Developed by Compile Heart, MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death or Death Under The Labyrinth is the 2nd entry in the companies “Makai Ichiban Kan” or “Number 1 House in Hell” franchise following Trillion: God of Destruction. Where that title has the goal of putting down an absurdly strong foe, MeiQ puts the player in the shoes of 5 girls known as “Machina Mages” on a quest to their world by performing a sacred ritual at the zenith of 4 towers. I can’t say that the outline shouts the most ambitious or even noteworthy of ideas being pitched, but behind the meager synopsis there is an okay product behind it. Sort of…
Title: MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death
Genre: Dungeon Crawling RPG (DRPG)
Developer: Compile Heart (Localized by Idea Factory International)
Length: 30-40+ hrs
As aforementioned, compared to the avant-garde style of play in Trillion, MeiQ is more of a return to form as it takes on a dungeon crawler format much akin to their Moe Chronicle brand. There are traps to avoid, treasure to be found, a few light puzzles to solve, and monsters to eradicate. When it comes to the actual designs of the individual dungeons themselves, it is quite a simple affair, but later areas in the game are packed with so many winding paths and obstructions that it is nothing short of annoying trying traverse them. The game does have a neat feature in place where if you continue walking and hit a wall it will automatically turn the corner for you, but doesn’t work all the time, especially if you reach a path where various obstacles are in the way. Thankfully enough (or not), the encounter rate in MeiQ makes dungeon crawling a little more bearable as the encounter rate is absurdly low. This can be great for getting through an area quickly, but since you need to level up to take on bosses and other encounters…it can be an issue. There are inexpensive charms you can buy early in that will make the encounter rate increase (and ones that will decrease it, too) for a limited number of steps, but they seem to work too well: in the case of the former making you enter battles with every step. Nonetheless, if you decide not to utilize the option, be prepared to wander lifeless corridors back and forward if you want to level grind or looking to beatdown a certain enemy for a quest item.
When it comes to entering into combat, MeiQ’s battle system is surprisingly decent, but by no means thrilling or novel. At first glance, combat may seem simple and what you would expect of a RPG: turn-based, up to three characters on the field, and the end goal of wiping out the enemy. Where that is true, the game sort of flips things on its head as each of the girls can have a machina (the giant robots of the game) supporting them and the actual combatants on the field. Once each turn you can choose either the mage or machina to take an action – each character usually specializing in some aspect. As a rule of thumb: mages are great with attack and support magic while the machine are great with dishing out physical damage. When the enemy turn comes around, whoever attacked will usually be on the receiving end – which if it is the mages it means big trouble since they are more fragile, but often or not, the machina can shield the characters from specific attacks. If the machina falls in combat, the mages take over, but if they fall, it is counted as a failure with the player being taken back to the Inn and free to try again without consequence. While you can crush enemies like insects in the normal difficulty setting, hard mode provides more of a challenge when it comes to bosses and a few random bouts – the enemies have increased stats and attack power, but also dole out more experience points once defeated. Of course, this also makes grinding for bosses more important, but the game does provide you a score card of sorts if you lose telling you how you did and if you even stand a chance. Luckily, if you ever find yourself struggling or want a challenge you can change difficulty at any time.
When you are not beating the living daylights out of monsters in the dungeons, the town is where you will probably spend most of the time. There is a Inn which will heal you (for free) and allows you to save the game, shop where you can buy items, guild to take on quest, and the mechanic where you can buy new parts or improve your robot. Even though both the mage and manchina both level up, only the mage characters learn new skills. To compensate, you will occasionally find new blueprints for parts or can purchase that will increase the utility of your robot buddies. Guns, swords, weird attachments – you name it, then it can probably be made at the mechanic. As long as you have the resource (Aether which is received after battle) and the appropriate material you can make whatever you please and by that extension, introduce new combat possibilities. With the option to mix and match parts, the range of abilities you can have and combinations that exist is nearly endless, but will take a considerable amount of time to gather what you need since the enemies tend to be skinflints when it comes to item drops. In any case, if improving the manchina is not enough you also equip both mages and machine with special gems and seeds that will further augment their stats and also cover any weakness. In recent memory, I have come across a few systems that have done something similar, but MeiQ is on the right track with making it integrate nicely with the core mechanics.
With this being Compile Heart and being known to hire some unique talent, the artwork and character designs are sort on the deep end of that spectrum – the “way too” ludicrous end. The villains looking like they raided the Power Rangers dressing room, female characters with absurdly large breast, and creatures that should never be allowed to exist in this world – all of them attributed to the artist known as Ryoji – best known for his work on Nippon Ichi’s La Pucelle: Tactics and Marl Kingdom. Despite being very “anime” in design, it is sort of nice to see his work again, but will probably turn most people off not familiar with it off. Likewise, the rest of “Team Disgaea” is on-board including composer Tenpei Sato who lends his prowess to the soundtrack – especially the opening theme “Ryusei no Ribbon” that has the same Gothic and haunting tone found in most of his work. With the game being fully voiced both by the English and Japanese tracks, you can’t go wrong with either. While the Japanese track is full of renown talent, the English one is just as good.
As one of the titles I was looking forward to this year, MeiQ is nowhere near as polished and exciting as I hoped but doesn’t need to be and an mostly okay game when its all said and done. While I could do with the game not padding out the length by adding tedious backtracking and areas that are just plain frustrating to get through, it is the battle system, customization, and a few character interactions that kept me going. Where Trillion was a little too ambitious and ending up deterring people away with its confusing gameplay and difficulty, I do believe MeiQ might make a better case for itself despite the other superior choices for the genre out there. I can’t say for sure if Compile Heart wants to continue its Makai Ichiban Kan franchise, but if they do decide on another dungeon crawler, they can least pull a few favorable ideas from this and leave all the others out in cold. Seriously, if I have to see Black Tower again it will be too soon.
Pros: Decent battle system, tons of character customization, balanced difficulty settings, no penalization for losing in battle, rating system for bosses can be helpful.
Cons: A great deal of backtracking required, terrible layout for some dungeons, character designs might be off-putting, generic characters, weak narrative.
Disclaimer: In no way, shape, or form was I compensated for the composition or publication of this review. This by my own volition. A review copy of the game was kindly provided by Idea Factory International. All images and rights to them belong to Idea Factory International/Compile Heart and only for review purposes.