steady stream of content ever since. Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is the most recent release of that content. The game’s character design and music is lead by Takehito Harada & Tenpei Sato of the Disgaea Series and is Directed by the creator of the Witch Series Tatsuya Izumi so there is a lot here that will feel or look familiar to those who have played either of the franchises.
The game follows the great witch Baba Yaga, who goes by Madam Dronya and her young apprentice Luca as they travel to the village of Refrain. The village is famous for an underground sprawling labyrinth that lies beneath it. Filled with evil creatures and concentrated mana called miasma, the only thing that can survive and traverse the ancient maze is you, a living… book? Yes, you play as a book that is alive through magic and as such you are unaffected by the miasma that floods the sprawling dungeon. Armed with an army of puppets brought to life you explore the labyrinth one step and one turn-based battle at a time.
The battle system is a traditional turn-based system with a little bit of a twist. By breathing souls into varying puppets, you create soldiers of different types and place them in formations called brigades. With attack and support troops, these brigades create a single “character” to command. This allows a pretty good amount of customization and flexibility as well as hours of grind to keep you occupied. Which isn’t all that surprising given Nippon Ichi’s history. Disgaea is possibly one of the most content filled series I’ve ever played and offers literally hundreds of hours of customization. This game looks to offer much of the same when it comes to battles and customization of characters.
“twenty hours into the game and … I haven’t found any real semblance of a story”
This is all great for those who love a long RPG, the issue though really comes down to the storyline. I’m about twenty hours into the game and other than going back into the labyrinth to try searching for some more treasure or level up my characters some more I haven’t found any real semblance of a story here. At least, not one that would make you feel compelled to continue through the game. Which if I’m wholly honest, is kind of a shame. While the Disgaea series isn’t held to the same standards for the storyline as say the Final Fantasy series or Dragon Quest series, they are always if not anything else playful and fun to progress through. This game just isn’t. I found myself several times wondering what the game wanted me to do with little explanation of what the next goal or landmark to reach was other than “go explore”. This would be okay if the exploration was fun… but it’s not. At least not in a way that will keep you occupied for too long. The labyrinth is set up like a giant piece of graph paper, something you may have seen with a lackluster dungeon master, filling in squares to make a crude floorplan. You and enemies move one space at a time like your in the biggest game of Candy Land you’ve ever seen. It’s one of the slowest dungeon crawlers I’ve ever played.
Overall, I think the mechanics of the game are well thought out and the game runs smoothly and without an issue but the lack of story makes it a bit of a slog. This game seems like it is for a very specific player, I don’t know who that player is but I’m sure whoever they are, they will like it. If you’ve been waiting for a game that brings the magic of DnD to a virtual space and allows you to take on creatures with an army of puppets then this is the game for you.