Lapis x Labyrinth Review — Chaotic Good
Lapis x Labyrinth shields its repetitive nature with a flashy presentation and interesting RPG mechanics.
“Mindless” beat ’em up or combat focused games like Streets of Rage and the Dynasty Warriors series are niche and divisive, but I typically find myself enjoying titles like this. In the case of Streets of Rage, those games are just well designed; as for Dynasty Warriors, not much can match the cathartic power trip those Musou games can put me on. If you’re like me and enjoy these power-trip titles in addition to RPGs, Lapis x Labyrinth blends the two to become both a competently designed cathartic that game should be on your radar.
It’s not without its problems as there is a lack of an engaging story, a few technical issues, and frustrating world types making the later worlds drone on. Still, Lapis x Labyrinth is one of the most overwhelming and flashy games I have ever played that also manages to be a fun RPG.
The plot of Lapis x Labyrinth is surprisingly straightforward, with players returning to a forgotten town in order to explore the labyrinth by it. As players progress through each of the labyrinth’s levels, the town grows with new characters, shops, and upgrades. While the town does a nice job at demonstrating clear progression, one early problem with the game is the lack of a motivating throughline in terms of the story. None of the characters, playable or NPC, exude much charm in their actions, and by the third or fourth level of the labyrinth, I was using the menu to pick missions and modify my team instead of walking around the town.
While the story and characters may be bland, the character designs do pop. The chibi aesthetic of Lapis x Labyrinth is absolutely adorable, and the distinct designs of every character and enemy were well composed. While each of the distinct level styles falls into the same maze-like design trappings, the backgrounds are colorful and give each area a pronounced feeling. The amazing soundtrack also embellishes this. While I’ll get into full sound design details later, each level-specific track was a joy to listen to whenever Lapis x Labyrinth’s repetitive nature would sink in.
The game’s aesthetics all work to service the repetitious gameplay loop, which is obviously the focal point of the experience. Players have several different classes of characters to choose from, each of which has distinct weapons and abilities. Instead of venturing out side by side like most RPGs, the player’s crew of four instead can stack on top of each other to create towers. The primary attack and health bar enemies take away from will belong to the leader of the group who is on the bottom. That being said, the other team members will partake in special attacks and the leader can be switched at any times. This setup allows for a lot of on-the-fly decision making that ensures no run feels exactly the same, even with the its repetitive loop.
Each of Lapis x Labyrinth’s levels are split into several missions, which players can choose or redo in a non-linear fashion at any time. Each mission has players diving into several floors of the labyrinth in order to reach the bottom and face the boss. To progress to each floor, certain switches must be hit to unlock the warp gate that lets one descend deeper. All levels are constructed in maze-like patterns so players take the time to fight enemies and collect everything. Like Penny Punching Princess before it, Lapis x Labyrinth puts an emphasis on money and loot. Most treasure chests and enemies defeated will net the player some sort of reward and if enough enemies are killed in a row to build up Treasure Points, Fever Mode is unlocked.
When I mentioned that Lapis x Labyrinth is one of the most overwhelming and flashy games I’ve ever played, Fever Mode is what I was referring too. When the requirements are met, Fever Mode automatically activates and every enemy defeated or block destroyed showers the screen with gems that the player automatically collects. Coupled with fluid animations and rooms with tons of enemies, the screen consistently erupts into pure cathartic chaos. Players are encourage to hit Fever Mode as often as possible for a better mission grade, cementing the consistent gameplay loop of Lapis x Labyrinth.
Complaints about “mindless” games often stem from the fact that a feeling of repetitiveness sinks in quickly. By taking what would otherwise be a repetitive gameplay loop and embellishing with a fully customizable party, flashy attacks, and Fever Mode, the repetitive nature of Lapis x Labyrinth didn’t really hit me until I arrived at the more frustrating level types in the late game. In what seems like a way to pad out the length, insta-kill traps and poison are introduced later on and can bring otherwise swell runs to a screeching halt.
While I understand their inclusion for variety’s sake, these elements killed the pacing and exposed the repetitive gameplay loop after playing the same level for the fourth time after failing due to cheap level design. Floors based on these level types can pop up in future levels too, so the problems aren’t isolated to a single portion of the game. After about 10 hours with Lapis x Labyrinth, things started to get more frustrating, but those first hours were full of welcome spectacle.
Hitting this wall also highlights the fact that PS4 isn’t the best platform to play Lapis x Labyrinth on. Don’t get me wrong, the game is still a ton of fun and nothing content-wise is changed between platforms, but the game’s setup is definitely more handheld friendly rather than couch friendly. Aforementioned issues like the lack of consistently interesting throughline and annoying dungeon types could likely become less noticeable or more palatable when played in small bursts on the go with Nintendo Switch.
Though I can’t speak for the Nintendo Switch version of Lapis x Labyrinth, the PS4 version of the game also has a couple of technical problems. The framerate would routinely hiccup in the game; surprisingly, these were through the flashy moments I described above but when the game was trying to load a lot of enemies or a particularly complicated area in. The characters would also frequently yell when attacking, so it would be hard to hear the sound cue for getting hit in the moments of chaotic spectacle where it should be required. These aren’t game breaking problems by any means, but they take the wind out of an otherwise fluid experience.
Even with these issues that weakened the game as it went on, Lapis x Labyrinth was still able to maintain an addicting grip on me. While some might point to the game’s flashiness as being what drew me in again and again, I’d say it was the fun RPG gameplay loop featuring a lot of customization that is at its core. Though it is likely a better fit for Nintendo Switch, if you typically are turned off by more repetitive games but appreciate an enjoyable RPG, you will have a good time with Lapis x Labyrinth.