Publisher Idea Factory continues their mission of bringing Japanese titles over to the West with Compile Heart’s MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death. A dungeon-crawler JRPG touted as newcomer friendly, MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death presents itself as a game that not only veterans to the genre would enjoy, but as one newcomers may use to dive into the dungeon-crawler genre.
As someone who has only occasionally dabbled in the genre, MeiQ enticed me as a game that I could really dive into despite my lack of experience. Newcomer friendly it is, as the massive dungeons have warppoints between each floor, allowing you to return to the area you were exploring in a moment. Between checkpoints littered throughout each dungeon, a suspend save, and a relatively low encounter rate makes this dungeon-crawler exceedingly friendly to a newcomer like myself.
You take control of Estra, a cheerful Earth Mage, and one of the five Machina Mages competing to save the world. In MeiQ, the world has stopped turning, the stars have faded, and the planet has been plunged into darkness. Gathered at the city of Southern Cross (which uniquely is shaped as a cross), the Estra and the mages must venture into the four dungeons connected to the demon world at each length of Southern Cross. There, they must receive blessings from four deities residing in the towers in order to turn the Planet Key to rewind the planet, and save the day.
Unfortunately, Estra and her mage companions are little more than your generic JRPG female characters. Top heavy with revealing attire, what you see on the surface is pretty much what you get regarding their personalities.
However, what makes these characters stand out is the brilliant and pleasant banter between the five mages. Throughout the 20+ hours you’ll spend with MeiQ, the relationships between the five characters and superb voice acting keeps the adventure fresh, even if there isn’t much substance behind much of it.
The lack of substance is ultimately what does the story of MeiQ in. Littered throughout the game are tiny journals and books that fill the world with a rich history, but those lead to nowhere as the story follows a predictable path. A one-dimensional villain, and completely meaningless and often frustrating side quests, do the rich lore found behind the scenes no justice.
Where MeiQ shines is in its customization system. Aiding Estra and her mage companions are the Guardians, customizable fighting robots. In a somewhat unique fashion, combat allows you to control both the mage and one of these Guardians, allowing for mixing and matching to create the most powerful lineup. While the mages level up and gain new skills to add to their arsenal, you must manually change the weapons on the Guardians. From machine guns that tear apart multiple foes, to flame throwers and rocket launchers, not to mention increasingly badass robot bodies, Compile Heart allows the player to run free with various iterations of each Guardian.
The combat itself is a relaxing affair. MeiQ follows a simple turn based system, similar to many other games in the genre. Veterans, and newbies to the genre alike will be familiar with the combat, and may enjoy the fun system that allows you to control both the Guardian and mage. In the early stages of the game, I was worried that the mages would become obsolete as my Guardians got stronger, but was pleasantly surprised at the punch these girls could pack as I progressed through the game.
Veterans of the genre may raise an eyebrow to the fact that there are so few dungeons in MeiQ, but will find plenty to explore. Standing at roughly between 5 to 10+ floors, each dungeon is enormous, with floor maps often too big to be seen in one screen. Each individual dungeon stands out from the other, as Compile Heart put a significant amount of effort into making sure each dungeon has its own identity. With beautiful designs and a variety of music, I was never sick of seeing a certain dungeon as I progressed through the story.
However, I found it to be incredibly frustrating the way MeiQ continuously stretched out the gameplay for seemingly no reason. The warppoints were increasingly the game’s saving grace as I was sent back to retrieve items from previous dungeons or floors. I have no issue with fetch quests in general, I do when it seems to be for no other reason than to increase the length of the gameplay.
This is perhaps exasperated by the fact that MeiQ poses little to no challenge, even to someone not as familiar to the genre as others. Similar to creating your Pokémon lineup, once I found my perfect lineup, I just button mashed my way to victory. This became even more poignant by the fact that pressing X during combat allows the player to speed right through it.
Ultimately, MeiQ’s lack of true depth does it in. Even the customization becomes obsolete as the Guardian crafting portion of the game is often outclassed by random drops that appear fairly often. The initial premise of MeiQ is exciting, and the dialogue between the main characters shows promise through the game’s initial stages. This makes it more disappointing when it all just amounts to very little.
I would be remise if I didn’t mention the Australian Rating Board’s decision to not give MeiQ a rating, making it essentially banned in Australia. Understandably, I can see why they would take issue in the way pretty much every character is dressed, there isn’t anything in the vein of games like Criminal Girls or Gal Gun to find offensive.
Unfortunately, MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death intriguing surface collapses the longer you look at it. While it is a beautiful addition to the PS Vita’s dungeon-crawler library, veterans of the genre will find more satisfying additions, and there are more substantial JRPG’s to dive in for newcomers.
MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is out now on the PS Vita.
This review is based off of a PS Vita review copy provided to Gamer Professionals by Idea Factory.