As a fan of Japanese titles, I’ve been delighted by the amount Idea Factory have been bringing over to the West. A recent addition to the ranks is Compile Heart’s MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death, a dungeon-crawling JRPG full of bright colors, cute magical girls and a rather familiar plot line.
When stars fade, the world stops turning, and its citizens are plunged into an unending night. As luck would have it, this exact problem has happened before, so the solution is already known. A bunch of magical girls (known as Machina Mages) just need to gather into the central city of Southern Cross, battle through hordes of demons with their Guardians, gain the blessings of the Goddess and wind the Planet Key. Simple.
While I was initially intrigued by MeiQ‘s plot, very little progression occurs after the opening. Other than short conversations between the characters, and the odd interruption by a group of bad guys, I was mainly left to get on with it. In general, this didn’t particularly matter, allowing for an uninterrupted focus on the gameplay. It was just a shame that what story did exist had little depth and ended up following the usual tropes.
In a similar manner, the Machina Mages are cute, but totally generic. One look at them was all I needed to know, from the knowledgeable “glasses” type, to the sassy short-tempered redhead. Even the designs joined in, with decidedly top-heavy characters, revealing outfits and animations to exaggerate their assets. None of the fan-service was in my face, though; it was just sort of there. Perhaps it’s a product of playing games like Senran Kagura or Gal Gun: Double Peace, but I found MeiQ to be rather tame.
I got to follow and control Earth Mage, Estra. Her cheerful personality helps to join the Mages friendship together, after their initial disagreements. The first dungeon is therefore tackled without female company. Luckily, everyone has been given a Guardian, which looks and acts like a giant Mech. These are all the same element as the girls who control them, so it’s convenient that Earth is strong in the first tower.
As more Guardians and girls join your party, the element mechanic gets more interesting. It’s possible to take three girls and Guardians in your party at any one time, although exactly how they pair together is up to you. I essentially ended up using a kind of Pokémon mentality, using the best elements for the job at any point.
Dungeons are viewed from a traditional first-person perspective, while a map in the corner slowly fills in as you explore. Each tower is given a unique wall design, my favorite being the forest with its ethereal atmosphere. It should be noted that the visuals do get rather repetitive, although it was never to the point where it overly bothered me, given the nature of the dungeon-crawler genre.
What did get frustrating was how MeiQ constantly tried to pad out the gameplay. I’m not going to say that new floors, bosses and story segments went unappreciated, but I could have done with a bit less of the back-and-forth. For example, when two companions got trapped behind a wall of fire in the red tower, I needed a specific boss from the black tower to douse the flames. Upon getting to that boss’ lair, I couldn’t enter without an item from a different boss, that resided back in the red tower. Even with warp points to quickly return me to previously visited floors, the repetition got old quickly.
Other than bosses, enemies appear as random encounters. It’s actually pretty relaxed, with few encounters making for smooth exploration of the tower’s maze-like floors. I also had the option of using a Monster Charm to drastically increase the rate, whenever I wanted to grind. There were few places where it was necessary to drastically level, although it was useful to keep all party members at a state where they’re ready for action. In any case, MeiQ never put up much of a challenge, especially when good planning goes into the battle strategy.
Fighting is a simple, turn-based combat affair. As with a number of dungeon crawlers, you select the moves for your party members at the beginning of each turn, then watch the fight play out. What makes MeiQ different is the choice to attack with your Guardian or Magical girl, switching between them by pressing triangle.
The girls have the majority of options with a basic attack, defense, and choice to use an item. Leveling adds to their arsenal of magical abilities, more often than not translating to buffs and heals. Since Guardians can take damage on behalf of the girl they’re fighting with, it made sense to have them do most of the work. Despite this, I was pleasantly surprised by how much of a punch the girls could pack, giving a reason to switch back to them.
Guardian’s abilities link to their specific equipment, while levelling only ups their stats. I was able to change their arms and bodies at will, affecting what elements they were linked to, attack power, whether they could hit multiple enemies, and other factors. As an appreciated touch, the Guardians also physically changed, so giving a drill arm would translate on their bodies, same for swords, maces etc.
Parts and bodies can be found from chests and item drops, although you can also choose to craft them yourself from other items in the inventory. Having a hand in my partner’s designs as well as being able to consider precise move-sets helped me care more about my companions. Sadly, it was rare that I had the required items to make anything good. By the time I could craft something, a part bought from the shop or randomly picked up in a dungeon always outclassed it.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to point out what’s wrong with MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death other than how little it does to interest the player. While points of light could be found in the story premise and customizable Guardians, they were never given enough depth to fully shine. Those with a love of the genre are not going to find enough that’s new here. Moreover, there are too many good alternatives on the Vita for even the relaxed play style to be fully worth a newcomer’s time.
This review is based off a Vita copy of the game, which we were provided with.
Interest can be found within MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death’s story premise and customizable Guardians. Unfortunately, however, the positives fall flat much too quickly, as there isn’t enough depth to keep them from getting stale.