By Joseph Puntschart / September 13th, 2016
|Title||MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death|
|Developer||Compile Heart/Makai Ichiban Kan|
|Publisher||Idea Factory International|
|Release Date||13/9/2016 (NA) 16/9/2016 (EU)|
|Age Rating||ESRB T/PEGI 12|
The PS Vita is generally seen these days as the go-to system for Japanese RPGs, meaning that any new role-playing game to release on the system faces the challenge of standing out on the platform. MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is the latest game to rise to this challenge. For me, personally, it was one of those games that piqued my interest from the very first reveal, so I’ve been curious to see whether the unique combination of anime girls, mechs and fantasy would work well together.
The second title to be released under the Makai Ichiban Kan label, in this title you play as Estra, one of five Machina Mages that are sent to Southern Cross and tasked with winding the Planet Key in order for the planet to start rotating again. The Machina Mages each have a Guardian that can fight with them in battle (more on this later). Along the way, Estra and co. will meet Gagarin and the other Machina Mages of Darkness, whom will create obstacles throughout their mission. The story itself isn’t top-tier, but the world itself is interesting and is well fleshed out through brief cutscenes that carry the story along nicely. The story has its lighthearted moments as is par of the course for Compile Heart games. However, the story is generally told in a more serious manner for the most part through visual novel cutscenes complete with well-drawn art. Compared to its sister game, Trillion, there was much less time reading walls of text and more playing the actual game.
This game is, at heart, a first-person dungeon RPG, with fully 3D dungeons. With most of the dungeons being set in the supernatural “Demon Realm” within the game’s world, this allows for a huge potential variety in the dungeon design, both visually and mechanically. Visually, the dungeons are a treat. There is a large amount of detail found in the dungeon design, such as the lava plumes and rocks in the Red Tower and the blue bushes and rocks in the Blue Tower (my favourite), which greatly helps with immersion for the most part. However, sometimes these transitions make no logical sense whatsoever and do the precise opposite – such as entering the boss room of a dragon that is a polar opposite to the tower you are in, like the Fire Dragon on the lowest floor of a particular tower, where the rooms before it were full of ice and snow. On the other hand, this game doesn’t really do anything new in this area on the mechanical side. The dungeon designs start out pretty simple, before getting more complex in size and scale later on, such as adding invisible walls, switches and pit traps. This greatly helps add a much-needed amount of depth and longevity within the dungeon crawling. However, experienced players would most likely have seen these all before.
While some people may be quick to compare this game’s dungeon crawling mechanics to Demon Gaze or Dungeon Travelers 2, my comparison would be with the other Compile Heart translated dungeon RPG, Moe Chronicle. This is because the UI/engine appears to be an expanded version – the map on the left of the screen and the text of the floor number on the top left are virtually identical to the UI of Moe Chronicle. Even when you walk into a wall, you hear voice acting like in said game. However, there are also some neat additions which help with convenience, such as the ability to automatically turn on corners if you hold the direction button straight ahead of you as you hit the wall. Likewise, you can also walk around the dungeons with the map overlaying the screen, so you can use the map as a reference without looking to the left side of your Vita screen all the time.
Where MeiQ shines is in the party customisation and battle systems. Your party setup consists of three units, with one Mage and one Guardian to form a pair. The Guardians are mechanical beings tied to the mages. When the Mage fights, the Guardian cannot and vise versa. If the Guardian falls in battle, the Mage can fight but NOT vise versa. The Guardians often tend to be stronger than the Mages in terms of their overall stats, while the Mages are weaker. The Guardians can block most attacks by the various enemies, but not all. What differentiates the Mages and the Guardians the most, though, is that, while the Mages skills are fixed and are unlocked the more they level up, the Guardians skills can be swapped and changed through customisation and only the overall stats can increase through leveling. This is done through collecting and forging various parts in the Machina Furnace. By doing this, you can gain different/multiple skills. You can then chop and change the arms to pick the combination that works for you in whatever circumstances you are in. Alternatively, you can also use Form Evolution to evolve the body of the Guardian which also enhances their stats and can unlock new abilities which are exclusive to that particular Guardian. It’s expanded on well, considering that you can buy and forge rarer, more powerful parts as the game progresses. The Mages and Guardians also have a gem customisation system, where they can equip various gems found in the game to get boosts to particular stats or their elemental affinity, such as increasing the amount of damage they can do by using a particular elemental spell, like Fire.
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