Price: £49.99 (Plus artbook £3.99, and some item DLC, ho-hum)
Where To Get It: Steam
Step based RPGs (A first person style of RPG where you move in discrete steps, hence the name) are, when done well, a delight. When they have an interesting world, some interesting gimmicks, good balance, and well written characters, I’m happy.
So it was pretty pleasing to come across Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk. Which has all of these, and a little more.
The general idea, at least at the start (There are, of course, twists. Big ones) is that an asshole witch is looking for a gateway to the land of the dead, found in a dungeon complex, deadly to humans because of its Miasma (a supernatural fog), inside a well in a small town. Ah, okay, not a protagonist you can sympathise with, huh?
Well… It’s a little more complicated than that. But still… The story gets interesting quick (Although there is some content warning worthy stuff, like an encounter where a priestess presumably forcibly gets it on with the witch protagonist (played for laughs, but I winced), and, naturally, death. Lots of death, for reasons which become clear as you play.
As to the game? Well, the simplest way I could put it is “It’s one of the closest things to Etrian Odyssey we’re going to get on PC until Atlus puts Etrian Odyssey on PC”, but that would, honestly, be reductive. It’s a step based RPG, with automapping, and, shortly into the game, knowledge of where the enemies are. This is useful, because, in the case of enemies early in the dungeon, once you’ve levelled to the point they’re absolutely no problem at all, it’s best to avoid the tedium (and there are reasons to go back to level 1, although, fair warning, don’t do it early.
However, it’s not always useful, as, for example, there’s an area in one of the first proper dungeons where you’re trapped in an area with several rocky bastards (do not bring fire element attacks to this fight, you will die horribly), with a high ambush rate, and so, unless you know beforehand that it’s there, you’re going to have a nasty surprise.
And death, itself, can be a nasty surprise. After all, your adventurers aren’t the witch and company. They’re puppets, magical dolls imbued with souls of adventurers gone by, and, if they die, or if a special attack to break their parts hits, and does its job (like many status attacks, it doesn’t always), well, their effectiveness is lessened until you get back home, and repair those parts… If you have the resources. Higher level dolls need higher level parts.
I like this. I like the class system. I like the way parts of the game’s mechanics are unveiled slowly, from mapping, to enemy sight and ambushing, to villager quests, better dolls, checkpoints, shops… And I love the aesthetic. Good music, great voice acting, interesting enemy and character designs for this weird, dark world, and a clear UX. My only problem is that sometimes, the path forward is distinctly unclear. Oh, I have to threaten this lady? I have to say no to the statue which turns out to be a bit bonkers? Ah… This was less than clear, game.
But, overall, Labyrinth of Refrain is a solid RPG experience, and I like it quite a lot.
The Mad Welshman does love him some Etrian Odyssey style shenanigans. It’s such a shame that firstly, Etrian Odyssey isn’t on PC, and secondly, experiences like it are a gamble, pleasure wise…