Warning: This article does NOT act as a proper review. They are general impressions/opinions based on the game’s first half.
Boy, oh boy! If you like staring at numbers and spending an exorbitant amount of time deciding on party members’ progression paths, then Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is THE game for you. In typical NIS fashion, it’s a hardcore RPG littered with dozens of mechanics and stat-crunching.
RPG’s and Accessibility
Labyrinth of Refrain was built with genre veterans in mind. Its strict adherence to real gamers is a breath of fresh air in a genre that’s been steadily growing more and more accessible over the years. Final Fantasy 15‘s simplistic combat and basic character progression showed that Square Enix’s monolithic franchise went from one of the front-runners in its early years to a mainstream mess.
Even Atlus has steadily included more and more optional difficulty settings and game parameters. Coupled with newer quality of life features, even the Shin Megami Tensei series has seen a larger push to accommodate lower-level players.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, Coven of Dusk‘s more hardcore sensibilities are admirable. It exudes confidence.
Numbers, Numbers, and More Numbers
Labyrinth of Refrain features six classes:
- Aster Knight
- Peer Fortress
- Theatrical Star
- Marginal Maze
- Mad Raptor
Six classes doesn’t seem like much for a hardcore RPG, does it? Well, once you acquiesce to its character creation, you’ll put those words back in your mouth.
Character Creation and Natures
After deciding on a class, gender, and character portrait, you’re given the option to set a large portion of parameters that influence the character moving forward. While you can give party members any old names, specific names imbue any number of benefits.
You can also select a character’s nature from a list of over a dozen options. The character’s nature immediately impacts his/her starting stats. One nature may start a character off with 135% charm, 80% dexterity, and 105% constitution. On the flip side, another nature may begin with 105% charm, 95% dexterity, and 75% constitution.
Before even understanding the ins and outs of your character’s role, the game expects you to play a massive numbers game with little direction. This is exactly what the genre needs more of.
Preferred Stat Growth
The next option, preferred stat growth, further complicates things. You’ll start off with three options:
Though, as the game progresses, players gain access to Double Sharp and Double Flat. Preferred Stat Growth influences how many points are added to each stat when leveling up. Flat is the jack-of-all-trades option with every stat receiving around the same amount of attention while Natural falls into that specific class’ boons. Sharp goes a step beyond, further increasing points allocated to that class’ most beneficial stats while further decreasing the less important stats.
Double Flat and Double Sharp go EVEN FURTHER once you unlock those options. It’s up to you to decide whether the benefits outweigh the costs. Are you overwhelmed yet? No? Let’s keep going.
Stances are the most straightforward decision you’ll have to make. The Standard stance presents no major strengths or weaknesses. It’s the safest bet for players that don’t want to commit to a more specialized unit.
The Moon stance increases strength, donum power (magic), and weapon proficiency at the cost of luck and constitution, which is a mix of both your health and defense. The Sun stance increases health and defense while reducing donum power. Enemies will also target this unit more often. This is most useful for the tank class– the Peer Fortress.
Skill selection is one of the more confusing to first time players as the game doesn’t properly explain exactly what it is you’re doing. It lets you pick any skill that class is capable of unlocking from a drop-down menu, including super powerful late-game skills.
Coven of Dusk fails to mention that you will still unlock all the other skills on that menu through leveling. You’re simply given the freedom to decide which skill you want to start with.
If you haven’t yet tired of character creation, it’s time to move onto the final option.
Fancy Some Lucky Numbers?
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk loves fucking with players. Nowhere is this more evident than in the unexplained lucky number. Players are given the option of selecting any number from 0-99 with nothing but vague flavor text indicating it may or may not provide benefits.
The lucky number has a profound effect on the character’s luck stat, though good luck finding out which numbers do what. You’ll have to look up all that information online for yourself because Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk refuses to throw its players any bones.
What About the Gameplay?
The game begins as a typical first person dungeon crawler with turn-based combat, though it slowly introduces unique mechanics that make it stand out. A few hours in, players acquire an ability that lets them break open walls. It runs on a resource known as Reinforcement.
Each dungeon excursion starts off with 100 Reinforcement points, though not really. Let me explain. Several hours in, players unlock pacts for their covens. What are covens? Covens are basically a party within the party. Battles allow up to five active covens with each coven supporting up to three active party members and a support member.
This means at its peak, battles could contain up to 15 party members. Where do the pacts play in, you ask? Pacts give bonuses to covens while also dictating how many characters can be slotted within that coven. The starting pacts only allow one member per coven. The more useful covens consume reinforcement points the moment the player selects a dungeons.
Smashing holes in walls takes up two or three reinforcement points for each use. You’ll have to keep this in mind when creating covens with pacts as you may have a grand master plan with ace party composition only to find you can’t access some secret because you’ve run out of reinforcement points. This is without taking into account that as the hours pass, you’ll learn more dungeon skills that also require reinforcement points.
Pacts do gain levels, with each level further decreasing the amount of consumed reinforcement per dungeon dive. However, the early price for initial pacts may not be worth it, forcing the player to introduce one pact at a time.
This is What I’m Talking About
The amount of careful consideration between all its systems, of which I’ve only explained a fraction of, make it a perfect game for its target audience. I was unable to finish it due to a lack of time further hamstrung by a mid-game series of objectives that obscenely pad out the game.
Long story short: At the mid-game, story-related things happen and you’re asked to collect items from dungeons. They’re not special items. They’re regular old items, which the game’s inventory designates as loot. Because it designates something as loot, I instinctively sell everything almost immediately.
I learned a hard fucking lesson by doing that as I was forced to collect one item from each of the three dungeons I have unlocked thus far. Seeing as they’re regular items and the maps don’t highlight where to find them even when they’re you’re objective, you’re left wandering around for God knows how long until you get the item from each dungeon. WHO THE FUCK thought this was a good idea?
It’s a completely asinine design decision that prevented me from finishing the game properly with other life responsibilities as well as other games to review. I didn’t want to title this a review because of that.
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is a slow burn. It introduces mechanics incredibly slowly. I didn’t unlock the ability to unseal items until more than 30 hours in. With such mechanical drip-feeding, I have no doubt the second half introduces stuff I don’t even know exists yet.
Because of this, calling it a review would feel disingenuous. With that said, people with the time to settle in will love what Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk has to offer. It’s a meaty dungeon crawling experience.
Disclaimer: Review code provided by publisher.