MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is Compile Heart’s first venture into the dungeon crawler genre. And while it may have its shortcomings this decent attempt has a lot to offer.
One day the world stopped rotating and the land was shrouded in darkness. Five young girls known as machina mages set off with their giant mech Guardians to conquer four towers and reset the rotation of the planet.
You play as Estra, the most guileless of the bunch. She starts out alone as each of the other magical girls split up seeking glory for themselves, but they slowly team up with Estra as the game progresses.
Don’t come expecting a deep storyline here, as the game has barely enough character interactions to keep you from forgetting the cast.
Battles are fairly straightforward, but make use of a Pokémon-like elemental system. Each pair of girl and guardian have one command per turn. The guardians are beefy and provide good damage output while allowing you to combine attacks with other Guardians. On the other hand, the mage can cast destructive magic or powerful stat buffs which can be a crucial element in longer, drawn-out battles. Losing a guardian still allows you to use the mage, however, the opposite does not hold true, so you must protect your mages at all costs. Many of the guardians are hidden and only once you defeat them in battle can you assign them to any of the girls.
What truly makes MeiQ enjoyable is its rather non-punishing nature. You can use the large number of spells to heal up, or go to and back from the numerous warp points in the dungeon when ever you want. Even if your party is knocked out you are simply transported back to the inn with no noteworthy setbacks.
Exploring is far more accessible than in other dungeon crawlers. You do not just map the tile you are on but also the left, right and front row of tiles. This is particularly a godsend for completionists and gamers who can control their OCD.
And while the game doesn’t offer the automatic trekking of its competition, your character will automatically turn left or right at corners allowing for easier navigation through the maze-like dungeons.
Another thing that makes this far more enjoyable is the fact that you don’t need much grinding to progress. The challenging bosses can wipe the floor with you if you are unprepared. But if you play your cards right, equip the right weapons, armor and use the correct guardians and spells you are bound to win. And even when you do suffer defeat, you don’t actually lose any items or experience and can immediately make your way back to the battle if you want.
Unlike traditional RPGs, MeiQ for some reason doesn’t allow you to consume items during battles. Thankfully all your characters always have a healing or buff spell at their disposal. There is no mana system here. Each spell can be cast a number of times before you need to replenish it at the local inn.
Every part of a Guardian’s body can have different attributes. This means just because one weapon may have higher damage doesn’t make it the most effective for the given situation. Each weapon and armor can give your Guardian different basic attacks, with different elemental attributes which don’t need to correspond to the element of the guardian. Whats more is that parts are visible on your Guardian so you can go all out and make that mech you always wanted.
Another way of customizing your Guardians and heroines is via gems. Gems can grant you additional stats, skills and even abilities such as being able to see the enemy’s health or using all the attack on your right or left hand at once.
One area where the MeiQ is outright awful is in its level design. The maps feel more like children’s drawings. Traps, items, and secrets are haphazardly placed with no rhyme or reason. While initially bearable, it is at the final tower where things finally start to fall apart. The level design goes from being awkward to just plain out frustrating, as you zigzag through a linear maze-like structure. And the overpowered stone gargoyles which prevent you progressing until you rid the room of them don’t make the game any easier.
Visually the game is a mixed bag. It’s far from unappealing, but it doesn’t really push the system to its limits. The simple 3D guardian models and flat 2D images for the heroines leave much to be desired. For a game where all the characters are scantily clad booby ladies, MeiQ has a surprising lack of fan service. The game even doesn’t show when our heroines bath in the Spring of the Gods at the end of each tower. Instead, you just get the dialog and then the game skips over the scene entirely.
There are so many missed opportunities and slip ups in MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death. And despite all that, it surprisingly manages to be enjoyable and far less frustrating than other games in the genre. I found myself losing hours, as I explored every nook and cranny, searching for secret areas filled with goodies, experimenting with different guardian load outs and, playing with the elemental system. While what is here may not be up to par worth other games in the genre, I can’t but get giddy with excitement to a potential sequel that may polish the mechanics and offer a truly unique dungeon crawler unlike any other. Until then MeiQ is a great pick if you are in search for a different dungeon crawler and not bothered by its shortcomings.