Wednesday, September 12

Review: Labyrinth of Refrain - Coven of Dusk [Nintendo Switch eShop]


The dungeon-crawler RPG is a genre with roots about as far back as I can remember, originally playing titles like The Bard’s Tale back on my Commodore 64. Since that time not too much has changed, nor has it needed to for people who appreciate the methodical exploration mixed with turn-based combat. In order to try to stand out, and I suppose to seem more modern, Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk charts out its own and very unexpected path with its narrative while sporting satisfying though traditional play within the dungeons themselves.


Since this is somewhat a tale of two games we’ll start with the actual gameplay itself. Adhering to pretty traditional fare you’ll command a party of puppets who’ll explore the dungeons under the town of Refrain. The conceit for this has to do with green miasma that’s dangerous to humans being down there, so the buxom and pretty ill-tempered witch Dronya instead uses the power of the Tractatus de Monstrum to enchant your puppet party to do the dirty work. You’ll be able to define and build your party, working with a selection of 6 different classes (male or pretty scantily-clad females) and a number of traits you can play with to tweak things a bit more to your liking. Combat is pretty standard turn-based fare, though you’ll need to try to avoid leaving any of your party vulnerable to strikes that will cripple your puppets or even destroy them.


As you make progress in the dungeon you’ll move back into the world above the dungeons following the pretty wordy (beware of very little gameplay and a LOT of text in the first hour alone) and at times positively unsettlingly mature exploits of Dronya and her helper Luca. In particular a relatively early scene comes to mind where Dronya is sexually assaulted by a nun (don’t ask), which very much earns the game’s mature rating, though on the whole I’m a bit baffled by the need for the inclusion of these elements aside from pure shock value. All the same as the story progresses some of the dialogue, though at times very wordy and a bit dull, has its moments and can be funny at least.


For the most part I see Labyrinth of Refrain as a take it or leave it proposition mostly resting on your interest in genre or at least the methodical style of play. It’s not terribly dynamic or exciting given that it is turn-based, but there can be a sense of satisfaction when you get into new territory and discover new things. On the narrative side perhaps there’s a crowd who is into the sometimes bizarrely adult elements but at the same time the game could have obviously gone further all in on that thread and didn’t. The result is a narrative that can be long-winded but surprising and amusing sitting on top of rock-solid turn-based RPG elements that you can tailor to your tastes reasonably well. Not a bad deal if you’re looking for something a bit different on several levels.


Score: 7

Pros:
  • Satisfying traditional dungeon crawling with turn-based RPG combat and progression
  • The narrative ride certainly takes some unexpected turns in places
  • If you’re looking for a slow burn that’s easy to pick up and then put down it works well that way

Cons:
  • The spikes into very adult and somewhat disturbing events may make it a very bad match for some gamers, though it could intrigue others
  • At times the story text can really wear you out, like unfortunately in the first hour
  • In terms of the gameplay itself it is refined but doesn’t break any ground either