Labyrinth of Galleria: The Moon Society is a sequel to 2016’s Labyrinth of Refrain, NIS’s take on the classic dungeon-crawling genre of old. With new innovations and a new cast, it promises to further iterate on the blend of story and tense exploration seen in the first game.
Invitation to the Manor
How much is too much? Is a person wrong for wanting more and not leaving well enough alone? Those are the two questions that Labyrinth of Galleria beckons from the word go. It is, first and foremost, a story about ambition and how that can lead to one’s downfall. In ways both subtle and major, characters are put into situations where they’re meant to get the audience to ask: is their drive and resolve misplaced?
These seemingly complex problems are grounded by a contrast in the ditzy and simple-minded protagonist: Eureka. Through this simple lens in which the game world and moral questions are viewed, Eureka offers a refreshing perspective on matters and is by far the game’s main highlight. That’s not to say that supporting characters or all the twists you see are slouches, but Eureka steals the show whenever she’s on-screen.
With her ability to find stuff and her tenacity, she helps to uncover the mystery of the Galleria Manor and its haunting history. While much of the atmosphere is owed to the gameplay rather than the writing, the overall setup here is good too. If you’ve played its predecessor, the premise will be familiar to you, but it’s again elevated by strong character interactions and gallows humor.
The dungeon-crawling here is similar to what you’d find in contemporaries such as Etrian Odyssey and some Shin Megami Tensei games. Everything takes place in first-person as you explore a claustrophobic setting, never knowing what’s up ahead until you see it. A ‘tick’ passes each time you move on the grid-based map, meaning that your enemies also move when you do. Like the previous game, encounters are not random, but instead occur as you bump into enemies on the map.
While the usual dungeon-crawling fare such as scouting for treasure and getting lost in maze-like levels are here, what really sets this game apart is its unique Mana system. As you explore and defeat enemies, your total Mana will increase. While having more Mana is beneficial to you, it’s equally as dangerous. Hold too much Mana at one time and “accidents” will increase. Enemies will grow stronger, some will spawn in the middle of battle, and ones far outside your level range will arrive to make short work of your party. From there, it becomes a question of whether you want to risk continuing onward with the promise of a higher payout, or to lose it all from one simple mistake.
The Mana system is what gives the dungeon crawling its incredible depth and rewards smart play. While I found that the overall level design never really rose above just being decent, it didn’t matter because Mana already made exploration such a tense prospect. It regularly puts your decision-making skills to the test and demands that you think about every passing turn thoroughly.
Combat is yet another important facet of the game’s tense dungeon-crawling, but it’s also the aspect that I’m a lot more mixed on. An overall problem with the game is that it loves to dump tutorials on you that go into very little detail or explanation, and combat suffers the most from this. It’s debatable whether you’ll need many of them though, as many are superfluous.
The good parts are quite good, though. To start with, there’s a great degree of player freedom and customization when it comes to creating new party members. Each character you make is a ‘puppet’ that you can outfit with specific stat growths, character classes, and personalities that will affect overall strengths and weaknesses. If you care about immersing yourself with your own created party, then the game’s got you covered in spades. Furthermore, thanks to the ‘Witch Pact’ system, you can have as many as 15 members participate in combat all at once. Of course, Party Members are not free. Creating new members is something you’ll earn only as you progress through the game and buy specific items from the shop.
Overall, team building and creating a satisfying party formation is very rewarding. Partly owed to the game’s difficulty, it walks a wonderful line between respecting player choice while also demanding mastery of its mechanics. Where things start to falter is in those many mechanics, however… There are Coven Skills, Liberation Skills, Gore Attacks, Reinforce, and Mana, all playing part in dictating the flow of combat. It’s overwhelming in a way that never really felt very satisfying to understand. Little of it flows or coalesces very well, and the result is a combat system that, like its predecessor, feels somewhat disjointed and messy.
The Manor’s Many Colors
Where things start to pick up is in the visuals department. Labyrinth of Galleria is a feast for the eyes, with bubbly and colorful character art that is highly reminiscent of the Disgaea titles. Much of the game is presented with a mixture of hand-drawn artwork and 3D scenery, mostly while dungeon crawling. Like its contemporaries in the genre, a lot of the game’s mood draws upon elements of abstraction and terse description to build atmosphere. The labyrinth is a mysterious place that you never fully get to understand, so this style of presentation helps to get the mind racing. Enemy designs in particular are the highlights. Not only are they goofy and very expressive, but they also manage to wordlessly convey what they might be weak and resistant to, so it never feels like I’m lost on what to do.
On the audio front, while I found most of the music to be pretty forgettable, what is good is the voice acting. The English dub’s not just good, it’s very good. All of the voice acting is done with a blase, yet almost theatrical performance. When combined with the game’s dark and dry sense of humor, it imparts the feeling of the narrative being told as a spooky ghost story to children. When considering the rest of the game’s themes and ideas, this may well have been the intended effect.
Labyrinth of Galleria: The Moon Society satisfies with an engrossing story, great artwork, and compelling dungeon-crawling gameplay. It’s let down by not being much of an improvement over its predecessor and having many of the same problems. Poor yet constant tutorials drag down the pacing and battle mechanics never feel well-considered, although it’s never flat-out poor. If you played the previous Labyrinth game and didn’t like it, this will not convince you otherwise. That said, if you choose to stick with it in spite of its problems, you’ll find a clumsy game with a lot of heart.
LABYRINTH OF GALLERIA: THE MOON SOCIETY IS RECOMMENDED
Want to see some JRPGs? How about checking out our review of Disgaea 6?
Many thanks go to Reef Entertainment/NIS America for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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A hobbyist who took up the pen to write about their favorite pastime: games. While a lover of many genres, Isaiah Parker specializes in Platformers, RPGs, and competitive multiplayer titles. The easiest way into his heart is to have great core gameplay mechanics. Self-proclaimed world’s biggest Sonic fan. Follow him @ZinogreVolt