Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk, or Coven and Labyrinth of Refrain in Japan, is a first-person Dungeon Crawler RPG developed by Nippon Ichi. It was initially released in Japan for the Play Station Vita in 2016, ported to the PlayStation 4 in 2017, and localized for the PC, PS4, and Nintendo Switch in 2018.
In the game, you play as the Tractatus de Monstrum (Tractie for short). Or rather, you play a disembodied soul that has been shoved into the aforementioned book, who is used by a witch named Madam Dronya to explore a Labyrinth underneath the town of Refrain, using the labyrinth's magic to animate puppet soldiers that fight monsters for you.
While Labyrinth of Refrain is similar to games like Etrian Odyssey and Demon Gaze, it does several things which set it apart from the crowd. For one thing; party members can be assigned to "pacts", which not only allow you to assign different numbers of characters to a party slot, but also determines what types of donum (magic) they can cast. The game also has no Random Encounters; enemy can be seen on the map at all times, and can be avoided or tackled at the player's leisure.
This game contains examples of the following tropes:
- All the Worlds Are a Stage: Unclean Ornit, the The Very Definitely Final Dungeon that leads to the True Ending.
- Apocalyptic Log: There are messages left inside the dungeons, many of which take this format.
- Arbitrary Headcount Limit: Played with. You have 5 party slots, but each party is a "coven" created by a pact. Similar to how Soul Nomad & the World Eaters had squads with effects and different positioning slots, each pact has 1 to 3 "attacker" slots and 0 to 6 "support slots" that do nothing but enable magic, get experience, and activate the given support slot's abilities. Each slot can give buffs, debuffs, exp bonuses and penalties, et cetera. At the same time, covens share DP (the game's mana system) and spell availability is based on the pact.
- Bonus Boss: One in each dungeon; Devon, D.E. Machina, Empress Junon, King Pecoro, Overlord Furfur, and Zlavec. You need to defeat all of them in order to access the True Ending. There is also Metallia as a post-game boss.
- Came Back Strong: At the start of the game Dronya drops a lamb that Luca tried to adopt into the well. It can be fought on floor 7 of the Cobalt Companula as a Bonus Boss.
- Chunky Salsa Rule: Puppets may take damage to their body parts that take off points from their max hp until you repair them back at the base, but if a Puppet Soldier's head is destroyed, their max HP is reduced to 0, which means you can't revive them until they get repaired.
- Continuing is Painful: If you get a total party wipe, you'll be booted back to base without any of the mana you collected, most of your puppet soldiers will lose body parts (forcing you to pay to have them fixed), and you might lose a couple items you had collected. (This can be any item you own, including the paid DLC items, not just items you picked up during that excursion.)
- Critical Existence Failure: Zig-zagged. A Puppet Soldier can continue to fight until it runs out of HP, but "Gore Criticals" can permanently damage a puppet's limbs, reducing max HP until they can be repaired. However, if the head is broken, that puppet is immediately taken out of commission, and in the event of a Total Party Kill random body parts across the team will be shattered.
- Cultural Translation: The skill "Eros" (sexual attractiveness) was culturalized as "Charm" for western markets. This stat makes enemies less likely to attack you, except for certain rare spawns with a certain rare prefix. The name of the rare prefix of monsters that specifically target high "eros" characters? "Hentai." ("Deviant" in the west.)
- Decoy Protagonist: While Dronya is very important, the story of Refrain is ultimately not her story. It's Luca's. This becomes even more important in the postgame, where Soul Witch Mezzaluca runs the show.
- Eldritch Location: The Labryinth. Not only is it full of monsters, miasma and mana, but it also connects to other dimensions. Refrain itself is also one being a Purgatory for the souls of sinners.
- Fission Mailed: The multiple Dead Ends. There is no actual way to avoid these "Endings", as they are part of the story itself. The alterations on a reload are due to Luca meddling with the course of events after stepping back in time slightly.
- Enraged by Dronya's glamours apparently not actually being magic, Maylee snatches Dronya's dagger and murders her with it. The game prompts you to save, and suggests doing so in a separate slot, before booting you back to the title screen. Loading this save, expecting a New Game+, will instead continue from just before the scene except Dronya is no longer carrying a dagger on her so Maylee simply beats the hell out of her before forcing her to drink a transmutation potion.
- Later Juliet, hating Dronya for being thought of as a more beautiful woman than her, hires the two guards who had previously attacked Dronya to do so again. They attack her and damage her eyes, leaving them able to rape and murder her, then dispose of the body in the well. The reloaded version of the scene has someone knock over a broom, allowing Dronya to defend herself and drive them away.
- Once the truth of Refrain is revealed Dronya attempts to escape and ends up falling after her artificial leg gets snagged. Unfortunately this fall shatters her leg, forcing her to drag herself to safety until aided by Nemto. Meanwhile Fritz ends up being caught by an Unclean One, and the personality shift in Nemto as a result has him become like Totopepe, ripping Dronya apart to have his way with his "dolly" and snapping Neldo's neck for trying to save her. The second time around Luca directly accompanies Dronya to keep her leg from breaking and saves Fritz to keep Nemto from going insane.
- Glass Cannon: The Moon Stance turns characters into this, at near Crippling Overspecialization levels. To wit: Moon Stance increases STR and DMP (Physical and Magical Attack) by 30%, increases your weapon mastery by 2 ranks... but reduces your Maximum HP by 40% and gives you a permanent -30 luck penalty (making it far easier to hit you with crits and gore crits). This leads to a character who can do large amounts of damage, if they survive the AOE damage later monsters throw out. If.
