Literal Treasure Explosion
Playing Lapis x Labyrinth is the equivalent of entering a glitzy casino and witnessing every slot machine simultaneously explode with coins. There’s a dazzling aura to this 2D hack-and-slash action RPG, and cute, hyperactive visuals feed into its eye-catching wackiness.
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True to the game’s name, you play as a customizable adventurer who enters mazelike dungeons with the goal of amassing treasure. We’re not talking chump change; there are gleaming gems around every corner. Defeating a single enemy unleashes an array of colorful currency. Multiply that by dozens of foes in every screen, and the display bursts with a heaping helping of riches that would make Wario blush. The vivid, manic slot machine graphics are mesmerizing.
The gameplay itself is quite simple, albeit bizarre. First of all, a stack of heads representing your teammates sits atop your character at all times. There’s no in-game explanation why your team chooses to fight in disembodied head towers, but it’s insanely adorable and further brandishes its wacky anime style. It leads to cute effects like being able to double jump by dropping one of your partners or activating special abilities that incorporate everyone’s unique powers at once. It also allows players to switch between four playable adventurers. There are eight character classes that range from melee attackers to mages to ranged gun wielders. They all have the same basic button combos, similarly to Super Smash Bros., but I appreciated the variety of four fighting styles at my fingertips.
Regardless of your class, combat amounts to copious button mashing. Although each successive quest brings forth stronger monsters, most of them are pushovers, provided you have a properly geared party. The bigger threat is the five minute time limit in which you must locate and destroy enough energy crystals to open the exit gate. Fail to do so in time and a horrid reaper chases you, insta-killing you upon contact. Most of my game overs came from this annoying threat. Upon breaking enough crystals, an arrow guides the way towards the exit. However, due to the convoluted maze design, filled with bewildering warps, the path to the exit is often confusing. Consequently, I felt discouraged to search hard for treasure, despite that being the point of the game.
Lapis x Labyrinth is designed around performing large combo chains to keep the money train coming. Fight, rack up points, and expand your earnings as long as you avoid getting hit. A fever gauge builds up and when filled, transforms the game into a blinding rush. If you were somehow underwhelmed by the garish spectacle, fever mode will inject your eyes with adrenaline. Everything drops mountains of gems, and the scenery detonates with bright lights and colors. Slots randomly award you bonuses, and the screen shakes, presumably since it can’t handle anything that’s happening. Seriously, though, the frame rate tends to dip quite a bit during this mode, which is disappointing for what should be a smooth, fast-paced experience. It’s an overwhelming blur, and I occasionally got distracted or lost with the overstimulating flying and flashing.
That is the true essence of Lapis x Labyrinth, though – a dungeon crawler that makes you feel good with its easy-to-learn button combos and the atmosphere of being in an eternal bonus level. Sometimes it’s nice to shut off my brain entirely while entering an exhilarated state. However, that only took me so far due to the stagnant gameplay. After the first of ten worlds, I had pretty much seen everything.
Each world has eight quests in which you enter a labyrinth of one to five floors. However, every map has the same generic level design, essentially a series of connected rooms, breakable blocks, and walls. They all look and feel similar, aside from a few different backgrounds and gimmick platforms. Meanwhile, you’re probably mashing buttons and still somehow winning. The grind follows the same pattern throughout its 20 hour campaign, quickly becoming monotonous. Bosses break the mold, but only the end-of-world ones are actually interesting or challenging. All other bosses are just slightly rougher adversaries. The lackluster story doesn’t help. You learn more about the abyss underneath the town over time, but without true voice acting or character personalities, it ends up feeling shallow.
The progression system, while not stellar, was enough of a hook to keep me invested. Beyond obtaining a bunch of loot and materials in each level, you also unlock randomized chests holding equipment depending on how well you played. You only have control over which of three chests you open at a time, but it’s rewarding to get that lucky weapon, armor, or artifact, each with their own attributes like boosted attack against certain monsters. Everything you equip feeds into a combined team HP and attack stat, making the group feel more like a singular unit, and a maximum gear cost tasks players to grind for the most efficient equipment. I appreciated that as you play, the town flourishes, gradually introducing new services like a blacksmith that embeds equipment with passives, a dojo that raises character stats, and a restaurant that cooks up restorative foods.
That said, I wish there were more to diversify gameplay – for instance, upgraded movesets for characters, skill trees, more classes – anything to give the impression that my characters were evolving as opposed to simply improving. As a beat-‘em-up, multiplayer could have helped quell the tedium. For those who get into the game, a ridiculously high-leveled postgame awaits, although it’s more of the same.
Lapis x Labyrinth isn’t for everyone, but there is an audience, particularly players who like stimulating games that are easy to pick up and play. The overall experience is style over substance, with flashy lights at the forefront and a straightforward hack-and-slash RPG as the catalyst. If you’ve ever had the urge to know what it’s like to live inside a pinball machine, I assume this is the closest interpretation.
Note: A review copy was used for this article.