Review – Labyrinth of Galleria: The Moon Society
It’s exceedingly hard to project a proper plotline into a first person dungeon crawler. For one, the core mechanics and presentation ask you to hold the plot in mind while actively separating from the stage: it’s like if a musical just had people wordlessly playing mahjong between songs. Over the last few years, the Nintendo Switch has been treated to a variety of takes on the first person dungeon crawler, with varying levels of success. But the last few have been, to put it delicately, overly horny, and that can really take away from trying to enjoy a game for game’s sake. It’s hard to think “I’m conquering this dungeon for a noble cause!” when everything is jiggling at you provocatively.
A few years back, NIS America brought over Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk to try their hand at making a dungeon crawler that was still very anime but not quite so sexual. Utilizing some interesting approaches to party building with plenty of tropes (silly dialogue shot through with deadly serious moments, visually pleasing avatars for everyone, solid voicework), Coven of Dusk was a fun romp, though not one that I actively returned to. For one, it’s a bit of an investment to get into the game, both in terms of prologue and also in team customization. If I’m going to break ground on an RPG-adjacent title, even one that I’ve played before, I need to have the free time for it, and I simply haven’t recently.
Thankfully, NIS America decided what should be done was to finally bring over the sequel, allowing players internationally to experience it for the first time (though it’s been out in Japan for a couple years now). Labyrinth of Galleria: The Moon Society brings over many of the elements of Labyrinth of Refrain, with a few tweaks that make the game both more enjoyable and also significantly more detailed. For those who played Coven of Dusk, you’ll know the basics from the drop, and all the newer aspects will become clear…eventually. I say eventually because you need to be ready to dedicate double digit hours before you see what helps to separate The Moon Society from its predecessor.
The plot is WILDLY different, and I enjoyed the setup for Labyrinth of Galleria much more. The player is an unknown spirit who is channeled and summoned by Eureka, a young witch that’s been hired by the seemingly barmy Madame Marta. Madame Marta wants you to find Curios, which are artifacts hidden in the sprawling, dungeon-like basement of the mansion where she lives. The basement is another realm that kills any human who enters and tries to leave, so Madame Marta shows Eureka how to use the spirit she summoned to assist in making and controlling puppet soldiers, who look and act like anime characters. Marta and Eureka have a very fun dynamic that we explore between dungeon progressions, with hints at what’s happening beneath the surface for both characters.
In terms of quality of life, it feels like everything is getting a blowout for Labyrinth of Galleria. The dungeons, even from the drop, are more robust, with randomly generating elements everywhere to help keep multiple ventures exciting, even on the surface level. Though the pathways are static, there’s a very short amount of time before Madame Marta gives you the limited ability to kick down walls, creating shortcuts and opening up areas that a player couldn’t normally get to. This aspect was incredibly fun to behold, particularly when being chased by a frigging huge monster that, surprise, they show up early on in the game as well.
Even though you also quickly get the ability to turn down the difficulty (as well as crank it up if you hate yourself), these purple-eyed monstrosities are player killers at almost any level. Like how Xenoblade Chronicles decided that letting level 80 semi-aggro beasts just wander around the starting areas were a good idea.
For players who didn’t play Labyrinth of Refrain, you absolutely don’t need to: this is a spiritual sequel and you can leave your inexperience at the door. You navigate around the dungeons from the first person perspective, using the map to find your way through, and hunting treasures both benign and extraordinary. You discover common items for equipment, consumption and sale. Plus, you get more silver to purchase consumables, mana to unlock spells for altering your dungeon explorations, and EXP to make the puppets bigger.
Successfully making it back alive nets you extra rewards than just dying in the dungeon, and your repeated spelunking nets you more and more unlocks, from additional puppets to better general store items and even more passive alterations, like surviving a single fall or making more meat drop from monsters. You figure out the importance of some puppets being in the vanguard and the others in the rearguard, how to build up power and trigger resonance attacks (hits that literally echo off of other mobs) and the satisfaction of getting critical and Gore Hits (exceedingly powerful strikes) to level the playing field.
Additionally, the creation of the puppets is more robust in Labyrinth of Galleria. The different pact flavors exist (letting you create generic puppet archetypes as well as fighter, healer, etc.) and there are even more hidden pacts to find and unlock for a whopping twenty-four different character classes.
