REVIEW: Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

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In addition to XP from battle (you do not gain silver, more on that later), you gain Mana. Mana can also be earned in large chunks by deposits within the dungeon. Picking up large amounts of Mana is important because of how much you will be using back at the Witch’s Caravan. That being said, you don’t want to exceed the Mana limits of the dungeon floor you are on or you will find Reaper enemies showing up. They can one shot kill your Puppets at any level with just one strike, and they can also charge up a finishing move which can kill your entire party. Wiping in this game is extremely bad and costs you a ton of silver and Mana to recover from, it should be avoided even more than in most games. Karma is gained by either doing something bad having to do with a story event within a dungeon, or by killing certain types of enemies. Unfortunately the more Karma you have (up to a max of 99), the more likely your Puppets are to receive Critical hits and Critical Gore hits. Critical hits just do a bunch more damage, but Critical Gore hits will destroy that part of the unit and cause their Max Health to be decreased as well as inhibiting the equipment used on that part. In addition, if the Critical Gore hits the head, that Puppet is totally dead until it can be repaired. As long as their head isn’t destroyed a Puppet can generally be revived with a fairly common item. Repairing parts costs a fairly large chunk of silver and Mana. In addition you will find floors later in the game that will damage you if you have high Karma. So in general, you will want to remove it by Witch Petition as soon as you leave the dungeon.

Labyrinth of Refrain | Stockpiling

If you aren’t using your Reinforcement for escape or knocking down walls, Stockpile.

Reinforcement is used for a lot of things, both in combat and outside of it. For traversal it is used for knocking down walls, casting Mist (which will hide you from enemies and prevent poison panels from affecting you), creating an exit point (expensive but the most useful of the functions), and whistle to get enemy attention. That being said, if you don’t need those points for any of those things, for instance when you are grinding XP, you will want to use the Reinforcement for Stockpiling. Stockpiling is using 1 point of Reinforcement to add the Battle EXP up into Stockpile EXP instead. The advantage of this is by going for at least 16 battles with continuous Stockpiling, you will be able to take that EXP you would have earned and triple it. Unfortunately, if you wipe out, have to run, or exit the dungeon during that time, you will lose all the Stockpiled EXP. So it is a risk, but for grinding levels it is worth it. That is especially true for this game. All Dungeon Crawlers are designed around grinding levels, but this game takes that to the next level.

Labyrinth of Refrain | Leveling

Level 99 is only the beginning, Total Level 550 is more accurate.

The main lesson they took from their fabulous SRPG series is Transmute Soul. Like with Disgaea and level 9999, in this game level 99 is only the beginning. You will barely be able to beat the main story boss with a full Coven of level 99 Puppets. Their real power only starts to come out after you have Transmuted them into a new Puppet body and restarted them at level 1. Every time you Transmute, their Soul Clarity will rise an amount based on the level the Puppet was at the time you Transmute. The puppets can gain a Soul Clarity up to level 99, and the higher that number is, the more stats they will gain with each level. This makes it so that a level 99 Puppet with Soul Clarity 2 (typical for your first time through) will be much less powerful than a level 50 Puppet with Soul Clarity 70. As a result, you will find yourself needing to level up your puppets over and over again if you want to see the True Ending for the game. Thankfully you can also transfer passive skills (up to 8) from other classes. So your final puppets can get a very nice mix of skills from the 8 different classes (2 are unlocked late in the main story, you only start with 6).

Labyrinth of Refrain | Brigade Leveling

Not only do you level your Puppets, but you also level the Brigades to lower their costs.

Adding to the complexity of the puppet leveling system, you also need to level up your Brigades. The better a Brigade is, the higher the cost. This cost is taken out of your Reinforcement when you enter a dungeon, and therefore you can never have more than a total cost of 99. To cut down on those costs, you have to use the Brigades in combat and especially against the powerful enemies that you can generally avoid, they will give you a lot more Brigade XP, which is a separate stat from Puppet XP. If this is sounding a bit complex, I haven’t even gotten into the Alchemy Pot. The Alchemy Pot isn’t strictly necessary on Normal difficulty (though¬†on Nightmare it certainly is). But the lion’s share of my Mana during the game ended up being invested in combining all the weapons and armor I gained in the Alchemy Pot. That is why the weapons and armor do not sell for very much silver at the store, because they are meant for the Pot. Unfortunately the result is that you need to only sell off Loot that drops from the monsters to earn your money. One of the most frustrating parts of the game is that you also need that Loot for various side quests, so you can screw yourself over if you get too zealous with selling off all the monster Loot you earn.

Labyrinth of Refrain | Monster Design

Monster designs can range from a little sexy to very horrifying.

All this complexity is generally a good thing, in my opinion. It adds much more depth and replay value into the genre. That being said, many of their ideas could use a bit more time in the oven. The Soul Transfer system is great, but the limitation of skill transfer is needlessly frustrating. Additionally how your statistics change between Stance and Nature and various other decisions is quite nebulous. They had a lot of good ideas, but a sequel would really help them iron them out. The only thing about the game I would like to see changed whole cloth is the tone of the story. Everything else I think would be fantastic to be iterated on. And that includes the music and general enemy and character designs. The character designs definitely come from the Disgaea team, and they are as great as you would expect. The monster designs can range from sexy to horrifying to a surprising degree. Do not expect the same style as you see on the characters to be present in the dungeons. It was a little jarring at first, but I got used to it. And the music was fantastic throughout. There was a definite feel that you get from most NIS games, but they were memorable enough to stand on their own. I do also want to call out the voice acting as being particularly good in this game. There was no individual character that actually took me out of the experience or made me want to switch over to Japanese. This is virtually unprecedented for an NIS game, so I was particularly pleased.

Labyrinth of Refrain | Endings

You are forced to go through many Bad Endings, but the True Ending is worth striving for.

Similar to Visual Novels and the Disgaea games, there are several Bad Endings on the way to the real story end. Thankfully in this game the Bad Endings won’t require you to start all over again or reload a previous save. They will just show you what could have happened, and take you back in time slightly to change those events. There is a story reason for this, but it is a massive spoiler so I won’t touch on it. Also like the recent Disgaea entries, there is the normal story ending and the True Ending. The normal ending took me around 60 hours, but the True Ending took around another 60 hours both due to the size of the new maps and because you really need to do a lot of Soul Transferring if you are going to beat the True Last Boss on anything but Easy difficulty. There is also a New Game+ that you can start any time after the normal story end, in case you would just rather go back through the game instead of grinding out those extra levels you will need. But all the best weapons and armor in the game is in the Post Game dungeons. So really you are getting a lot of value out of the game, even for a dungeon crawler that is $59.99. These games are typically on portable systems and typically are slightly discounted from full AAA game pricing. However this game does justify its price, even if the story isn’t to my taste. What I really would like to see is as similar jump made in a sequel to this game that they made in the Disgaea series. There were a lot of good ideas they added into the genre with this game, and I would like to see it expounded upon even further.

Review Score

Review Copy Provided By The Publisher

About William Haderlie

Born in the 1970's, I've been an avid participant for much of video game history. A lifetime of being the sort of supergeek entrenched in the sciences and mathematics has not curbed my appreciation for the artistry of video games, cinema, and especially literature.

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