MeiQ: The Labyrinth of Death is the latest of Compile Hearts and Idea Factory’s JRPGs. The planet’s core has stopped moving and it’s up to the five chosen Machina Mages to complete the required trials in order to Kickstart it back up. Set in a First Person Dungeon Crawling style these Mages will have their work cut out for them with plenty of twists and turns that lay between them and their goals.
Being a fan of Compile Hearts and IF as well as the Wizardry style of Dungeon Crawling I was excited to dive into this interesting world in which the planet’s core needed to be cranked back into motion by Mages that control machines as well as elements. Up front, MeiQ isn’t as hard difficulty wise as a lot of other Dungeon Crawlers such as the likes of Sword of Stranger city with permanent death possibility. Now while it may not being as hard, MeiQ still does have its own fangs and offers some interesting challenges while remaining enjoyable throughout with a fun gameplay system and an entertaining story.
Player’s start off with the first of the five Mages Estra who just so happens to be the backwater bumpkin of the group who doesn’t really know much about any of this as her village didn’t have to rely on Machina to get by. Having Estra as the main character works out great as things are easily explained by the others without it feeling out of place even if some use rather condescending tones as they come from the larger cities and all of this is common knowledge while others take a more amicable approach.
Interestingly the five Mages are all introduced from the beginning though it will take some time in order to get them all into your party. This was a welcomed approach as the five of them have dealings with one another and plenty of interactions from the start instead of five, ten, or fifteen hours down the line where you have to wonder if the next member is ever going to show up which leads into the next point. MeiQ even if it was designed as a Dungeon Crawler has more than enough character interactions and cutscenes to make it feel more like an RPG instead of a pure grindfest with a possible cutscene at the end that come across as anti-climactic for how hard you worked for them. This, along with the actual story that never takes itself extremely seriously is what makes things enjoyable and fun instead of simply a challenge against the experience meters and the final dungeon bosses.
Gameplay wise Estra and the others (Maki, Flare, Setia, and Connie) will eventually form a group of three with two reserves in order to explore the dungeons. Even with only three characters to form the battle party however, any of their skills can be used while not in combat through the main menu. I have played a lot of Dungeon Crawlers, especially in the past few years, and MeiQ has introduced some of what I believe may come to be my favorite features.
As there are no auto routing possibilities, the party is allowed to run in the dungeons which in and of itself is not new. What is is that in order to “save time” while either running to the desired point or walking is that the party will make the ninety-degree turn themselves if they come to a corner meaning that you, the player, don’t have to do it. While it doesn’t sound like very much of a big thing there are a lot of corners involved in these dungeons and the party banking themselves instead of you having to do it was great. The other thing that is done is that not every square is needed to be stepped on in order to fill out the map. As long as the party is facing forward two squares of the map will be filled in and while there may not be any lava or poison squares involved, it makes a map completionists life easier.
With how fun exploring is, the battle system is where the real enjoyment comes from. Machina Mages can fight but for about a good ninety-plus percent of the time they’ll leave the heavy lifting to their guardians which take on the elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Metal. These guardians are awesome in every way shape and form because of the fact that they are actually giant robots. I would have loved to say they were mechs but they are sentient and they are not pilotable. Outside of battle these guardians can be modified with different arms, cores, and bodies in order to make them more formidable in battle.
Each Guardian Arm has its own abilities and elemental affinity making them useful to some and possibly useless to others. A Fire only weapon will be rather useless to a Water guardian unless of course that it is only being equipped in order to buff their physical or their magical damages. Alongside the elemental affinities are abilities both physical and magical that can be used while in battle with ranges from a single target over to as many happen to be on the field at that point in time. Equipping two identical arms gives abilities that are only usable in those particular cases.
Guardians themselves even with all the customizations level up with experience like the Mages. On top of all of the stat upgrades they also get extra bonuses to their abilities depending upon the elemental affinity of the Mage that they are attached to. While Estra may be a “bumpkin” compared to the rest, she has the ability to switch her core element making her much more versatile inside of the various dungeons that need to be crawled through. Mage forms, like the Mages, can level up through battle and I wish I could say what exactly causes the level up but after the amount of time that I’ve spent exploring and grinding I still don’t know as even battle in which everything ran away and there was zero of everything given, forms have leveled up. Enjoy when it happens?
Finally with all of the leveling up there is one last bit of possible customization for both the Mages and their Guardians. Seeds for Mages and Cores for Guardians can be equipped in order to modify stats and grant extra abilities. As each level up more Seeds and more Cores may be equipped in order to make them that much more formidable in battle such as Guardians being able to perform an action twice, three times, or possibly two to four times. These are just the icing on the cake for Guardians as they also have the ability to equip cores for two or three times the amount of damage that an ability would otherwise do at the price of taking some damage for doing it.
With all of the customizations in place, Mages and Guardians are set to do battle with monsters. Only one of the two in the combination may perform an action per turn. Guardians can either slash, crush, or blast enemies with a flamethrower or missile barrage while Mages can heal each other as well as repair the guardians on the front line. As long as the Guardian is the one performing the actions then the Mage standing behind them is safe. If the Mage comes to the front line for casting spells then there is a possibility that they get hit and they are much less defensible than their giant robotic companions.
With all of the combat and the elemental aspects of weakness and strengths it is possible to “game over” in battle. I put game over in quotation as this is another reason that MeiQ is enjoyable. There’s no real game over. Instead if the party of three Mages with their Guardians is wiped out in battle then they simply wind back up at the Inn back inside of the city in order to heal up and save. The hub isn’t a very big one and not a lot of time will be spent within it either. It has the Inn in order to rest up and save, a shop to buy new and rare items, a quest guild, and a factory in order to build new parts and evolve the Guardian’s bodies instead of equipping them with new ones.
Building new parts can be interesting as it allows for even more customization than simply picking up random pieces in a dungeon or hoping that the shop has new parts in store. Upgrading bodies can also be fairly useful compared to buying or building a brand new one depending on what you have the guardian specialized in doing. In my case I had Estra’s default Earth Guardian being the embodiment of physical attacking while I had Flare’s provided Fire Guardian specialized for magical damage which could also blast every enemy present. This covered both aspects quite well for those particular situations. Having a plan before going into the factory is important as some of these upgrades are VERY expensive and knowing what you want and not regretting it is important.
With some of the features introduced being amazing to experience such as being able to automatically turn without having to do it yourself, there were a few little things that could have been done in order to smooth over the rest. Combat isn’t the fastest and the default speed is very slow. Holding the X button can make things go faster but then you have to hold the X button for every action. Being able to repeat with the right shoulder button helps out but having to hold that button for every combat does get a little bit long unless you enjoy all of the animations every time.
The other issue is a little more out of your control as it comes to some of the dungeon constructions. With the ability to round the corners when the party hits them is great, there are a lot of dungeons that don’t allow for this because of how they are built making you hear the party’s protests at smacking a wall each and every time they hit into one. Some dungeons are worse than others for this such as the second and the third, but the others make up for it and it just means less running and more paying attention. The ideas of the dungeons however are well done with the doors, warp pads, and hidden passageways.
MeiQ: The Labyrinth of Death is an awesome Dungeon Crawling RPG that is great to sit down to for hours at a time either on the Vita or the PSTV. With fun and quirky characters to awesome customization systems there’s more than enough fun to go around the multiple dungeons that these Machina Mages will needs to explore with their Guardians in order to restart the planet’s core.
Idea Factory International
Article by Pierre-Yves