Review – Lapis x Labyrinth

People have loved playing games revolved around exploring dungeons, killing enemies, and collecting loot ever since Gauntlet first came out in the 80’s. Diablo and MMORPGs turned this gaming subgenre into a phenomenon a few years later. There’s just something about these games, the sense of accomplishment when you manage to grab a better weapon than your previous one, making you want to redo the entire level just to see how much easier everything has become.

You really need to be a good developer in order to make what essentially is one of most repetitive gameplay loops in existence entertaining for countless hours. If you’re good enough, you make Diablo or Phantasy Star Online. If you’re not that great, you end up with a Destiny or an Anthem. NIS America’s Lapis x Labyrinth is an odd outlier that falls right in the middle of this spectrum, with some really cool ideas that only marginally outshine its blatant issues.

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You’re literally standing right next to a forest full of treasure…

Lapis x Labyrinth is a side-scrolling hack n’ slash that knows how to entice players at first glance. Given how it’s a NIS America game, you know you can expect great visuals and a decent soundtrack from it. Its art style reminded me of a mix between Labyrinth of Refrain and Penny-Punching Princess. It opens up with a small explanation of why you’re moving to a desolate town with a few friends and the reasons why you’re deciding to explore a maze-like forest in which everyone who dares to enter eventually vanishes or dies.

Everything looked great, until the actual gameplay was introduced. To be fair, I have to commend the developers with actually providing players with a vast amount of playable (and slightly customizable) characters, each one with a handful of special moves that can be activated by pressing the X button alongside a direction on the d-pad, Super Smash Bros-style. You can literally stack up to four characters on top of each other and explore the map as a walking totem pole. The more characters in your party, the stronger your ultimate attack is, and the more you’ll be able to jump, as you can use each separate character as an extra impulse after you perform a double jump.

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Nothing like a good old machine gun to get the job done.

The problem with Lapis x Labyrinth‘s gameplay is that, even though there’s a lot you can do, there’s not a lot you need to do. At the end of the day, this ended up being a mindless button masher. Granted, there is fun to be had in mindless button mashers, as the Dynasty Warriors games and its spinoffs ┬áhave proven to be actually very enjoyable, but those games are all about the combat and not about exploring anything. If you go into Lapis x Labyrinth with the mindset of not caring the slightest about exploration and just wanting to brutally murder every single kawaii beast that shows up in front of you, don’t worry, you’ll have fun. It just gets a lot boring after a while, as there is absolutely no strategy involved.

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A kawaii totem pole.

I had a few more gripes with Lapis x Labyrinth. One of them is the fact that there is a timer whenever you explore a dungeon. You need to reach the lift or portal to the next floor in a set amount of time, before a ghost shows up and throws you back into the hub town. Exploration be damned.

The other main issue can best be described as “too much stuff onscreen”. The game loves to throw dozens upon dozens of enemies at any given time, as well as some specific segments in which every enemy you defeat becomes a pile of colorful gems. Those moments turn the game into a tremendous visual mess, in which it’s nigh impossible to see what the heck is happening onscreen. Sure, the colorful gems can occasionally be pleasing to the eyes, but the excessive amount of them onscreen, combined with loads of particle effects and enemies, not only make the game painful to look at times, but also hinders the framerate significantly.

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If you can figure out what the heck is happening onscreen, let me know.

Lapis x Labyrinth isn’t a bad game and frankly, it’s not even that much of a disappointment. It’s just an excessive loot-based hack n’ slash that is fun in short bursts, but doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Its graphics are great, but they are hindered by more colorful gems and particle effects than a Tokyo signpost. There’s fun to be had in here, as long as you forget that there was supposed to be an emphasis on exploration, as all you’ll basically do is mash the Y and X buttons until your hands start bleeding.

 

Graphics: 7.5

The gorgeous backdrops and noticeable NIS America designs are overshadowed by the huge amount of enemies and particles onscreen at any given time. It also slows down the framerate.

Gameplay: 7.0

The controls are responsive and the overall gameplay is fast-paced. Each character has loads of different attacks, but at the end of the day, everything will be bogged down to just plain and nonsensical button mashing.

Sound: 7.5

Just like most mid-tier Japanese games, it features sparse voice acting and a decent and upbeat soundtrack. It does what it is supposed to do.

Fun Factor: 6.5

The game features a lot of places and missions to explore, as well as a lot of charm, but you can only get so much fun out of a mindless button masher before getting fed up of it.

Final Verdict: 7.0

Lapis x Labyrinth is available now on PS4 and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of Lapis x Labyrinth was provided by the publisher.