MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is developer Compile Heart’s latest project which is far better than Trillion: God of Destruction, but not quite as good as their flagship Hyperdimension Neptunia series and their console exclusive JRPG’s.
MeiQ follows a group of five girls, known as the Machina Mages, as they’re given a very important mission – to wind the Planet Key to bring the world out of eternal darkness. You take control as character Estra, an upbeat, optimistic girl who would rather work with the other girls as a team whilst they all want to go it alone and act as if it’s a competition, because only one girl can reach the end and wind the Planet Key. So not only are you battling against time, you’re battling against the other 4 girls who are working towards being the most successful Machina Mage – of course, as you may have been able to tell from the art, the situation isn’t treated quite as direly as you’d think it might be!
Being a first-person dungeon-crawler, you might already expect how this will play, especially as there’s a fair few games in the genre available on Vita! You traverse dungeons in first-person where you’re looking for stairs to take you to the top of that tower (you have to travel through four large towers, each assigned a different colour) where a guardian will be waiting to test your worth. There’s an elevator that takes you to each level once you’ve visited it. The gameplay is turn-based and sees you take control of Estra, eventually other Machina Mages, and their guardians – guardians are robot-like allies. Your Machina Mage can attack but I found them to be most useful to heal their guardian, who is better on offence, and to make use of the abilities your guardian has in battle.
There’s a customisation system that sees you change parts of your guardian such as their arms, and fit them with new ones which will have different abilities that will work better against certain enemies – you can change both to different ones, too, so you could have one arm which specialises in ice attacks whilst the other one specialises in fire. With elements being introduced, every element has a weakness so you’ll want to keep this in mind to protect your guardian as well as take your enemies down as quickly as possible.
Compile Heart tend to have great character designs but I felt like their art fell a bit flat with MeiQ, with characters feeling much more static than in the developer’s other titles and something about them felt off to me – it could be the shadowing or how the mouths sometimes set, but I’m not a huge fan of them. I don’t think they’re bad by any means, just I’ve come to expect more from Compile Heart. The towers are pretty standard fare but, unlike multiple first-person dungeon-crawlers I’ve played, I felt that this one made more of an effort to make the dungeons themselves more exciting visually rather than just constantly re-using assets across each floor and each room.
You can play in English or Japanese, and I always appreciate the option, but I chose English as I so often do. I enjoyed the English Dub and the voices fit the characters well, but the characters aren’t particularly fleshed-out so the voice-actors and actresses can only work with so much where script is concerned – they did great, but weren’t able to give memorable performances all things considered. The music is alright but again, I’ve come to expect more from a Compile Heart title and it’s increasingly becoming clear that their handheld exclusives have a far tighter budget than their console games/cross-platform games do.
MeiQ, Labyrinth of Death is a mechanically solid game that delightfully plods along although it doesn’t have much in the way of depth. If you’re a Compile Heart fan then it’s an easy recommendation, but there are plenty of Japanese games on Vita I would recommend before I’d ever get round to recommending this one. Compile Heart seem to be experimenting on Vita and it’s certainly hit or miss, but MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is more of the former than the latter, thankfully. If it’s something you’re actively interested in, then chances are you’ll enjoy it.