The MoeGamer Awards are a series of “alternative” awards I’ve devised in collaboration with the community to celebrate the sorts of things that never get celebrated in end-of-year roundups! Find out more here — and feel free to leave a suggestion on that post if you have any good ideas!
One of my favourite things about deviating significantly from what can be considered “mainstream tastes” is that you have a vastly increased chance of accidentally stumbling across absolutely wonderful experiences that you promptly want to tell everyone about.
Today’s award, suggested by Kharne83, celebrates one of these games from this year. A game that I initially didn’t really feel anything about… until I played it. And I was absolutely hooked. And I think you should partake, too.
After all, news of these games is best spread by word of mouth — because heaven knows press and marketing alike are inevitably terrible about letting people know they exist!
And the winner is…
Lapis x Labyrinth
What a game. What a game. Biggest surprise of the year for me. A title that had initially elicited something of a “hmm, looks quite nice but I’m not super-enthused” reaction from me on its initial announcement ended up being one of my favourite games of the whole year once I actually played it… and it’s one that I’m keen to return to in order to explore its postgame further!
Lapis x Labyrinth is a Nippon Ichi game. Those who have been around the block a bit will know exactly what that means: adorable visuals, excellent music, a strong focus on mechanics and an even stronger focus on a progression curve that feels like it’s lampooning conventional RPG mechanics with its absurdity.
In Lapis x Labyrinth, you take on the role of a party of adventurers who inexplicably like to stack themselves on top of one another like a stick of dango. You control whoever is on the bottom at the time, and can rearrange your stack at any time during a dungeon delve. The adventure then unfolds as a series of side-scrolling 2D platform adventures in which you have five minutes to track down enough glowing purple diamonds to open the teleporter to the next level, battling enemies along the way.
So far, so action RPG, you might think. But it’s the peculiar twists on the formula that make Lapis x Labyrinth so special. For starters, progression is rather unconventional, to say the least. While your party can level up by defeating monsters during a dungeon delve, their level resets any time they return to town — but as the game progresses, you can upgrade their equipment and load them up with permanent passive bonuses to ensure their “baseline” level of power gradually increases as you proceed through your adventures.
Lapis x Labyrinth takes great care not to overwhelm the newcomer with possibilities, however; it unlocks one new progression mechanic at a time, providing you with ample opportunity to get to know how to get the best out of it before offering you more options after completing a major milestone. You won’t have all the progression options available to you until almost the very end of the main game — but this never feels constricting or limiting, because each of those individual mechanics is so well-realised in its own right.
The other unusual thing about Lapis x Labyrinth — and perhaps the most appealing aspect for most people I know who actually played it — is how it incorporates a significant amount of arcade game DNA into its action-adventuring sequences. Specifically, it draws inspiration from the popular Japanese pastime of pachinko, showering you with gold coins for pretty much everything you do and gradually building up to the wonder that is “FEVER” time.
During Fever, the dungeon’s background is replaced by fireworks, the interface is covered with flashing lights, the music becomes joyous and energetic, your characters are completely invincible and, most importantly, everything you touch explodes into an absolute torrent of shiny gems.
Success in Lapis x Labyrinth is dependent on your “treasure score”, which you accumulate by collecting coins and Fever gems. The more treasure you acquire without taking any damage, the higher your combo goes — and consequently the more points each piece of treasure you grab is worth. And the higher your score is when you clear a dungeon, the more rewards you get in the form of gold to spend on upgrades, and equipment with which to outfit your team.
Lapis x Labyrinth is a constant, potentially never-ending cycle of satisfying gameplay and ongoing progression. You can build your party members up to absolutely obscene levels of power — and the game’s gradual difficulty curve encourages you to do just that. While it might initially seem a bit easy, once you realise that the true art of Lapis x Labyrinth is in not getting hit at all rather than simply surviving each quest you take on, there’s an absolutely intoxicating, addictive quality to this game that is quite unlike anything else I played this year.
It’s one of Nippon Ichi Software’s finest games, but sadly it was forgotten about almost as soon as it was released. Still, a good game remains a good game even long after its week of release, as I often take pains to point out — so if you missed out on this game back when it first came out, I urge you to pick up a copy for your PlayStation 4 or Switch as soon as possible. You absolutely will not regret the decision.
It’s one of the most flamboyant, overtly joyful games I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing, and I would like nothing more than for it to get the recognition and appreciation it deserves.
The MoeGamer Compendium, Volume 1 is now available! Grab a copy today for a beautiful physical edition of the Cover Game features originally published in 2016.
Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
If you’d like to support the site and my work on it, please consider becoming a Patron — click here or on the button below to find out more about how to do so. From just $1 a month, you can get access to daily personal blog updates and exclusive members’ wallpapers featuring the MoeGamer mascots.