With gambling mechanics being more commonplace in video games it’s becoming harder and harder to get away from that feeling that you’re pulling a lever, watching the reels and hoping to hit that jackpot. Just pull the trigger, swing the sword, flip the card over and see if you came up with 3 bar or random fruit ready for another pop up demanding another coin to continue. You only need to have seen 5 seconds of Lapis x Labyrinth gameplay when a fever hits and the screen is filled with jewels, coins and numbers to understand why I’m reminded of slot machines but is this a win every time? Or are those flashing lights and sounds just a distraction from mediocrity?
Lapis x Labyrinth is a 2D action RPG platformer hybrid that feels like Maple Story but with the stacking mechanic from the World of Final Fantasy. You jump and attack with basic, special, allied and super team attacks in fast action combat that encourages switching out your active leader character and reserving your heavy hitters and healers for specific enemies. All of this towering balance works nicely with only your main leader character being able to take damage akin to busy shmups where there is a lot of action on the screen but only the need to focus on one small part of it to stay alive and deal out the hits. Each level is procedurally generated where you need to find enough giant purple diamonds to open the exit. As soon as you have the minimum amount you gain a tracker that points you to the levels exit but you get a higher grade for exploring for more. Each quest sees you going through these levels with some ending with a giant boss. The levels have a strict time limit that encourages balanced exploration over dying and memorising aspects of where traps and monster spawns will likely be.
All of the above would make for an enjoyable action game but where Lapis x Labyrinth takes things to another level is with the treasure and fever system. The more you open chests, destroy blocks or monsters the higher your fever gauge fills and then when that bad boy triggers, well- the game explodes. All your characters heal and every big block now begins flashing like you just hit the jackpot. A short burst of music as if you just hit the invisibility block bursts from the speakers. Every big block you hit, monster you kill and treasure you open explode into coins and coloured jewels that fly into your treasure combo. Your adrenaline goes wild, you rush about trying to clobber anything and then, just as quickly as it started the game pauses for a second to let you know FEVER END. You’re back to the regular game, building up that fever gauge to get another rush of madness. One hit results in the treasure counter resetting and another calculated rush around building back up to a fever rush.
With all those jewels, characters, effects and nonsense constantly going off on screen you’d expect the framerate to at least dip a little but Lapis x Labyrinth looks and runs staggeringly well on Switch. It didn’t matter if it was docked or in handheld, the visuals pop with a chibi artstyle that the artists deserve serious recognition for. Not only does each class look instantly recognisable but the environments and enemies are easily some of the best designs in any 2D game. The text for the dialogue is easy to read throughout with menus for the items looting being easy to understand.
Why does it feel like there’s a ‘but’ coming though? Lapis x Labyrinth is a fantastic game but there are a few caveats to the brilliant madness. The fever mode is amazing and still has you going back to hit after hit but in longer sessions the pause when it ends can feel a little tired and the loop of music can get annoying. The music is also not quite up to par, at one point I thought there was a bug where it kept skipping but that’s the actual track, it’s all short and fairly annoying. Some of the sound effects for the basic attacks can be very grating on the ears as well. There is an impressive amount of Japanese voicework but only the cutscenes and chatting in the hub world has been translated. There aren’t that many varied set parts to the levels, after you’ve finished the 2nd quest page a lot of the labyrinths stop feeling challenging explorations for finding the diamonds within the time limit and survival challenges where over levelled monsters kill off characters with one touch. All of these niggles don’t stop the enjoyment for Lapis x Labyrinth but they essentially crop up from playing a game that feels designed for short bursts for too long.
There is a lot of levelling up and learning with a fairly steep learning curve to the fundamentals of Lapis X Labyrinth. You unlock more shops and abilities to refine equipment, armour, items and amulets (buffs for your party) as you progress through the quests. Your party level resets between each quest but your guild level slowly progressing as you play through the game. The more you play Lapis x Labyrinth the less it feels like a quick little action game and the more it feels like an MMORPG (despite being a complete singleplayer experience) Before each quest you pick your party members as best for the task, you make sure all the equipment fits as best it can while managing your party’s gear cost to the needs of each character, you make sure to pack a lunch that will buff accordingly between stages and finally head out hoping for the best. When the quest is complete and you’ve picked your winnings at random from chests (depending on how well you do) you’ll be off to sell the junk, breaking it down into components and making everything that little bit more powerful. All these steps over and over to start the sparkling gold jewel bonanza once again. It’s great in small doses and feels a bit like a grind after longer sessions, especially given the price for updates.
It’s refreshingly surprising how much fun you can get from Lapis x Labyrinth when you play it in smaller doses. The kind of game that’s perfectly at home on the Switch with the ability to just pop it on when commuting and have another go. You pull the levers, follow the path and get rewarded in simple smile inducing fun. I’ve seen the game compared to Smash TV and it’s a good comparison with the amount of bonkers action it has to offer. I didn’t expect to get such a loop of upgrading and grinding equipment to better the rush with no microtransactions or forced time delays to break or ruin the experience but here we are. A purely refreshing experience from a game that gives so much fun to you.
8/10 – GIVE ME ALL THE JEWELS
Code provided by EU Partner Relations – NIS America Inc. Check out NIS here
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