Developer: Compile Heart/Idea Factory
Publisher: Idea Factory
Platform: Playstation Vita
Tested on Playstation Vita
MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death – Review
Carefully sneaking through tunnels with no map and no clear sense of direction, you know that death is luring around every corner. Monsters are waiting in the shadows, to strike when you’re not paying attention. All this, in order to find the treasure at the center of the dungeon. Well, that’s what dungeon crawling is broadly all about and we’ve seen our share lately in the game industry. Games like Etrian Odyssey and Demon Gaze have brought excellent examples of this game concept, nonetheless we’re being served with a new IP called MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death. As Compile Heart is the supplier this time, we’re preparing ourselves for another quest in order to challenge the darkest dungeons and finding all kinds of treasures. Let’s find out if MeiQ can fulfill all of these expectations.
The world has stopped, literally ceased to function and stopped turning. Birds have disappeared, the wind has vanished, the sun has set and an eternal night fell upon the world. The eternal night has lured monsters of many types, originating from the demon realm, into the world of the living causing people to live in fear. This has happened before, about a hundred years ago but was undone by a legendary machina mage. Now, the elders gather capable young machina mages from all around the world and sent them to the legendary machina city: Southern Cross. One young machina mage, Estra is one of the five chosen mages who can bring an end to the eternal night. Together with four other machina mages (Setia, Flare, Maki and Conny), they need to forge a contract with the guardians or Deities at the four towers, in order to complete the blessing ceremony at the central temple in Southern Cross. This way they can wind up the Planet Key which will jump start the world and rotate the stars. But their plans are thwarted by a dark, evil machina mage called Gagarin. Together with his minions, he plans to take control of the whole world and rule it as his emperor.
The story starts off with a good and interesting potential but fails along the way. As you progress through the story, it becomes a simple, predictable story with weak plot elements and characters, except for the main protagonists, fail to impress as they fall back to classic, plain stereotypes. The latter feel like they don’t have any use in the story or even feel like they were just used as useless background fill. MeiQ gives the impression to aim high with a potential strong story but tries too hard to stay true to the genre norms and ultimately feels like a disappointment. Although these games focus mostly on gameplay, everyone prefers it to be accompanied by a strong, compelling storyline.
MeiQ succeeds to appeal with beautiful, anime styled dames and hand drawn backgrounds. Everything looks really gorgeous and the 2D character models of every character really come to life by letting them breathe, talk and express emotions. This way, it doesn’t feel like watching boring, motionless images like in a comic book. Especially fans of the more ecchi anime genre will enjoy and appreciate the beautiful designed ladies in their sexy costumes and their shapely bodies. Most of the in game experience is in 2D except for the dungeon crawling and the battles. The latter offers third person perspective and the monsters and your characters are depicted as 3D models. As for the dungeons, they are built in 3D but look a little plain. The textures may look good but it feels like walking in circles. Every nook and cranny looks exactly the same and except for some highlighted map points or other settings/conditions, dungeons just look a tad boring.
The soundtrack is one of the strong points of this game and is hard to fit in a certain category as it feels like a mix of different musical influences or genres. This multitude of influences consists of relaxing, oriental music adding different styles such as electro, j-pop, latin and rock. The soundtrack sounds a lot more diverse this way and sounds really great, as the music changes from location to location and never grows tired of hearing it. Both the intro as the ending theme is an especially composed song and sung by a Japanese singer. The lyrics are Japanese only and aren’t subbed. As for the dialogues, they come with option of both Japanese and English voice-overs. Both are subbed in English. The quality of the voice-work is good but some voices might become annoying over time.
MeiQ: Labyrinth Of Death is a first person dungeon crawling RPG and also the strongest asset of this game. MeiQ stays true to the fundamentals of dungeon crawling but adds new, refreshing and exciting elements to the popular formula. Basically, it’s about exploring hallways in first-person perspective and finding a path in the giant mazes, called dungeons. As you explore further and further, a path is drawn on your map on the HUD. The only downside is that the lay-out of the dungeons is fixed. It will remain the same and doesn’t offer random generated dungeons. The dungeons are always divided in 4 to 6 large floors maximum. It may not seem much but the magnitude of each floor and portals/stairs for backtracking lower floors to reach hidden treasures, makes up for these shortcomings and offer plenty of exploration. Dungeons are built like a network of long hallways and big, open spaces filled with points of interest such as treasures, stairs and switches. These points of interest are marked by floating message bulbs, except for traps or doors, and are marked on your map.
Alas, exploring dungeons isn’t the only thing you have to do, as monsters might cross your path and try to kill you. The battles happen from a third person perspective and give the player a good overview of the battlefield. The combat system is turn based and happens in groups of 3 and later in the game even 4 player controlled characters. You don’t directly control your occasional characters/protagonists but use robot-like deities, called guardians. The combat system is based on the rock-paper-scissors principle. This system can also be found in games like Pokémon. It may be a strange comparison but it divides characters, guardians and attacks in elemental classes. For example water is stronger against fire type attacks but weak against earth type attacks. This adds an extra layer of depth and strategy in the combat gameplay, preventing mindless, monotone battles. And if you’re guardians get pushed in a tight corner or are KO’ed, you can always switch with your mages, which can use certain attacks that deal a lot of damage or use spells that brings your guardian back on its feet. Just don’t underestimate the importance of swapping your guardians, using your mages or paying attention to the elemental system, as the overall difficulty challenges you in every way and force you to change your strategy more than once. Grinding can also be an effective way to overcome all these trials, but will require a lot of time and effort. This is due to quite a low encounter rate and requires a lot of patience to harvest the much needed experience to raise the levels of your characters. On the other hand, the game doesn’t punish you too hard if you fail. You can start over from a checkpoint at the beginning of the floor you were at last time and if necessary, you can always go back to an easier dungeon to strengthen your party.
MeiQ doesn’t only require you to do endless dungeon crawling and chasing the main storyline. There are a few gameplay elements that set this game apart such as side quests. These quests can be undertaken at the local machina guild and require you to find certain items or defeat a particular monster by backtracking to dungeons you’ve visited before. Another unique gameplay element is customizing your guardians. These guardians are built according to a certain element. They can be fully customized thus also the way they look can be changed. More guardians can be collected either through collection, manufacturing or evolving parts and forming contracts with them in one of the four towers. As for most of the parts, they are divided in melee, range or magic type parts and decide what type of attack your guardians can use. The way you build your guardians, how they look, what kind of parts you use or even swapping gender, the possibilities are almost limitless. This is a very addictive and fun gameplay element that further expands the strategy element in combat. And the customization doesn’t stop with the guardians as you can change the costumes of your mages influencing the basic stats, elemental weaknesses or the kind of abilities you can use. All these elements offer a wide range of possibilities to fine-tune the team of your choice.
MeiQ: Labyrinth Of Death isn’t the best dungeon crawling RPG available, when it comes down on story and background. But a great, extensive and diverse gameplay system accompanied with a beautifully arranged soundtrack makes it definitely worthwhile to try this game out. The game offers countless hours of gameplay and foremost players will enjoy customizing their own powerful guardians to take down the vicious demons in the dungeons. If the story was better written and the game had received few minor adjustments, than MeiQ would’ve been a top notch dungeon crawling RPG, worthy to stand among the greatest of its genre in the game industry.