From Compile Heart, the developer of the reasonably popular Hyperdimension Neptunia series, comes a new game from a fresh intellectual property. MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is the story of a world that is suffering an eternal nighttime. Legend tells the story of a chosen Machina Mage who must turn the key to restart the world and restore order. The world of MeiQ is made up of five parts, and a mage has been selected from each part to partake in the quest. Enter the cast.
The mages are, typical of this sort of game, a group of scantily clad young women. To some degree, they all have individual personalities, ranging from the fiery type to the almost overbearingly earnest, but differences are so slight that the supporting characters all blend into one person after a while. Early on in the game, each mage declares that she wants to be the one to turn the key, but it's not long before the realisation sets in that teamwork is the answer to saving the world, and your one-person party slowly has more members added to it.
One thing that the girls do have in common is a love for the sound of their own voice. At any juncture, each girl almost always finds something to say about events that have transpired. More often than not, they'll all say essentially the same thing, and it makes you wonder why they'd bother saying anything at all, only appearing to make cutscenes drag on for longer while failing to add any further insight.
On their own, the mages are kind of useless. Good for healing and not much else, they run the risk of being on the receiving end of a one-hit KO if the wrong enemy targets them. While not too much of a problem for the rest of the party, if the playable mage, Estra, gets knocked out, then it's game over. Strength in battle comes in the form of the guardians that can be set as companions for each mage – huge machina companions with the potential to deliver massive damage. Various guardians are added to the roster of options as play progresses, and as you collect items, you can also customise guardians, each potential change grating its own perks and drawbacks. Of course, the same can be said for mages to an extent: there's no changing body parts, but you can change outfits – though the game calls them "forms" – and "seeds", each possessing their own abilities to bestow upon the mage.
MeiQ seems to have a frustratingly low encounter rate given the amount of grinding required to level up. A lot of time will be spent exploring dungeons and opening up maps, with the pretence for exploration being that each of the four towers in the town has a guardian in it that needs to be defeated, and so off the girls go. As mentioned, though, it's not uncommon during this period that whole floors can be cleared without encountering an enemy. And when they do appear, battles feel repetitive and fairly brief.
Animations can be skipped using the X button, and holding the right trigger will allow your characters to repeat the same moves that they just used, meaning that there's not much need to press anything else if you find a damaging enough combination. Frustratingly, the only way of seeing enemy stats, including their remaining health points and type weaknesses, is by having a certain seed equipped to a mage, which just seems like a waste of an equipment slot. By all means, have a seed that gives you additional information for enemy analysis, but to lump it all in with something as basic as HP is just frustrating for a player who has no indication of how well they're doing against a boss. Is the damage that you've just dealt a decent amount, or is a drop in the ocean compared to the overall health of the enemy? You'll never know unless you sacrifice a precious equipment slot.
However, for the most part, the customisation of the characters doesn't really matter since enemies are dispatched with relative ease. Actually finding enemies to battle can often be harder than the battling itself, although boss battles do pose slightly bigger threat, as you would expect. MeiQ does have a useful feature whereby if you get defeated by a boss, it tells you the percentage chance that you have of winning that fight if your stats remain the same, encouraging you to grind for experience in order to boost your odds – a thought that's quickly diminished by the tedious search for elusive enemies. As such, it so often seems like taking your chances with a low chance of a win is the better option.
Elsewhere, the plot that drives you to explore the aforementioned towers and leeps you crawling through dungeons is very thin and poorly explained. Meanwhile, outside of the dungeons, there's a town map, but no real exploration to be had. Choosing a location in the town takes you to one of four places: the inn, the general store, the Machina Guild, or the Machina Factory. It's these places where you can heal, shop, undertake quests, and build new parts for your guardians, respectively. The latter two activities should have added another dimension to the game, but aren't executed particularly well and feel like afterthoughts instead of welcome additions. With quests there's not a lot of variation, and you'll be stuck repeating fetch quests for fairly poor reward, and in order to unlock crafting, you need to find various books in the dungeons. Both tasks seem like a pretty basic function of an RPG, and it speaks volumes that MeiQ does not execute them well.
MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is a prime example of a below par dungeon crawling RPG. Kinda fun in parts, if not a bit basic and simple, the title has nothing that offers a real challenge and nothing that demands your attention. While the game starts off well enough, very little is added throughout to hold your interest, and it's a struggle to remain enthused about the lacklustre plot and the title's repetitive nature.