Thanks to the transfer/reincarnation system, the progress unlocked for your puppet soldiers can transfer into a whole new body/class, so permanent death, while still a thing, can not only be avoided, but can be circumvented completely. Also, I frigging love the level of customization for the character sheets of the puppets. Yes, I’m brave yet wise by nature, but did you also know this puppet’s favorite food is ketchup? It’s like I’m playing imagination time with my kids, if my kids also were slaughtering monsters for fun and profit.
If that were all you really saw, Labyrinth of Galleria would be a decent if somewhat forgettable RPG, similar to Labyrinth of Refrain. I mean, there’s plenty to explore, you get some good items throughout, including the ridiculously generous drops of equipment, healing items and just random mishmash that spawns at the drop of a hat. It’s a bit grindy to get things started, so players who aren’t feeling particularly brave should stay near the top, kill a bunch of enemies and then leave for the full “didn’t die in the dungeon” bonuses.
The end result is being able to unlock more puppet soldiers earlier, letting you seriously pump up the size of your party, and then diving deeper. It’s a bit of a cycle, but it’s not a bad one: thanks to the portability of the Switch, players are rarely, if ever, caught in a spot where they can’t just walk away from the game (cutscenes being the big, highly-advised-not-to-skip exception).
And yet there is something truly special that ratchets everything from “good” to “fantastic” in the blink of an eye.
This is a difficult thing to say, but players need to be prepared to either embrace or reject Labyrinth of Galleria by the twenty hour mark, an insane ask in any situation. I normally don’t mix in spoilers with my reviews, but I think it’s necessary: the game will take everything you’ve done and throw it in the bin. Everything except very central ideas change, and the player is left scrambling to figure out what to do next. If you hate this idea, you might compare it to Brutal Legend, but I feel it’s much, much more like indie darling The Messenger. Anytime a game decides to take a chance on completely changing the formula, it’s utterly risky, and it doesn’t always work, resulting in a very polarizing audience for DOOM 3, for example.
But for Galleria, it’s very evocative of certain moments in the Final Fantasy franchise, where suddenly something you took for granted is now yanked out from under you and you have no idea what to do with this new landscape. Without getting too far into it, the storytelling aspects do an amazing job of setting up the player for the tone and consistency of what’s happening, then suddenly, drastically changing everything and leaving you on the doorstep, wondering how you got there. It’s brilliant and utterly frustrating to not be able to spoil, not because I am above spoiling, but because not spoiling it lets the player go in with a bit of trepidation as to what will happen and then understanding the moment it happens.
So where does that leave the average player? After all, we don’t all have upwards of sixty hours to dedicate to insane dungeon grinding and slow paced dialogue scenes, not to mention actually needing to figure out where to go in order to move the story forward. It was mildly frustrating to be tasked with finding the next Curio, running around fruitlessly for forty minutes, and then realizing it was hidden in the wall right next to the entrance. Nothing about this game is an easy path forward, and, for some, that’s beautiful, but I can understand a bit of a disheartening take to realize that this game will demand actual weeks to fully explore (unless you forsake work and sleep that is).
But I think it’s worth the trip. Labyrinth of Galleria doesn’t just have excellent game mechanics and some cute artwork, though it certainly has those in spades. More importantly, it has a fantastically paced story that slowly pulls you in, giving you more and more to think about and keep in mind, before using your own investment against you. It’s superb tale spinning, and I haven’t seen this level of involvement in a dungeon crawler in a long time. Don’t let the mystery of this cursed dungeon slip away: there’s so much to discover in the Galleria.
Superb character design and excellent monster forms, there is never anything visually lacking in a game that has such a classic form factor.
Every time you think you’ve got the basics down, the game throws a new component at you to make combat, exploration and customization more involved.
Fully voiced, gentle, ambient soundtrack, and some evocative folly work to craft a soundscape worthy of a cursed dungeon.
One more dungeon. One more run. One more attempt to find the Curio. One more chance to make things right.
Final Verdict: 9
Labyrinth of Galleria: The Moon Society is available now on PS4, PS5, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Labyrinth of Galleria: the Moon Society was provided by the publisher.