Review – Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk

You don’t see a lot of dungeon crawler games these days. With the exception of a few Mystery Dungeon games released by Spike Chunsoft every now and then and dungeon crawling elements in games like Persona 5, the genre is confined to a niche audience. When you talk  of made in Japan games getting Western releases, it’s hard not to mention NIS America. But this time around, the publishers of Ys VIII and SNK Heroines decided to develop a brand new dungeon crawler of their own and bring it to this side of the world. This is Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk.

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They’re better than teenagers.

Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is a port of a formerly Japan-exclusive PS Vita dungeon crawler. As you may already know, the Vita has mainly survived on two genres: indies and Japanese RPGs. As you would expect, Labyrinth of Refrain doesn’t look too exciting when playing on a big screen as it was originally designed for much smaller hardware.

The graphics are a tremendous mixed bag. The character design is excellent, borrowing the same art style from the Disgaea series. The enemies are also very unique, even if most of them are inspired from the most generic JRPG archetypes. I really have no complaints when it comes to anything revolving around the living and undead beings in this game, but things become problematic when we start talking about environments, menus, etc. Environments are very simplistic, very repetitive and very generic. Character animations are nonexistent: everything is present with static imagery, and you can’t even see your avatar while traversing the dungeons. Sadly, Labyrinth of Refrain‘s presentation is quite cheap even for Vita standards. If it wasn’t for the excellent character design, it would have been even worse.

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You need dental treatment.

The game isn’t newcomer-friendly, and it is also a (slightly less mixed) mixed bag. Simply put, Labyrinth of Refrain features your typical first-person dungeon exploration, a ton of conversation, and a very deep and detailed character creation system.

You may have seen the anime witch in the cover of every box and article related to Labyrinth of Refrain but you never fight with her in the game. In fact, you need to create characters by infusing souls onto puppets. You can customize the name, gender, voice, appearance, class, weapon, nature, means of leveling up, special attacks, types of magic, lucky number, and so on. You can sink hours tinkering your characters to your liking before you go down to the explore the actual labyrinth.

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Yes, I named him Rodriguez. 

The combat system is your typical turn-based RPG interface you’ve seen a few times before. With the exception that you can’t use items during battles, making things even more strategy-heavy, it’s the same system you’ve seen a few times before. It’s simple, it’s very fast-paced, and it’s effective. Load times are pretty much nonexistent making fights something to look forward to, not a hindrance.

Besides this, the game also has a big emphasis on story, and while I appreciate the voice acting and the dark humor a lot, I won’t be able to say I got invested on it as much as I should, mostly due to the disparities between the plot and the gameplay. I did like the grumpy character of Madam Dronya a lot, though, and I wish NIS ends up including her in future Disgaea games if possible. One thing I wasn’t expecting about the story was some really dark moments, with even some hints at sexual abuse. The combat and the initial dialogues never gave a hint such bolder themes would eventually show up. I was also dumb enough not to pay attention at the big fat M rating the game got…

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Exploring the dungeon is fun but not exactly exciting.

It’s hard to recommend Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk to the general populace because it’s a niche game with a niche style of gameplay with a niche art direction that appeals to a niche audience. If you’re part of this specific demographic, this is a great game for you, even if it feels cheap at times due to the fact it’s basically a re-release of a former PS Vita title. It’s a very competent dungeon crawler at the end of the day, with a lot more content that I would have expected.


Graphics: 6.0

A mixed bag. While the character design is colorful and endearing, the backgrounds are repetitive and the lack of overall animations cheapens the overall feel of the game.

Gameplay: 6.5

The combat system is simple and straightforward, the customization system is deep, but the control scheme while exploring dungeons is a lot more convoluted than it should be.

Sound: 9.0

The soundtrack is pretty good and the voice acting turned out to be a lot better than expected.

Fun Factor: 7.0

Behind the cheap visuals and convoluted gameplay lies a decent dungeon crawler with an easy combat system and a lot of sweet dark humor as the cherry on top.

Final Verdict: 7.0

Reviewed on PS4
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is available now on PS4, PS Vita (Japan), PC, Switch.

A copy of Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk was provided by the publisher.