MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death Review

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Game Title: MeiQ Labyrinth of Death
Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 1.4 GB
NA Availability: Retail | Digital Download
EU Availability: Retail | Digital Download
PSTV Support: Yes

Idea Factory International has been bringing over Compile Heart games for a good few years now. The Neptunia series has been the big star of this, with all of the Re;Birth games and the various spin-offs like Neptunia U and the Noire SRPG. Aside from this, however, they’re dipping into even more ground that was recently not covered.

Aside from the otome Amnesia: Memories, more RPGs are coming west via IFI. If you recall, Trillion: God of Destruction was one of these games. Trillion was made as a new type of project of games by Compile Heart in Japan. He second game of that series was Death Under the Labyrinth. It was a first-person dungeon crawler out in Japan for a long time before it was finally announced to also be coming west.

Today, I bring you a review of that game. Although the name was changed, I just really like the name “Death Under the Labyrinth”. But to remain official and politically correct, here is my review of MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death!

Story

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The world of MeiQ revolves around the Stars having the cosmic powers of rotating the planet and keeping life going. However, the stars have been going out, leaving the planet in a state of being static. When this happens, the world eventually comes to an end. However, in the past, special mages were gathered and sent through special towers connected to a demon world. Upon passing all trials, the chosen are granted the power to return the stars to their former glory and save the world from an otherwise grim end.

Much time has passed and the stars have lost their luster once again. With the world in its static state once again, chosen mages from all over the world are returned to a holy temple in order to be sent through the towers to save the world. Estra is the main character and one of the many mages sent through the towers. As she starts her first day at the temple, the quest to saving the world has begun.

The story of MeiQ I wouldn’t really call outstanding. While every character you can recruit and interact with has their own special personality, the game’s story just never goes from a normal type of RPG story to an epic or fun state. I had much more fun in gameplay than I did in story. None of the characters really grabbed me. It almost felt like many scenes were forced rather than flowing.

Gameplay

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Death Under the Labyrinth is a first-person dungeon crawler, with just a little bit of Pokemon thrown in. During gameplay, you’ll be going from a world map menu to go to various shops or dungeons and in dungeons, you will be traveling in first-person fashion to move along and fight enemies, solve puzzles, and progress the story forward.

Main progressions, as shown above, is between dungeons and the World Map menu. I call it a menu because it’s, well, a menu. You just scroll up and down through a list of locations and then select one. You don’t have free-roam outside of dungeons, so it’s just a matter of navigating a menu. So, if you were expecting a town to run around, you won’t find it here.

When you are in the town, you do have a few places you can go. You can rest and save your game at the Inn, go to the Guild to take on quests to complete while doing the main story, the General Store for buying items, and the Machina Factory for customization of your Machina Units, which I will go into in just a moment. The other option is Depart, which lets you visit any of the available dungeons.

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You won’t be spending much time in town, though. You will be spending the multitude of your time in dungeons. When you go into a dungeon, you will be on a grid, like most dungeon-crawlers of this type. You will move one grid at a time, essentially mapping out each floor as you explore with the ultimate goal of going to the next floor and repeat the process until you reach that dungeon’s boss.

This is pretty standard for dungeon crawlers, but there are two main points that make this game unique. The first is the fact that you don’t just clear a dungeon, move onto the next, etc. While that is the goal, there will be a lot of times where you’ll need to return to previous dungeons. When you get to the Red Tower, for example, the story will send you back to the already-cleared Black Tower to seek out a new area and boss in order to keep progressing in the Red Tower. It’s not just a dungeon to dungeon 2 to dungeon 3 type of deal. It helps switch and mix things up.

The second is the way of combat. In Death Under the Labyrinth, you can use your character to fight with skills, but you will mostly be using Guardians to fight for you. Guardians are powerful creatures that can be customized and given new abilities as they fight alongside you. For every dungeon you clear, you gain a new Guardian to use and each is strong in certain elements and not others. I could compare this to monster-catching games, but only after major bosses instead of everywhere you go.

