MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is a new dungeon crawling RPG from Compile Heart and published by Idea Factory. There are actually a surprising number of these on the Vita already so how does this new one stack up?
The world has stopped turning which is obviously a bad thing but this is not the first time that it has happened and so systems are in place. A chosen Machina Mage must wind the Planet Key to get it moving again. Five Machina Mages are sent to Southern Cross, one from each corner of the world, and they must work through the city’s towers to gain the blessing of that tower’s guardian and cleanse the spring at the end by drinking and bathing in it.
The main character is Estra, your typical overly cheerful and yet bumbling anime cliché and the four other characters that you recruit on your adventure are equally as familiar. Flare is rash and not interested in being friendly (before being swayed by Estra’s friendship of course), Connie is just an eight year old or something, Maki is the knowledgable one (she has glasses) and Setia is shy and lacks confidence.
Also, maybe predictably, they all have enormous breasts (bar Connie) and yet ridiculously small outfits to cover said breasts. As far as fan service goes that’s it for the game however, there aren’t any extra scenes with sexy poses which considering they have to bathe at the end of the tower could easily have been implemented.
The story and characters are a bit of a let down but then that is generally the case with these types of games in my experience as the dungeons are the main draw. The story scenes, although not the longest, do go on a bit sometimes with each character having to have their say whilst not moving the conversation along. Everything is fully voiced however in either English or Japanese depending on your preference which is welcome and the voice actors do a good job in an anime voice acting kind of way.
So how are the dungeons? Viewed from a first person view point you move one step at a time and the map draws itself as you do so. Filling out the map in these types of games can be quite addictive as you cover every space and discover all the treasure or any secrets. MeiQ’s dungeons tend to be quite large with winding corridors which can be a bit much but thankfully if you hit a wall and you can only turn one way then the game will automatically turn and go in that direction, you can also run with the circle button which makes getting around pretty quick.
The enemy encounter rate is also surprisingly low meaning you can cover a fair distance before being attacked. This can be increased or decreased further with accessories. The battles themselves are quite fast paced with you being able to repeat your last set of attacks with a press of the right shoulder button.
Each character has a guardian that can be equipped with different cores, bodies, and both a left and right arm. Each arm has a set of attacks it can do which you chose from, or you can attack, use magic, an item or defend with your mage although certain actions make them vulnerable to attack. Primarily you’re going to be attacking with your guardians and buffing or healing with you mages when needed.
The main wrinkle to the battle formula is an elemental system which makes certain attacks more potent against enemies. Each guardian has their own elemental strengths, as do the mages themselves although these can be customised depending on what you equip them with. With five elements to remember (Earth, Wood, Fire, Water, Metal) the weaknesses and strengths aren’t as straight forward as normal but it’s a welcome addition that gives you a reason to change up your squad depending on the dungeon you’re in.
As well as your guardian’s body parts you can also slot stones into their cores to alter their stats or give them more opportunities to attack and attach seeds to your mages which is how you can change the encounter rate as mentioned earlier, or just add bonus stats to certain elements or even add bonus XP or money to a victory. Estra can also change her outfit which gives different bonuses.
Unfortunately the menus are a bit on the slow side and so changing all this stuff is a chore which just meant I tried to power through a lot of stuff rather than adapting to the situation. Having to change guardians or characters is one thing but then having to switch out weapons or accessories takes a long time and is cumbersome.
Travelling through the dungeons is generally very easy so you can afford not to mess with equipment too much but bosses are a different story. I could be one shotting most things in a dungeon leading up to a boss fight and yet if a boss decided to hit the same character over and over (bosses can have multiple attacks) then a guardian could go down in one round and without the ability to switch anything in mid fight you’re on the back foot straight away.
If you are defeated the game tells you the percentage of the boss’s HP you took down and a little tip like ‘no chance, grind some more’ or ‘with better tactics you can do it’ but these don’t seem very in depth or helpful as I’ve failed miserably on one attempt and then completed it the next with no real changes.
Death doesn’t seem to matter anyway as you just spawn back at the inn without losing anything (the inn doesn’t even cost money, which is a good thing as it’s the only way to permanently save) and you can go back to where you were. I even had to fight two bosses in a row at one point, died on the second, went back to the area and only had to fight the second again. It’s nice that you don’t have to worry about losing a load of progress but it’s strange that death has no repercussions.
You can do a suspend save anywhere and you don’t have to stop playing when you use it, but you can only have one suspend save at a time. It’s a weird thing that makes me wonder why you couldn’t just properly save anywhere like other games of this type allow you to but it ultimately serves the same purpose.
Graphically the game is solid if nothing special. The dungeons look varied but you’ll be looking at walls most of the time (even in the forest area), the battle graphics have limited animation and are a bit plain but the 2D sprites are well drawn and have a few different poses and move about a little as the story plays out.
Music is a plus, though it sounds a little too close to Disgaea to the point of being distracting. There are some great tunes as you explore the dungeons however (Blue Tower) though some other tracks don’t have any real impact like the battle music which is unfortunate.
Being quite easy to get through the dungeons MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is actually a bit shorter than you’d normally expect one of these games to be, depending on how stuck you get on certain bosses. There is some post game content, a New Game Plus mode and multiple difficulties to entice you to play through again but even for a one and done experience I enjoyed my time with it.
MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is an enjoyable game with some interesting systems to stop it from being a straight forward dungeon crawler. The ease at which you can explore dungeons keeps the game moving and yet the bosses will require you to implement some strategy. The story and the characters may be lacking and the menus a little cumbersome but overall it’s a fun game. With a little more polish it could have been great but as it stands it’s one to start up if you don’t have another RPG on the go.