MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death Review
Reviewed on Sony PS Vita
Dungeon crawlers seem to be the RPG makers chosen style of late. With games like Ray Gigant, Conception 2, Dungeon Travelers 2, Demon Gaze and its upcoming sequel being just a few available on the Playstation Vita alone, it’s up to newer, little known titles to try something special to set them apart from the rest. Conception 2 had you send your infant children into battle, Demon Gaze had you capture demons in your eye in order to pass obstacles like lava or the ocean, and MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death has customizable mechs and outfits so skimpy that Australia refused to even give the game a rating, on the grounds that it was too offensive by ‘the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults’. The problem is that the game fails to do anything that would make it stand out from the crowd.
MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death starts out in a very typical fashion for games of its kind; the world is in trouble and it's down to a few young, beautiful and very, VERY, well-endowed ladies to save it. Armed only with magic and a guardian mech the girls set off on a quest to wind the key in the center of the world, a journey that will teach them all about the importance of friendship, cooperation, and inner strength, but absolutely nothing about the importance of season appropriate clothing. This sounds all well and good, however the game skims over the story in such a rushed manner, eager to get you into the dungeons as fast as possible, and it leaves many questions unanswered. It feels like the creators decided that perhaps a text heavy game wasn't the answer and so gave the game the very barest bones of a story in order to carry the exploration and dungeon side. That being said, it’s clear the story was intended to be a lot deeper than it ended up being; books telling the history of the world and letters from various characters explaining their motives can be found in chests throughout the game.
This is such a terrible shame as the story that's told in these various snippets is quite epic, certainly up there with the plots to some of the big name RPGs like Final Fantasy or the Tales series. Had the game been taken from a different angle or with more funding it could easily have been a classic, given its mechs and the intriguing plot, the end result is like finding a book with an amazing blurb that's ultimately written by someone with no writing ability, or a cartoon whose art style sets your teeth on edge.
If you can get past the lacklustre story what you're left with is a somewhat average dungeon crawler, with gimmicks such as pit falls, hidden doors, moving statues, and false treasures. The first few places you’ll be sent are so easy and so straightforward, they don't even come close to justifying the ‘Labyrinth’ in the title. In fact the first few chapters of the game are so underwhelming it's incredibly hard to stick with it; those who do, however, are rewarded with a difficulty spike that makes the game somewhat enjoyable. Previously short dungeon floors become sprawling mazes, littered with teleportation pads and mini boss-like forced encounters. One floor in particular requires the player to experiment with several switches, hopping between floors, to rotate the dungeon to gain access to the stairs. Couple this with random encounters which before had been very simple affairs, winnable by brute force, that suddenly require a bit more planning and thought and the game actually starts to come into its own, just a bit too late.
The ability to kill anything with ease would detract from the enjoyment, or so you would think, but there is some form of pleasure in seeing the character you put time into turning everything to paste. Especially when, even at this stage, one lucky strike from an enemy can easily take out one of your team, leaving your plans useless. Given this fact you may be tempted to grind out the levels in a bid to overpower enemies as, quite often, even if you kill every single enemy you come across the bosses will still outlevel you. This is due to battles not actually being that frequent. The relaxed pace can be shaken up though by purchasing some very cheap items that increase the battle rate to ridiculous levels, a requirement if you want to attempt the games side ‘item fetch’ quests; always worth it for the rare gems that will give your mechs an extra boost.
Dying results in the game telling you how well you did and suggests how you could improve.
In the end MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death promises very little, and delivers just that. A casual RPG with a shallow story and gameplay that only offers a challenge too late to make a difference. Its feature gimmick of customizable robot partners only just able to live up to its name, with body part and gem combinations that offer very little in the way of variation if you actually want to succeed at the game. Its multitude of possible variations, like making your mechs lose their elemental weakness, is eclipsed by the very basic ‘which parts will let me hit hardest?’. The game's length is padded out unnecessarily by forcing the character to backtrack a few stages every single dungeon, and by making the item drops so low it can take upwards of three hours for a single quest. Still despite all its flaws it's actually reasonably fun. It’s not breaking the genre moulds, it’s not offering a wonderful life-changing experience, but it is offering a good way to pass a few hours while waiting for other titles to come out.