Nippon Ichi, the creators of the famous Disgaea franchise, is best known for its take in the tactical RPG genre where you can spend hundreds of hours grinding and finetuning your squad to the fullest. Sometimes however, they like to make something a bit more different, but still staying true to the core of their grindy games. Lapis X Labyrinth is one such game where they divert from what they are used to while keeping it fun enough to lure in all their fans and newcomers.
Basically, Lapis X Labyrinth is not very special. You fight your way through a series of dungeons in search of crystals to find the door to the next level. Along the way you defeat monsters, collect xp, and find treasures. A boss is waiting for you at the last floor of every dungeon. Defeat him or her, and you get all or a part of your collected loot (money and equipment) to make your next trip a little easier.
Unlike most dungeon crawlers, you do all this within the bounds of a 2D action platformer. Each class has its own weapon and skills in the form of normal attacks, an ultimate and three specials depending on the buttons you use. For example, most classes have an uppercut with an up arrow, and a charge or long-range attack when they attack to the right or left. You also have one or more double jumps available to move through the levels.
Where Lapis X Labyrinth really tries to distinguish itself, is in the Dango system. You do not play one character at a time, but a stack of four. Hence the name: a “dango” is a Japanese snack in the form of skewer with four rice balls. Only the bottom character is fully playable, but you can always change characters, use a special attack from the next character, or temporarily deploy the ultimate of all characters. Every “rice ball” on your skewer also offers an extra double jump. For example, some areas can only be reached with a full party.
This Dango system sounds like it involves a lot of strategy. Unfortunately that is not the case. In practice, each class has a set of statistical advantages and disadvantages, and some different attacks, but they are more or less identical in playing style. It doesn’t go much further than jumping out of the way and to wait for an attack, and immediately button bash when you see a chance, regardless of the way you put together your party. The game does not hide this either. The controls are quite inaccurate. Sometimes your tower of dolls simply goes the wrong way. And as soon as you have done enough damage to activate the “fever mode”, your screen will be filled with special effects, which means that you will barely get to see the action. It is as if the game itself admits: “it doesn’t matter anyway.”
In contrast to the combat system, there is some depth in the available gear. Each piece of equipment brings its own set of passive skills. Like existing damage bonuses against certain enemies, extra protection against elements, from healings to special moves. In this way you can customize the ‘dango’ completely for a specific challenge, or individual members can shine in certain skills. If you know that your leader has a high defense and you bring a healer along, then you can focus purely on the attacking power of the top two characters. You would then do little damage with normal attacks and if you lose the leader it is ‘game over’, but your ultimate attack makes short work of every boss.
Even with the added depth of the gearsystem, Lapis X Labyrinth remains a hollow intention. The direct battles are too simple to remain fun for a long time – especially since the missions themselves have little to no variation. The Dango system where you stack party members is also fun, but does not make the direct gameplay less brainless or repetitive. You can easily stomp a satisfying afternoon through the dungeons of Lapis X Labyrinth, but then the rice balls start to lose their firmness.
Lapis X Labyrinth is a charming, original dungeon crawler, but gives you too little to keep you satisfied for more then one day.