Platform: PS4, Nintendo Switch
Genre: 2D Action RPG With Fever Mode & Cute Heads
Bishi Bashi. Diablo III on Normal. Tekken 7 with casuals. Most Marvel vs. Capcom games against level 1 AIs. These are the kinds of experiences where you can turn your brain off for a bit and let your muscle memory and instinct take over while enjoying the pretty lights and visual feedback as you eventually win the game.
Enter Lapis x Labyrinth, an action RPG from Nippon Ichi Software (Disgaea and a bunch of other weird anime RPGs) that adheres to the aforementioned gratification and sensory overload you find in mobile games and gacha titles.
You control a group of adventurers who explore a huge-ass labyrinth filled with danger and treasure. Your objective for each semi-randomized level is simple: go in, hit all the purple crystals to fill up the bottom right meter halfway to power up the exit, then escape. In the meantime, slay a ton of enemies in 2D action glory and rack up as much treasure as humanly possible.
What makes this game stand out is the way you handle said action bits. You can bring up to four adventurers of various classes -ranging from the basic-yet-essential Hunter to the hard-hitting Destroyer- but you act as one entity. One adventurer is the leader while the other three are stacked up on top of your leader’s head as “dangos”. All your stats, bonuses, class perks, and whatnot are accounted for; lose one dango from an enemy’s heavy attack and you lose your benefits temporarily. Get your dango killed and you’ll have to finish the dungeon with one less class.
And you wouldn’t want to topple your cute head-stacked column of a party now, would you? Fortunately, there are a lot of things, er, stacked to your favour. For one, your adventurers level up in the dungeon and get stronger with each trek. All attacks from each class seem very offence-oriented save for the Shielder’s shield special move and the Maid’s repel.
Other than that, you can create Marvel vs Capcom-esque combos and air combos with most of your fancy special and regular moves. Just like that fighting game, you can also call in an assist attack via your topmost dango or even summon all of them for a quadruple team assault to clear the screen.
Chaining an uppercut using the Hunter while following up with a dive kick-like strike multi-hitting enemies below, or just pressing the R1 for that team attack, is a necessity in building up a meter called Fever.
Getting Ahead. Or Three.
Once that’s full, you activate Fever Mode automatically and temporarily become invincible, hit harder, and get a lot of treasure and gold by hitting anything that moves and flashes. In fact, the game gets way too chaotic with fantasy mobs, flying numbers, coins, and jewels in Fever Mode that it gets hard to see what’s going on while racking up the points. It takes getting used to, but you’ll get the hang of revelling in the gold-raking madness that you can sorta plan your route to maximize your earnings.
And those sounds that pop up while the game’s Fever theme plays while you’re in a mad dash to rack up your treasure combo: that sensory overload is up there with Peggle‘s Ode To Joy end-of-round bonus round.
After all that, you can accumulate your loot via treasure chests and the end-of-game pick-your-bonus-treasure minigame where you can use the keys you get through getting a good dungeon-clearing score. The higher the grade, the more keys you get. When you reach town, you get to sort out your party, your equipment, your base stats, and a whole lot of other tweaks to get ready for the next venture. And the next.
With the Dango system, fast-paced gameplay, and emphasis on Fever mode combined, Lapis x Labyrinth suddenly becomes a button-masher of epic proportions. Chaining all of your attacks in mob rooms that lock you out, then getting Fever and then frantically searching for the next enemy hub, as well as random treasure chests and blinking columns to hit, becomes the other main objective to excel at. Well, apart from finding the dungeon’s exit.
Sure, the game gets tough with the Danger Level of each dungeon increasing, and there’s a ticking clock that unleashes one-hit kill revenants if it reaches zero. But for the most parts, as long as I create the right four-person party -Hunter, Maid, Bishop, and Witch for me- and equip them with decent rare equipment with armour-piercing stats, I can barrel through most obstacles and get into Fever mode pretty often per stage.
This does bring up one major flaw in Lapis x Labyrinth: for all of its systems and extra explanations in-game, it isn’t very challenging in the slightest. You will not find much of a roadblock in bosses that can’t be solved without revisiting a dungeon once or just gathering enough gold and materials to buff up your party.
I should also point out that the end-of-level rewards system is pretty crap at being random, if that makes sense. Even if you achieved the highest ranking and earned a lot of keys, there will always be a situation where you will be presented with a 4-key chest and you’re left with 1 key after opening up a lot of 2 and 3-key chests.
For all of its problems, Nippon Ichi’s latest is very, very invigorating and rewarding from a hack-and-slash loot-hunting perspective. I daresay that this RPG is more fun & unique than most RPG titles this year and the last just for its visual and gameplay feedback alone.
Imagine taking the best aspects of a popular starlit gacha title, but putting it to good use in a niche action RPG from the folks who made Disgaea and that one witch game where you kinda molested a dog woman to proceed in the game.
If you just want to press buttons, see numbers pop up, use bits of your reflexes for positioning and 2D platforming bob-and-weaving, and get as much loot as possible to deck out your party, Lapis X Labyrinth is your jam. And a pleasant-looking and sounding jam all tightened up for stressed-out gamers looking for simple gratification.
It may not be for savants who want to fiddle around with a giant skill tree in a tough-as-nails RPG, but this game has enough staying power to cater to your most loot-hoarding and money-grubbing instincts.
-Fever Mode is a lovely gimmick.
-“Easy to play, hard to put down” gameplay.
-Great classes with mix-and-match potential.
-Not particularly deep.
-Not that difficult & challenging.
-End-of-stage random loot distribution is horses***