MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is made by the same people who made Trillion: God of Destruction. Whilst Trillion was a unique RPG with an aim of defeating a boss with one trillion health points, MeiQ is a more traditional dungeon crawler. In the usual Compile Heart way there are of course some unique ideas thrown into the gameplay to make things more interesting!
MeiQ came somewhat out of the blue for me, I hadn’t really heard anything about it before starting to play it for this review. It’s actually quite nice to start playing something with no real preconceptions of what you’re about to get into. I do have a soft spot for dungeon crawlers, yes the genre has many flaws; they tend to have repetitive gameplay, the dungeons can be ugly to look at, and the storylines in a lot of them can be pretty weak. But even with that they still appeal to me, there’s definitely something about exploring a new dungeon that excites me.
First though, let’s begin by telling you a little bit about the game’s story and what your motivation is for exploring this world.
The planet’s rotation has stopped and an eternal night has fallen on the world, this isn’t the first time this has happened. In the past great and powerful Machina Mages have travelled to Southern Cross, battled through the four towers which are connected to the demon realm and turned the planet key to restart the planet’s rotation.
You play through the game as Estra, a bright and bubbly young Machina Mage from a small village. She and four other other young Machina Mages have travelled to Southern Cross and all want to be the ones to turn the planet key. Early in the game there is quite a bit of rivalry between them as only one Machina Mage can turn the planet key. These interactions are cute and fun and will definitely have you warming to the characters but in a very stereotypical RPG way it doesn’t take long for all the ladies to become friends.
I was initially intrigued by the story but it didn’t take long before it just fades into the background. It never really goes anywhere and there aren’t any surprising twists and turns. You can find hidden books in some of the dungeons that fill in some of the world’s lore and there really is some interesting stuff in there, it’s just a shame that it was never really developed into anything further.
From reading the above you may have picked up that there are four towers to explore and therefore be wondering if there are just four dungeons to explore. That doesn’t sound like a lot but don’t worry you’ll actually be visiting more than four dungeons and they’re all quite large with many floors in them so you’ll be exploring for a while!
For those of you that do tend to find dungeon crawlers a bit too slow then you should be aware that there are some very welcome additions in MeiQ. Most floors have warppoints meaning you can leave the dungeon and then quickly warp back to the floor you were last exploring. You also have the ability to run in the dungeons and if you run into a wall then you can automatically turn. During battles you can also hold down X to speed up the action. You’ll also have access to some incredibly useful items, items that show where all the treasures on the floor are, see what monsters are around and also to show if there are any secret areas on your mini map.
These things are definitely needed as there is a fair bit of backtracking to do. As you’re travelling through there are a lot of things that will block your path and are basically used as an excuse to send you back to a previous dungeon to seek out some random item. Thankfully a lot of the areas within each dungeon have diverse looks and because of the ability to run and warp through areas it doesn’t feel like too much of a drag but it does feel like it happens too often. I will also admit that I did hold down X in pretty much every battle as at the normal game speed it does feel too slow.
MeiQ is definitely one of the prettier dungeon crawlers on the PS Vita. The characters are beautiful and the dungeons are full of diverse looking areas. While I wouldn’t go as far to say that MeiQ is stunning, it’s definitely an improvement over the usual standard. The music and voice acting is also pretty good. You’ll be able to switch between English and Japanese voice acting in the Settings menu whenever you like. I always appreciate it when a game gives you the option of both!
The game’s battle system and Guardians are its unique selling points. Battles are the standard turn-based affair but as your ladies are mages they are a little bit weak and squishy so in order to make them survive a little bit longer you can pair them up with a robotic Guardian. During each turn only one of each pair can act, typically you’ll be getting your Guardians to do most of the fighting but the Machina Mages do have access to healing and stat boosting spells which are pretty handy.
Fighting rewards you with experience points which when levelling up grants your Machina Mages new abilities. Guardians also level up but getting new attacks is a little bit different; you’ll need to change the body parts of the Guardians to get different attacks. Not all body parts will be suitable for every Guardian. Each Guardian has a different affinity to different elements so you need to pay attention to your Guardian’s strengths and weaknesses. Elements are also very important in battle as enemies also have affinity to certain elements. So it’s a good idea to have a mixed party of Guardians so that you’ll have a range of different elemental attacks. Thankfully you’ll come across a lot of different Guardians who, after defeating in battle, will swear their allegiance to you.
There really are tonnes of different parts for Guardians that you’ll either find in dungeons, buy in town or create in the towns factory. I really liked this system and did spend a fair amount of time experimenting to see what Guardian equipment and setup worked best in each dungeon.
It’s a shame that battles are not particularly tricky. If you play on normal difficulty then you’ll probably find the majority of fights will be too easy and you’ll have little motivation to tweak your parties setup – as you can overpower most enemies easily. So I really do recommend that you switch to hard.
When you’re not battling through dungeons you can spend time in Southern Cross. Considering it’s supposed to be a big city it’s actually feels pretty small as there are only a few places to visit and people to talk to. It’s a shame that there weren’t more things to see and do. There’s an inn to rest and recover, a Machina Factory to create new parts for your Guardians and the Machina Guild to pick up quests.
Within dungeons you’ll find various books which have recipes for Guardian parts. Once you’ve found some recipes you’ll want to head to the Machina Factory. As long as you have the right items, you can create new and powerful body parts to make your Guardians even stronger and have even better attacks.
I think the Machina Guild was probably the biggest disappointment for me. You’re given lots of different quests which are supposed to help forward the research of the guild but the quests are pretty much all the same; you’ll need to get a rare drop from a defeated monster. There are no storylines behind any of the quests and you never feel like you’re actually furthering the research of the guild. It’s just a bit of pointless filler. Sure, you get rewards for completing the quests but I would have rather had a bit more story and found out some more about the lore of the world. Sadly, I think it was a bit of a missed opportunity.
I don’t feel that this would be a full review if I didn’t mention one important thing (or more accurately a pair of important things). Boobs…that’s right, boobs. Australia’s rating board chose not to give a rating to MeiQ which effectively bans it from sale over there. After playing the game all the way I have to admit that I think that’s a little bit extreme. Sure the ladies are very skimpily dressed but their behaviour isn’t overly sexual. There’s no falling over with their legs wide open (Danganronpa 2) and no spanking/tickling mini games (Criminal Girls). I think the part that the ratings board must have really took offense to is the character status menu. Depending on where you touch the screen the ladies will comment and say different things, things like “the hips make the girl!”, “marshmallow!” and “bouncy!”. Is it silly? Yes. Amusing? A little. Is it going to morally corrupt Australia? I seriously doubt it. I pity the prudish nature of the Australian Ratings Board if this is what they find incredibly offensive…
Overall, I have mixed feelings about MeiQ. I did enjoy playing it and liked the characters but I do have to admit that it has a weak storyline. Messing around and experimenting with the parts on my Guardians was fun and something a little bit different to normal dungeon crawlers but it’s a shame that the game feels like it has a little bit too much pointless padding; backtracking through dungeons repeatedly and pointless quests really do let the game down. The PS Vita has a lot of dungeon crawlers and while MeiQ is fun it’s not the best one out there.