Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Genre: Action RPG
Price: $29.99, $49.99 (Limited Edition)
Lapis x Labyrinth immediately grabbed my attention when I saw it in person at PAX South. A warrior bounced around a 2-D stage with three other characters’ heads sitting atop his own. The background was full of fireworks and every time he attacked, rainbow showers of gems spewed from enemies. My brain was bathing in dopamine. Now, after nearly 30 hours with the game, I’m confident in saying that anyone who enjoys bright, shiny gameplay will get their fix here.
Spiritual Content: There are ghosts amongst the monsters. A couple of the playable character classes are magic-casters (though this really amounts to little more than firing shiny projectiles).
Violence: The game is full of cartoon violence, but there’s no blood, gore, or disturbing content here. It is safe for players of all ages.
Language/Crude Humor: There is nothing to be concerned with here.
Sexual Themes: None, though the outfits of the female chibi characters could be considered mildly revealing.
Positive Themes: There aren’t really any thematically positive (or negative) themes surrounding Lapis x Labyrinth.
The team at Nippon Ichi knows what appeals to gamers at the most basic level. Triggering bright, explosive visuals and incrementing numeric values have kept gamers coming back for decades, whether putting coins in a machine or sitting in their own living room. Lapis x Labyrinth embraces that psychological phenomenon, simultaneously handing it a warm bowl of soup and a plush comforter for the couch. I haven’t played a game that appealed to my caveman gamer brain on this level since the Geometry Wars franchise was in vogue.
There isn’t much narrative here to speak of. There’s a town mayor who will give you a breakdown on the current zone after you complete the first mission in each area. She’ll also speak to you before you tackle the boss of each zone. Apart from that, the only narrative in the game is that you, a group of adventurers, are diving into the labyrinth for gold and loot. It’s a weak narrative hook, but frankly, it’s more than enough for what Lapis x Labyrinth needs.
Lapis x Labyrinth‘s gameplay is about as straightforward as an Action RPG could get. You’ll field a party of four (or less if you want a challenge) adventurers. As you fight through each zone, you’ll have to clear 6 winding areas (often with multiple individual levels). At the end of each zone, you’ll have a boss stage.
In roguelike fashion, you’ll begin each stage at level 1, getting stronger as you slaughter enemies. Your party is represented by a sort of totem pole of party members, with the bottom character being the active warrior. Each class has a variety of directional attacks to topple foes. You can also utilize other party members for one-off attacks or, if you choose, a massive devastating group attack that charges up over time.
As you destroy enemies, you’ll build up a meter that unleashes a “Fever Mode.” While this is active, you do more damage and get more loot, incentivizing players to be more aggressive and hitting all those pleasure centers in your brain as groups of foes fold at your hand.
When you finish each mission, you’ll have downtime to take care of your team. Pick up new missions, sort, equip, upgrade gear, and train your team to upgrade damage and resistances.
If gameplay is the heart of Lapis x Labyrinth, aesthetic is the soul. With gold, gemstones, weapons, and more exploding out of every fallen enemy, Lapis x Labyrinth produces a visual feedback loop that’s downright addictive. The only way I really know to describe the action on screen (particularly when “Fever Mode” is active) is like a psychedelic rainbow dopamine flood. It’s gorgeous and consistently busy. When you add effects like the combined team attack, it can be almost overwhelming in a good way.
The one complaint I have with the visuals is that, because it is so busy, it can be easy to lose track of your team. The feedback can occasionally be lacking, and without proper observatory faculties, you might find your entire party slaughtered before you even realize what hit you. I had to re-run missions a few times due to this very thing.
Despite occasionally losing track of things, Lapis x Labyrinth is a great game. The mechanics are simple and the on-screen action is both intense and addictive. It’s family-friendly, and collectors will find a ton to keep them busy. If you want a deep narrative, you’ll be disappointed. For the price point, though, action game fans will be hard pressed to find a better value this year.
Review copy provided by NIS America.
The Bottom Line
Lapis x Labyrinth is an addictive platformer that will overload your dopamine receptors and bring you back yearning for more.