Big numbers, big monsters, big dungeons and big anime… character sprites. Labyrinth Of Refrain: Coven Of Dusk is exactly what you’d expect from Disgaea studio Nippon Ichi Software taking on the Wizardry-styled dungeon crawler genre. It’s an RPG about excess – huge parties of player-made characters with honking great stat sheets, exploring a massive grid-based dungeon in classic first-person style. All with even less artistic restraint than usual – unlike the Disgaea series, this one carries a ‘Mature’ rating in America. Below, an extremely anime launch trailer.
Having enjoyed several Disgaea games, I’d normally describe Nippon Ichi as ‘horny for stats’, but judging by what I’ve seen of Labyrinth Of Refrain, they’re just far too excited for everything. While the framework of the game is very traditional, inspired by early party-based dungeon crawls, it feels like the studio are pushing every boundary they can. Nippon Ichi are an outfit that has never heard of the words ‘minimalist’ or ‘restraint’, and that holds an odd sort of appeal in itself.
Labyrinth Of Refrain is the story of a witch searching for the secret at the heart of a deep dungeon, as you do. She gives expendable puppets life (so it’s okay if they die) and sends them to explore it on her behalf, completing quests for the town in order to fund further expeditions. While puppet designs range from ‘adorable’ to ‘wildly sexualised’ (as you can see in this trailer here), the designs on the monsters seem far more interesting, especially the bosses. Some enemy sprites are massive, extending even beyond the screen’s bounds, making their attacks rather intimidating.
I admit that I like Nippon Ichi’s in-house style. Disgaea artist Takehito Harada and composer Tenpei Sato have clearly gone full ham on Labyrinth of Refrain’s cartoon gothic world. Years of internet exposure have immunised me against anime excess, and I my eyes light up at the min-maxing possibilities when I see its walls of statistics. Initial reviews seem mostly positive, with simplistic dungeon design being a common complaint, while its complex combat systems are praised. It’s just a pity that the UK price is so bizarrely high – I might just rent the Switch version.