Game Review: MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death (PS Vita)
26/09/2016 Leave a comment
MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is the latest localised dungeon-crawler to hit the PS Vita (and Playstation TV) for western audiences courtesy of Idea Factory International; but what can one expect to receive for those unfamiliar with the concept of this game? Well let’s take a look.
|Title:||MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death|
|Publisher:||Idea Factory International|
|Resolution:||960 x 544|
|Audio:||Japanese & English|
Developed by Compile Heart and published by Idea Factory International MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is a Japanese dungeon-crawler styled game that sees traditional visual-novel-elements mixed with dungeon crawler exploration and turn-based-3D-combat to bring a slightly different kind of RPG experience to the PS Vita and Playstation TV. For instance on the one-hand we have the usual 2D anime styled visuals progressing the story forward with tons of informative dialogue while on the other we have 3D dungeon exploration from a first-person-perspective; but of course while it may be a different type of PRG experience it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.
In any event; the game puts players in control of Estra, a young machina mage who, along with other Machina mages across the world, have been summoned to the legendary city in hopes of restarting the world by turning a special key located deep within a temple. However in order to gain access to this temple the machina mages must venture into four different tower dungeons and bathe themselves in specialised holy water that will allow the mages access to the key within the temple. It sounds like a simple task, as they just have to enter the different towers and locate the water supply; however as these locations are all protected by demonic creatures they can prove to be a challenge – especially when it comes to the boss fights.
From a story perspective MeiQ moves itself along quite swiftly through visual novel styled dialogue and as such you’ll either find yourself in dialogue with other characters, majority of which is actually entertaining to listen to, or exploring the dungeon that you’ve been sent to. For instance at the start of the game upon receiving a rundown of your objective, which takes around fifteen minutes, you will soon find yourself being forced into the first tower – the black tower – and more to the point your tutorial. The next hour of gameplay is pretty much a rundown of how to play and what to expect from the game; and it’s at this point that the dungeon-crawler gameplay, as well its turn-based-combat mechanics, come into action.
For starters exploring the tower, or dungeon if you prefer, will be done from a first-person-perspective and as such players simply need to walk around using the analog stick (or D-Pad) in order to navigate around the area and the X button to interact with objects scattered across the dungeon. Unlike traditional JPRG’s there is no preset map and as such you must explore the area yourself and interact with things that appear in order to find your way around. Unlikely other dungeon-crawlers the maps are not randomly generated so navigating them shouldn’t be too much of an issue and as you would expect from a JPRG styled title at random intervals the screen will flash and you will be thrown into battle and it is here where things differ slightly from a typical turn-based-fight. During combat players can choose to either fight using their machina mage, in this case Estra, or their summoned machina, known as Apostle, and depending on who you choose to fight with will depend on the type of battle that will take place. At the start of the game only these two characters will be available for selection; but as you progress and make bonds with the other mages you will soon be able to team-up; but in any event the combat remains the same.
For instance selecting Estra as your main fighter will see you able to Attack, Cast Magic, use an item or defend from your attacking opponent while using a Machina, such as the Yellow Apostle that is given to you at the start of the game, will see you only able to Attack or Defend. Unlike Estra the Apostle will be able to perform one of two different attacks per turn and should the Apostle be defeated in battle control is shifted to Estra. While multiple options are present on screen it is a very simplistic way of fighting and over time can quickly feel repetitive with its straight forward, but slightly spread out, interface. The biggest annoyance I have however is with the HUD (heads up display) as your opponents life guage is not displayed. This simple addition makes it impossible to understand how well the battle is progressing and it’s a crucial piece of information during the ever-demanding boss fight. It goes without saying that winning battles will result in your Apostle and mage gaining experience that can be used to level-up and become stronger. It’s a feature common in every JPRG game, and as such it makes an appearance here within MeiQ; but unfortunately it’s very time consuming.
During my time with MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death I found it extremely time-consuming to level-up; partly because it is a painfully slow process but partly because it doesn’t feel like there is enough engagments from enemies. At first I thought the game had a nice balance of mobility and combat, as you can move several dozen steps before a fight will occur, but upon engaging with the boss of the first tower it soon becomes apparent that my team was vastly outgunned. The solution to this would be to spend time levelling-up but with so few enemy engagements taking place levelling-up takes longer than you would expect and as such you will soon find yourself becoming bored of the whole process. To me it’s a disappointing aspect of the game; and I understand that JPRGs and dungeon-crawlers are all about grinding to reach higher levels– which I fully understand – but when the process is this slow it quickly becomes tedious and tiresome.; especially when you only have one dungeon to explore with limited amounts of EXP being awarded per victory.
I am no stranger to grinding; but with so little enemy encounters taking place it becomes apparent that you will spend more time looking for enemies to fight rather than actually fighting or enjoying the story that is taking place. It’s worth mentioning that being defeated by a boss (or any type of monster in the game) doesn’t result in a game-over screen; instead it sees the player warped to the Inn, which is an option on the main menu of the hub world; but unfortunately if you are defeated then you will have to start from the very beginning of the dungeon you were exploring. There is no shortcut and no easy access; you simply have to retrace your steps and explore the entire labyrinth again. I understand why this feature is present, as it’s a form of punishment for being defeated by the boss, but I personally found it to be a tedious and time-consuming experience that I would rather do without; especially when before the boss room is some sort of ‘Safe Area’.
When not exploring a dungeon, or listening to other peoples dialogue, you can navigate the hub world – which is basically just a menu screen – to purchase recovery items, accept side-quests and learn more about the world your inhabit. Although these options do exist with the ‘hub world’ they aren’t something you will see often; as instead you’ll mostly focus your attention within the dungeons and it’s repetitive gameplay of exploration and monster bashing. It’s also worth mentioning that your machina, or Apostle if you prefer, can also be upgraded and customised with different orbs and weapon loadouts; each of which will offer the machina a different type of ability or a new form of attack. It’s a feature I didn’t tend to use much; but it does exist and it can really help shift the balance of power in a fight especially when you choose the right type against an enemy.
At a glance MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is simplistic and frustratingly tedious at best but overlook the obvious parts (and my complaints) and you’ll find that the game actually offers a level of complexity that rivals most JPRGs on the market. For instance the ability to level-up and be able to defeat the bosses of each tower may be a tedious experience for most players –me included – but it’s one that requires careful planning and consideration; additionally the machina (or Apostle’s if you prefer) can be fully equipped and modified with different gem stones; each offering new abilities and powers. Careful planning as well as building up your two-man-team will result in successfully passing the challenges that lay ahead; but for the average JPRG player – or those new to the dungeon crawler genre – then it is a bit too much to take it.
MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death offers a unique outlook on what a dungeon-crawler-styled visual novel can be and while I enjoyed the concept of the game more than Bandai Namco’s Ray Gigant (which mostly featured 2D artwork for its fights) the tedious nature of levelling-up and the frustrating nature of playing the game left me disappointed. Some positive aspects can be had though, it has some great character artwork, an interesting story and a glorious English Dub that sees some of our favourite voice actors lending their vocal talent to the quirky characters on screen; especially the Blue Machina Mage and her energetic nature.
If you are looking for a dungeon-crawler that provides hours of grinding and a challenging boss-fight at the end then MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is definitely worth considering for your PS Vita; but if you are hoping to breeze through and enjoy the story that’s being told then you may want to look elsewhere. It’s a decent game with a good story and a great set of characters; but unfortunately it’s not one for me. As the subtitle of this game suggests a “Labyrinth of Death” is what awaits.
MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is now available for the PS Vita and Playstation TV as both a digital download and retail cartridge.