That sounded like a compliment, right?
I’ve been pretty high on Lapis X Labyrinth since it was first announced by NIS America late last year. With its adorably cute characters, well-drawn levels, and fast-paced combat, it quickly became a game I needed in my Switch to play after a long day at the office. The thought of running a few dungeons with my totem pole squad excited me, and after taking it on at a recent NIS America event, that excitement hasn’t quelled.
Lapis X Labyrinth is a side-scrolling 2D action RPG that’s all about diving into dungeons and collecting that sweet, sweet loot. Players will be able to create characters in eight different classes, including gunners, warriors, and maids. Only four characters can go into a dungeon at a time, stacked up on top of each other like cans at a grocery store. The more characters you have the more powerful your team is and each class brings its own specialty to the table.
I got my first hands-on with the title a few weeks ago on Switch, but at the NIS event, I was able to take the PS4 build for a spin. The game looks largely the same across the board, but the PS4 version has a much smoother framerate, especially when it comes to fever mode. This wasn’t a deal breaker on Switch, but it is nice to see how Lapis X Labyrinth performs on more powerful hardware.
Right out of the gate, I ran into the same problem I had the last time I tried the game. In the first dungeon after the tutorial, the monsters absolutely wiped the floor with me. My combo of warrior and maid just wasn’t powerful enough. I thought to try a different combination before a NIS representative, wearing their customary “Dood” jersey, politely pointed out I hadn’t made a full team yet. In my rush to get to the action, I completely skipped over the exposition where the game told me to make more characters. With a full team of four, I headed back down to the first dungeon and promptly made it my bitch.
Combat in Lapis is extremely simple. There are one button combos and more powerful moves that are activated when combining that button with a direction on the control pad. A second attack button will trigger whichever character is at the top of the pile for a unique action that depends on their class. Some will attack, others will buff your team. The character on the bottom of the pile acts as the leader of the group, however, everyone in the stack is open to damage. The key to survival will be judging the situation and figuring out which characters you need at the top and bottom of the stack. In the hour I played the game, I got a good handle of swapping my team but not necessarily to the point where I knew the exact order they were stacked in.
Enemies in these early dungeons were pretty simple, mostly light damage sponges that didn’t do too much harm to my team. Lapis X Labyrinth loves to get players in a small area and throw as many enemies at them as it can. This is how I died so easily when I just had two team members but these situations are quite manageable when rocking a full squad. It’s in these moments it’s easy to lose track of exactly what you’re doing as there is so much happening all at once on screen, but it’s actually kind of brilliant in a way, making you feel like an all-powerful team of warriors. These moments become even more hectic when you reach fever mode.
I’m not quite sure what triggers it yet – probably just doing a lot of damage – but fever mode turns Lapis X Labyrinth from a simple action RPG into a slot machine that keeps paying out. Defeating enemies and destroying blocks releases a torrent of gems to collect. The flashing lights, colorful gems, noise, and music combine in these moments to really give the game the same vibe I get every time I play the nickel slots at the Rancheria casino. It’s truly a rush, adding a level of flamboyant energy to an already visually spectacular experience.
My only concern at the moment is Lapis X Labyrinth will end up being too button-mashy long-term. The two-button combat is fine and actually works quite well when enemies are coming at me from all angles, but switching team leaders is clunky and doesn’t work as fast as it should for this type of title. Activating team attacks is equally stunted as my team needed to be completely still before it would actually work. With a bit more fluidity to these actions, I think Lapis X Labyrinth could end up even better than it’s looking right now. I don’t think that’s going to happen because the game I played at the event wasn’t a demo but rather the full game, achievements and all.
There is a lot more to Lapis x Labyrinth, including chests, keys, scores, and possibly even more features not available in the first six dungeons; but everything I’ve seen so far is exactly what I want out of it. I hope it has enough long-term appeal, but even if it doesn’t, blasting through a dungeon or two on the train home will be a cathartic way to end the workday. Lapis X Labyrinth launches May 28 for PlayStation 4 and Switch.