Depending on your equipment, your Guardian will have different abilities to use, which also resembles the idea of Pokemon. This also breaks the norm for combat. In most first-person dungeon crawlers, battles are also in first person with 2D character sprites. In this game, it is fully in 3D and looks like a battle taken out of some 3D RPG. It’s different from the norm of first-person dungeon crawlers and gives off a unique feel to it.

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This all comes together pretty well for the most part, but the combat system both helps and hurts the game. 3D battles look pretty cool for this type of game, but the pacing of battles really has a lot to be desired. I found myself constantly holding down the “Faster” option to skip animations because everything animates and goes so slow and sluggish. I like the battle system. I just don’t like its pacing.

How it all comes together is more in the form of how difficult the game is. Really, I’d call this a casual first-person dungeon crawler. I’ve dipped in both difficulties and you don’t need to do an excessive amount of grinding. So long as you are strategic in how you do battles and knowing when to heal your machina, you shouldn’t ever need to stop and go into grinding sessions. The first time I fought a major boss, I lost, but once I went in with differtent skills, I flew through it without any problems. It’s all about strategy.

Another aspect to the casual feel of it is the inclusion of Suspend Saves. If you’re in the middle of a dungeon and you have to go, you can perform a Suspend Save to save your progress. In most games, when you load a temporary save like this, it goes away and you can’t use it again. However, it stays in this game. I can load a suspend, and then turn the Vita off, load it back up again, and the suspend save is still there. This is very useful in case you load one of those saves and don’t mean to, or accidentally close the game afterwards.

Finally, we can talk about length. While the premise of the game only shows you going through four different dungeons, there are actually almost twice as many by the time you get towards the end of the game. I would gauge the game roughly with 2-3 hours per dungeon, making the entire game close to 20 hours, give or take. That’s pretty standard for the length of a handheld RPG and longer than I was hoping for when I first had the story tell me there were only 4 major dungeons.

Controls

First off, PSTV fans will be happy to know that the game is fully compatible with the PlayStation TV. While this will not have a video review due to this review going up in the middle of my work week, rest assured that it does work on the micro-console and I’ll put up a gameplay video of it later on in the week, when I have the time.

Menus are pretty easy to work through. D-Pad for moving through choices, X to select, and Circle to cancel. In dungeons, the D-Pad is your way of moving around. You will notice right away that the Left Analog Stick does not move your character. Instead, it changes your mini-map’s location. Perhaps they chose this to not use the touch screen and make the game work on the PSTV a little easier.

The L and R triggers are used to strafe in dungeons and the rest is handled by the face buttons. X interacts with objects like chests and elevators. Square pulls up a list of registered items to be easier to access. Triangle pulls up the various customization menus. Finally, Circle can be held to dash through a dungeon instead of walking if you want to see a random encounter faster or just move through that floor quicker.

I’ll admit that not being able to move with the Left Stick was a little weird at first, but it only took me a few minutes to adjust to only using the D-Pad.

Presentation

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Visually, the game looks crisp and clean. The 2D models are done well and the game goes as far as to change the character’s costumes for cutscenes based on what costume and equipment you have on them in the game. That’s a nice little plus that a lot of 2D scene games don’t do. The 3D visuals of the dungeons and the battles look pretty nice as well. There aren’t a lot of jagged edges on the models and the attack animations look pretty smooth and a little flashy at times.

I can’t really say anything bad about the presentation or performance. As far as audio is concerned, this game is fully voiced, one of the firsts for Idea Factory International’s games. If you’re more used to the Neptunia games only being voiced in major scenes, you’ll have a nice surprise with this having dual audio and having all scenes voiced from start to finish.

Performance-wise, I can’t complain. Load times never exceed a few seconds and the animations for battle always go by without a hitch. No frame rate issues here.

Summary

MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is a first-person dungeon crawler in the recent rush of the genre on handhelds. While the game’s story isn’t spectacular and the battle system is a little sluggish, it has enough unique elements to be worth a go, and the casual feel helps this be a nice game for those used to the genre and newcomers alike.

8/10

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