- Guide Dang It!:
- Lucky Numbers. The only aspect of the Puppet Soldiers that you cannot change later, Lucky Numbers are left unexplained. Some puppet abilities claim to use them without any details, and some rare pacts require a given number - positive or negative - to use. There is a fairly equal ratio of rare "needs odd" vs "needs even" pacts until the postgame, wherein one particularly useful Level Grinding pact with huge Experience Points boosts can be obtained — which always requires an even number. Thus, experienced players know to only make puppets with even lucky numbers for this late game bonus.
- You need to beat 6 optional bosses to unlock the The Very Definitely Final Dungeon. While some of these are straightforward, others are either difficult to reach or can only be damaged under very specific circumstances.
- Umbra and Amadeus have a bit of event flag hunting going on.
- Hard Mode Perks: Playing the game on "nightmare" mode awards more Mana and lowers the exchange rate on Mana you bring into the dungeon, which makes items more likely to drop.
- Heroic Mime: Tractie can't talk, but it can emote in response to dialogue options, similar to The Witch and the Hundred Knight.
- Hero of Another Story: The Great Witches in the postgame. Mezzaluca has had 100 years to fight a losing battle against Velkuvrana alongside them — which you do not see and ultimately barely hear about.
- New Game+: The game has a traditional NG+ mode, unlocked upon clearing the game. Getting the 6 Black Pages from the Bonus Boss fights in each dungeon unlocks a postgame, during which you can wish to "End Everything," which amusingly immediately ends to the Fission Mailed ending credits and a new cycle.
- In universe, there are hints that something similar might be going on: The Cold Open of the game, with a pre-designed party ending poorly to a trap in the dungeon, is ignored outright after you play through it once. That is, until Luca calls a sheep "Bah-Bah," which is a name she gave to it during the cold open but not during the real game proper. This is your first hint that something odd is going on, although several other characters mention that this isn't the first time Tractie has been in the dungeon.
- Player Mooks: Puppet soldiers, whom you can customize and name at your leisure.
- Shout-Out: One of the "loot" items you can obtain is the Overlord's Ring, which is stated to be prized by demons. In the Disgaea series, the Overlord's Ring is an stat-boosting trinket.
- Takehito Harada's iconic character, Pleinair Allaprima, makes an appearance as an unlockable appearance of the Demon Reaper, a late game puppet class. Unlike her other incarnations, this variant of Pilenair is Ambiguously Brown, wearing a stripperific outfit (scarf + bikini bottoms + thigh high latex stockings), and dual wields scythes.
- Similarly, one of the default male Aster Knights is Ash, with a spear.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Unclean Ornit / Azu-Cardia, the The Very Definitely Final Dungeon. The background music is the same oddly dissonant music from the puppet shows. Until it stops, abruptly.
- Stealth Sequel: Despite not being advertised as such, the game is a Non-Linear Sequel to The Witch and the Hundred Knight, what with it's dark themes, a storyline revolving around witches, and featuring a Heroic Mime playable character who can only emote who is a minion bound to the game's actual main character. It certainly helps that Metallia is a postgame boss.
- Subsystem Damage: Called "Gore Criticals," this is a separate type of critical hit that permanently damages a specific body part. Enemies and Puppet Soldiers each have 5 "spots" — uniquely named for enemies, but they are Legs, Torso, Left Arm, Right Arm, and Head for Puppets. Enemies taking a Gore Critical can have abilities disabled or severely weakened and take massive damage. Puppet Soldiers that take a Gore Critical have the given body part (and it's equipment) disabled, their max HP reduced, and their relevant stats reduced. The exception is the Head slot — taking a gore critical there disables the Puppet Soldier until they can be repaired at base, and instantly kills enemies.
- Throw the Dog a Bone: The post-game is one for Luca. Or rather her future self, Mezzaluca. She sent Tractie's soul to the present to prevent Velkuvrana and save her past self and the world, knowing full well that it would have no effect on her Bad Future. After defeating Velkuvrana before it could reach its full power in the main game and learning about the plight of her future self, Luca, with the help of Newton, decides to send Tractie's soul back to the future to give Mezzaluca a fighting chance.
- With This Herring: Played straight for the most part, since you begin the game with only a couple puppet soldiers with weak equipment. Subverted in the Umbra chapter, where the Grand Duchess gives your party several full sets of legendary gear for you to take down King Alice with.
- What Is Evil?: One of the recurring themes in the story is sin and the retribution for that sin. Dronya commits vile acts and pays for them in due time. The denizens of Refrain commit vile acts and pay for them in due time. Tractie even has the option to commit vile acts only to pay for them in due time (either as higher enemy crit rates or as increasingly accrued damage in certain areas). Petrone even brings up this topic as he reveals the truth about Refrain to Dronya. While all the denizens of Refrain are ultimately good people, the fact that they're in a purgatory for sinners must be proof that they're not nearly as good as perceived. That being said, simply rejecting sin is not enough, since in the late game Tractie bears the sins of the denizens of Refrain after hearing their confessions of those sins, thus maxing out its karma. You don't even get rid of the karma gained in the labyrinth through the Scapegoat Witch Petition; instead, you pass it on to a flock of sheep, thus making them the bearers of sin. Dronya and Funa claim that only humans are prone to sin and that taken to its logical extreme, every human is a sinner. Meanwhile, Funa claims that as witches (i.e. as something other than human), Dronya and Funa are exempt from sin and are free to do what they wish, regardless of the consequences. However, they both learn the hard way that no, they are not.