Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk was developed by Nippon Ichi Software. Then its American subsidiary NIS America localized the game for North America and Europe. If the developer sounds familiar that's because they've released some amazing games such as Disgaea and Phantom Kingdom. They've also brought over some other wonderful games from Japan such as the Danganronpa franchise and Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA. If you've played any of these games then you know the quality that NIS America brings to the table with each title they release in North America.
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk was originally released in Japan for the PlayStation Vita in June 2016. Then it was made available for the PlayStation 4 in September of 2017. Finally, it made its way to North America in Europe in September of this year. Along with a PlayStation 4 and Steam release, a Nintendo Switch version was distributed for the West and Japanese markets. This is a title that caters to a wide array of gamers. Anime inspired designs, the first-person dungeon crawling mechanics, turn-based combat, RPG elements, and visual novel storytelling are all core components of this game. Try out this game for its strategic combat and maze exploration but stay for its quirky personality and depth.
What to Expect
Usually, we go right into what you should expect when picking up this game. This time around we thought we'd tell you what we expected going in and then what it actually delivered. We expected the entire game to take place within an ever-expanding labyrinth. There is a special place where you can rest and build up your troops and overall strength. There should be enemies, puzzles, and treasures to find within the labyrinth. And, apparently, there's a town outside of the labyrinth where you can pick up quests and possibly assistance from NPCs.
From the NIS America's press release, we expected there to be turn-based fighting, custom brigades to suit your fighting style. The ability to uncover treasure and Mana to bring back to the Witch Caravan and strengthen our resources should be important. Lastly, we take part in this magical and dangerous dungeon exploration as a book, the Tractatus de Monstrum. That's right a book.
Everything that we expected going in is what we got. Two things surprised us. First, the dungeon doesn't reset it's floor design every time you exit and go back in. You keep the layout of each floor on your map. Don't expect rogue-like dungeon exploration. Second, you don't actually command a "brigade". At most you'll have four different soldiers under your control. "Brigade" is just a term used to classify the type of abilities that will be made available to specified units. Besides those two points, everything else about the description was correct.
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk - Launch Trailer | PS4
The story of Labyrinth of Refrain takes place in a world not so different from ours, except that faint traces of magic linger around. Witches have been all but eradicated from the world because of the power they wielded. Those that remain are in hiding and dare not make their presence known. This world is known as Tanis, and it's within Tanis that the mysterious town of Refrain resides. No one knows who built this town much less the terrible horrors that lie underneath it. The only thing people know about the underground labyrinth is that it supposedly contains treasures of untold power. But even more unbelievable, deep in the maze there sleeps a demon king whose awakening could herald the destruction of the world.
After the mysterious death of Refrain's mayor, a new acting mayor takes his place and decides to use the labyrinth for his own personal gain. He sends a letter to the powerful witch known as Baba Yaga. He pleads for her to come to town and explore the labyrinth so that he may collect the treasures that are just waiting to be discovered. Taking on the name Lady Dronya, complies with the mayor's request and comes to Refrain. By her side is a young apprentice named Luca. In their possession is a legendary tome known as the Tractatus de Monstrum. It is said to be written by the only man to have explored the depths of the labyrinth and come out alive.
Thus begins the tale of Dronya, Luca, and you (the Tractatus de Monstrum). You will explore the Labyrinth of Refrain for Dusk Witch Dronya, uncover magical artifacts, and create puppet soldiers to take on the horrors that lie within the miasma-filled underground maze.
That's just the narrative on the surface. There are a surprising amount of layers to this story. This story contains betrayal, loss of loved ones, artificial life vs human life, and even other worlds. There is plenty here to keep you satiated once you get into the main story.
