All that Glitters is Gold
It’s funny how you can get the gist of what a game’s about while still holding a mental image of it that’s astonishingly incorrect. It’s also the best way to describe my experience with Lapis x Labyrinth. Or at least my initial experience, anyway. Sure, I knew that the game was about making a weird totem pole of a party, running around inside of dungeons, and collecting as much treasure as possible. But that still wasn’t enough to prepare me for the extraordinarily casino-like (is that even a real term?) experience that this game had in store for me, and the strangely addicting gameplay born from it.
Get Rich, or Die Trying
Taking the shape of something that feels akin to a mixture between Etrian Odyssey and SteamWorld Dig, this game’s story is a simple tale of perilous dungeons, terrifying monsters, and the promise of sweet, sweet riches. Taking place within a quaint but slowly dying town, Lapis x Labyrinth follows the story of a band of adventurers, lead by a fresh-faced guild leader (that’s you!), as they attempt to delve into a connecting labyrinth. Unlike with many games, however, this guild’s goal isn’t to save the world. Heck, it isn’t even to save the town that they’re in (although they do benefit from your presence). All that matters is getting rich — and this guild’s willing to risk it all in order to make that happen.
Really, there isn’t too much to say about this game’s story that I haven’t already said in the previous paragraph — it’s seriously that shallow. Don’t get me wrong, shallow doesn’t necessarily equate to bad. In fact, given what this game’s about, a meaty story would actually be kind of weird. I do, however, think that adding in a slightly more engaging narrative would have behooved this game — especially knowing the kinds of zany stories that NIS is capable of crafting.
A Mad Dash for Mad Cash
Despite the aforementioned noticeable similarities between this game and others, Lapis x Labyrinth is still something that holds a distinctly unique shape when it comes to its core gameplay. While, at the forefront, this game toes the line between action RPG and platformer, jumping around and slicing apart baddies aren’t the only two things that you’ll be doing while exploring. True to its name, Lapis x Labyrinth‘s plethora of levels are very much labyrinthine in nature, featuring setups which, while not large, are complex and sometimes confusing to navigate around. And, just like with any video game labyrinth, you have but one objective: to find the exit and escape. But it’s not that easy! Before hopping into that teleporter and vamoosing, you need to power it up first. And how do you power it up? By finding and destroying at least 50% of the crystals scattered throughout the floor, of course! I mean, what else would you do?
It’s with this crystal-destroying, teleporter-activating mechanic that this game begins to show its true, and very frantic, colors. As if simply navigating your way through a monster-filled maze in order to activate a teleporter wasn’t enough, Lapis x Labyrinth also imposes a frighteningly strict 5-minute time limit throughout every single level. While you won’t die if the timer hits 0, you will find yourself being chased by a very large, very angry, very teleport-y ghost… who kills you instantly if you so much as touch it. Because of this, Lapis x Labyrinth seems to instill in its players a constant state of high alert. You need to go fast if you want to make it out alive, and you need to go really fast if you’re itching to open up every single treasure chest and destroy every crystal (which nabs you some additional end-level treasure). Fortunately, this isn’t an impossible task. More times than not, activating the teleporter isn’t a big deal, and breaking attempting to break all of a floor’s crystals was more often a successful endeavor than not. Even with that being the case, however, I don’t think that it would have hurt the developers to loosen up on the time limit thing a little bit. Some of the game’s later levels are hard, especially the post-game ones, and working hard only to be killed by the tick-tock ghost clock (or is it a clock ghost?) is kind of heartbreaking.
Now, let’s get onto that actual treasure-collecting part. I’m not sure what the actual goal of making things the way that they were was originally, but the end result it something that triggers the reward center of your brain so much that you’ll be dopamine-depleted by the time you’re done playing. Lapis x Labyrinth not only wants to constantly shower you in treasure, but it wants you to be excited about the fact that it’s doing so. This, of course, manifests in a shower of gold and jewels which will constantly rain down upon you as you kill monsters and open treasure chests. If that still isn’t enough, however (and who are we kidding, it’s totally not), the game also has a “Treasure Combo” mechanic which rewards players for collecting loot without getting hit. Adding this in was nothing short of genius on NIS’ part. There’s something fun about trying to avoid getting hit just so you can satiate your greed even more and watch those treasures pile on. And, while getting hit is unfortunately easier said than done, Lapis x Labyrinth is setup in a way that the chains that you do get will still result in sizable rewards.
