Lapis X Labyrinth Review: Fevered Tedium
There's nothing like a little mindless button mashing to propel you through a game focused on grinding.
If that sounds appealing to you, you may very well like the budget-priced Lapis X Labyrinth. If it sounds like Hell on Earth to you, though, it's probably best to keep on steppin' because this game is not going to appeal to you at all.
Lapis X Labyrinth is a simple game with a plot I frankly can't remember because there's not really much dialogue, which is fine. All of the focus is on running through stages and upgrading your party members via gear and direct stat upgrades, which is a long and grind-heavy process. Which, again, is fine if you're into that.
I am into that. I am into mindlessly grinding on one TV while a movie or show plays on the other (multiple TV living rooms represent), so it says a bit that the uphill climb in Lapis X Labyrinth is a bit too much for me. While flashy and fun in small doses, LXL quickly loses steam once you realize the core gameplay barely ever changes. You're going to be doing the same things with minor tweaks... forever.
It's flashy, though. Hoo boy, is this game flashy in a way you usually only get with slot (or perhaps pachinko) machines. That flashiness is what's kept me at it, showing there's something to be said for the mini dopamine rushes one gets from a short-lived powerup and invincibility period.
You may remember how stacking worked in World of Final Fantasy, Square Enix's turn-based fanservice title.
Your party is stacked in Lapis X Labyrinth as well, but this is an action game. Stacking here means you can hotswap characters in dungeons. The characters you are not currently hacking and slashing with are simply there to provide extra bonuses to your team attack when not in use.
Stacking is a cute way to grant yourself some extra gameplay flexibility, and there are a number of classes to choose from. The slow Destroyer, the healing Bishop, the stalwart Shielder, and a handful of others. Each class is different enough from the others, and some take more positioning than others. For example, some classes' attacks have finicky areas of effect that have to be learned and kept in mind to make good use of them.
Creating your stack is sort of like creating your character, that you can swap parts out for between quests. Swapping characters in your stack can be done in town between any quest. Between being able to hotswap your stack leader in quests and interchange them completely when in town, you don't really have to stress over trying new things. It's the nature of the game, and trying new class combinations is mostly harmless.
That said, combat is mostly harmless, too.
At its heart, Lapis X Labyrinth is a button masher — a button masher with repeated invincibility periods.
While enemies themselves are usually not a problem, they're made into easily-dispatched punching bags when you enter Fever mode, a massively flashy period where you are invincible and deal extra damage.
Fever mode is brought on simply by traversing dungeons and whacking on things, and if you're doing things right, you should be entering Fever within a few seconds of exiting Fever when in a dungeon. This is where you get that dopamine rush that pushes you to keep going. The music changes, everything starts flashing, fireworks are going off in the background, and you are a killing machine.
It's not hard to see why or how Fever mode compels one to keep going. In a lot of ways, the game seems designed around you being invincible most of the time. Your characters don't have a ton of health, and when they're knocked out, you can just pick them up again after a short delay. LXL does its best to keep you alive, outside of occasionally getting stuck at the base of a worm boss monster and dying.
That lack of difficulty is what wears on you, though. You go into a whole slew of dungeons that really don't look all that different. You gather treasure along the way, you get back to town and sit there manually disassembling your trash drops, you get some better stats, you go back in.
There's always something to grind. Money, materials for equipment enhancement, or stats. But no levels. You increase your guild level, but neither your stack nor your characters have individual levels.
Some may enjoy the longer progression route found in Lapis X Labyrinth, but it quickly and unceremoniously turns what would otherwise be a straightforward game into a menu-diving bore when you're in town and have all your progression methods unlocked.
Yeah, I guess.
Though flashy and with 80 quests to take on, the sheer repetition of it all is hard to ignore. Fever is fun, the gems shooting all over the place when you take down enemies in Fever is fun. The rest of the game, unfortunately, isn't.
When you go into a fast-paced beat'em up/dungeon explorer where one half is an exercise in menu-based tedium, you're bound to get frustrated over the slog of the second half. That's because it really highlights how droll the actual dungeon design is, and you start to wonder why you're bothering.
Whacking on things is fun, running through dungeons with similar layouts time and time again and having to sift through menus for repeated incremental stat increases is not.
I'm no newcomer to NIS America's incremental stat-increase titles, and I'm actually a fan of the Cladun series, but Lapis X Labyrinth just has too much going on system-wise for its incredibly basic gameplay. You have a handful of gauges in combat tied to your special attacks and skills, but for what purpose if Fever makes them all irrelevant?
- Fever mode is a lot of fun for what it is
- Lots of gameplay styles between the game's X classes and stacking mechanic
- Too much menu management — I hope you like disassembling equipment and mashing confirm for ages when trying to upgrade a piece of equipment repeatedly
- It's incredibly easy thanks to Fever mode (a negative for me, but perhaps opens LXL to younger players as there is no real untoward content)
- The game barely explains its systems, which are plentiful
Lapis X Labyrinth is fun in small doses, but it becomes a chore once you grasp the game and unlock all the progression methods. An unfun chore, not all that different from vacuuming with a persistent fever clouding your judgment.
[Note: A copy of Lapis X Labyrinth was provided by NIS America for the purpose of this review.]