The core tenets of this game are dungeon exploration, the creation of puppets (soldiers), turn-based combat, RPG leveling, and an intriguing story. You're introduced to all of these at the very start. The game fires on all cylinders right up until you're asked to acquire a certain number of quest items before you can progress the story. This is where the game hit its biggest road bump. The game avoided having an overly heavy opening tutorial and the mechanics were not thrown at you without explanation. But exploring the labyrinth for random items seemed like an impedance to an otherwise well-paced story. This might be nitpicking, but finding out what your quest actually it is not so apparent, so you wander around a bit until you find the right menu that tells you what your current quest is. Unfortunately for us, we had sold some of our common loot that seemed worthless (at the time) but some of which was actually a quest item. It took too much time (for it to be enjoyable) to finish up this quest because the item dropped randomly from enemies.
The one good thing that came out of it was that we explored the first part of the labyrinth so in-depth that we collected enough equipment and puppet parts to amass a decent brigade early on. That's probably what the development team had in mind when they designed that quest. However, they shouldn't allow you to sell off your quest item (especially when it's a random drop).
That's basically the only negative experience we had with Labyrinth of Refrain. Exploring different areas in the labyrinth became much smoother once we acquired enough Tractie Skills. We could break through walls, see treasure chests on our minimap, follow enemy patrol paths on the mini-map, reinforce our units' defense and offensive capabilities, and much more. We've come to expect certain time consumption and battle repetition when it comes to these types of games. So, this game was part for the course in that regard. Though we did enjoy enemy variety, dungeon design, and NPC interactions more than most games from this genre.
Puppet creation is an exploration in and of itself. Appearance-wise, there are few options to go with when creating a new puppet. There are six different classes to choose from, each has their own male and female version of that particular unit. Besides the standard stats and passive abilities they start out with, they can be further customized by selecting their nature, preferred stat growth, stance, and skill selection. There is plenty of variation here to keep you busy and engaged with your brigade. You'll be stuck with four to five individual units for a while, but that'll change once you start leveling up the covens you currently possess so that they can include more than one unit within them.
During endgame content, you'll be commanding up to five different covens at the same time. Coven is the key word because in total you'll have twelve characters in your brigade taking on enemies. So instead of issuing twelve different commands you just issue commands to specific covens and the characters within that coven will follow your order. Some might like micromanaging units as much as possible, but we found the coven system to be more
We don't want to give away the story because it surprised us by how crazy and emotional it became. There are characters who aren't who you thought they were. Some are more powerful than you could ever imagine. Backstories are tragic and heartfelt. We will say this (since most people who know have heard about this game already know) there are multiple endings. They aren't just slightly different from one another either. There are some dead ends that abruptly end the game, but you can save your file and continue right where you left off. Then there are two true endings that will blow you away. Labyrinth of Refrain definitely rewards you for sticking with this game until the end and playing it enough to unlock each ending.
Honey's Gameplay Consensus:
Overall, we had a great time playing Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk and were caught off-guard by how much we did. We've played similar titles from this genre, and publisher, but this one my personal favorite thus far. We had one minor gripe with an early quest in the game, but mostly it was just because of the choice to leave a quest item sell-able to the market. If we're being honest with ourselves, $49.99 seems a bit pricey considering the graphics are not that impressive nor is there a solid soundtrack to this game. But if you'll definitely get your money's worth in terms of dungeon exploration, narrative, and combat. We would like to see a follow-up, that reaches North America and Europe, which includes a better OST, graphics, and even better battle animations. That would truly be an amazing game worthy of that price tag.
Rewarding Dungeon Crawling Experience
Honey's Final Verdict:
We definitely recommend that you try out Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk. It doesn't revolutionize the dungeon crawling genre but it definitely executes on everything it set out to do. It's a highly engaging and rewarding experience. We hope there's a follow up to this game in the near future with slight improvements. If you're into anime character designs, turn-based combat, or dungeon crawling then you owe it to yourself to pick this game up.
As always, thanks for reading. Have a great day and we'll see you in the next one!
Author: Javier Garcia
Hey guys! I'm a huge fan of anime and video games. I used to be a competitive fighting game player (search my name in YouTube). So, I guess it was natural for me to make my way over here to Japan. I teach English, write anime articles, and put together videos when I have time. I hope you enjoy the content we've created for you here at Honey's Anime!