Still with me on all of the treasure-collecting mechanics? Good, because there’s one final thing that I have yet to talk about — the almighty Fever Mode. Activated by collecting loot, Fever Mode is the player’s ultimate treasure-collecting form in Lapis x Labyrinth. Killing enemies, breaking obstacles, and hitting special blocks with stars on them during Fever Mode will cause them to drop gems. These gems are then automatically collected and used in a special “Fever slot machine” which doles out bonuses — such as increased attack or a higher rate of collecting rare items — that stick around until the very end of the level. Oh, and you’re also 100% invincible during all of this. Sound ridiculous? Don’t worry, it totally is. But it’s also a lot of fun. As much as things can get a little overwhelming during Fever Mode (I mean, you literally can’t see what’s going on sometimes), being able to crazily run and continuously power yourself up while simultaneously not having to worry about dying (except for old Mr. Clock Ghost) is something that you’ll learn to enjoy very quickly.
Four Heads are Better than One
By now, I’m sure that some of you more keen-eyed readers out there have noticed something a little strange — the fact that, outside of the first picture, all of the characters in my screenshots have morphed together into a singular totem pole-like (or dango-like, as NIS likes to put it) monster. That, my dear readers, is the stacking mechanic — and if you want to get anywhere in Lapis x Labyrinth then you’re going to have to get comfortable with it quickly.
Rather than relinquishing control of each character to an individual player (be they CPU or player-controlled), Lapis x Labyrinth instead combines your party into a singular entity. The bottom character is the one currently being controlled. Each of Lapis x Labyrinth‘s 8 different classes feature differing strengths, weaknesses, and skillsets, meaning that you’ll have four different characters to get used to if you’re looking to be able to adapt to any situation that comes your way (or you could just main one of them, like I did). The rest of your party, then, acts as support. As supporting members, your non-active characters won’t be able to consistently fight alongside you, but they do come in handy in many other ways. Not only do your benched buddies allow you to perform extra jumps and summon them for powerful attacks, but their gear also stacks with your own — both literally and metaphorically — meaning that you can tailor your team toward carrying extra-powerful versions of your favorite skills.
As fun and frantic as this game is, I couldn’t help but feel as though it was missing something. Not something overt, mind you, but something that would help to breathe just a little bit more life into it. And, after some thinking, I’m pretty sure that I know what that “something” is; multiplayer. Lapis x Labyrinth‘s gameplay is very bite-size in its presentation, and the actual combat, while visually stimulating, isn’t actually all that complicated. So I got to thinking “what if there were two little stacks of people running around? While I don’t think a 3 or 4-player mode would suit the game, the ability to run around with a friend, or even just another random player, would have definitely boosted this game’s longevity. I would have greatly enjoyed working together with another player in order to chase high scores (or maybe even compete with them for one) as we slayed monsters with our respective parties and grabbed as many goodies as we can. Do I actually think that shoehorning a multiplayer feature at this point is a good idea? Probably not — the dungeons were designed to be completed by one person. I do think, however, that a more fleshed-out multiplayer feature would have ultimately be quite lucrative (pun intended) with a game like this.
Lapis x Labyrinth is a nice little game. Its quick, segmented gameplay means that you can play as much or as little as you’d like without having to worry all too much about when to stop, its constant influx of treasure will make you feel like you’ve accomplished something regardless of how well you’re playing, and it fits right at home on the Switch. I do, however, feel as though this game is less a one-off, and more of a stepping stone. Lapis x Labyrinth is fun, yes, but I know that there’s more that NIS could do if they put their minds to it — and it’s that potential that will keep me hopeful for what may (or may not) possibly come to us in the future.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4 ; Publisher: NIS America ; Developer: Nippon Ichi Software ; Players: 1; Released: May 28, 2019; ESRB: E10+, for Everyone Ages 10+ ; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Lapis x Labyrinth given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.