Monday, September 5, 2016
MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death (PS VITA)
Idea Factory International, and Compile Heart bring to us yet another creative anime RPG with a unique twist. This time around it's a fresh take on the age old dungeon crawling formula set within the anime fantasy that is "MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death". The story, for those of you who are curious encompasses an unusual mythology where the world has ceased to function, and demons have begun taking over. To the rescue are a handful of busty (one not so busty) Machina Mages including Estra, Setia, Flare, Maki, and Connie who are each tasked with the duty of winding up the world key at the heart of four towers within the Southern Cross so that the world they live in will once again know peace and prosperity. The catch being that only one Machina Mage can wind the key, and in turn be granted the head position at their temple. Along with their mage skills these four young ladies of unusual elemental prowess are accompanied by Kaiju-like guardians who help them with the oppressive demon threat, and the dark Machina Mage known as Gagarin who is at the center of the dilemma. As the title suggests you, as Estra will be traversing various labyrinthine environments alongside her compatriots in the first person point of view as you do as the temple elder has ordered you to do. You'll take on guild quests, rest at the Star Wind Inn when need be, and shop at the temple merchants store for items that will benefit both you, and your party members. Guardians included, of course. While it all sounds simple combat within the multi-floor labyrinths is a little less so. Luckily past the flashy spectacle that is the anime intro the developer drops several tutorials that will have you understanding the game in no time.
It is a given that dungeon crawling, or the maze-like first-person exploration of labyrinths is one of the main focuses of "MeiQ". That however is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the accompanying combat, and character management included. While traversing one of four tower labyrinths within the Southern Cross (Black, Red, Yellow, Blue) beyond the game's story intro, and initial character conversation panels you'll be clued into the fact that you will not be going on your journey alone. As Estra, the main Machina Mage of the group you will team up with the other Machina Mages to a certain extent, and within your first labyrinth playthrough will gain the aid of a tower guardian which will assist you on your quest as well. Both Estra, and the assisting guardian have their functions, and importance within the turn based battles that are both random, and purposeful in nature within the game. Estra, like the other mages has the ability to attack, cast spells, defend, and even use items on behalf of herself, and her guardian partner. The catch is that Estra must remain alive in order for the guardian to be able to fight. When it comes to the guardian's role it functions as both a means of elemental attack, and defense separately. Each part of the guardian including the arms (right & left), the machina core, and the body have assigned attacks/defenses, an can be swapped out with found parts as well as purchased parts.
When it comes to Estra, her guardian or any of the other two party pairings (one character + one guardian = 1 pair) elemental affinity plays a key role in their effectiveness, or lack thereof. By this I mean the game's five base elements including Wood, Metal, Water, Fire, and Wind each have a weakness, and strength among themselves. Using the affinity effectiveness listing which is detailed in one of the early tutorials will help you to do the max damage, and perform the best within the towers, and labyrinth battles that you encounter. That being said the way you go about a battle also makes a huge difference in the outcome of your intended playthrough. Within the turn based battles you can swap between a character like Estra, and their paired guardian to contribute to the fight or assist in the aid of the character or the guardian through both means. By pressing "TRIANGLE" on your turn you will swap roles in the battle, and bring up a specific menu of options tied to either Estra, or her guardian. Estra, as I've said has the ability to dish out attacks, defend, cast spells, or use items. Some of her spells, and items can be used to heal her, and the guardian among other things. The guardian on the other hand uses spells, or elemental attacks tied to it's equipment (Machina Core, Body, Arms). These parts can be swapped out, and enhanced using looted treasure items, or purchased items.
Unique to both Estra, and her guardian are magic crystals, and seeds. Seeds allow Estra to enhance her joint relationship with her guardian through stat boosts, or additional functions. Compatibility with seeds in particular is measured both through menu stats, and a compatibility wheel where red numbers are the positive results you'll be looking for. As far as magic crystals go they too can aid in Estra's, and her guardian's pairing. By equipping them the guardian will gain similar attribute perks as Estra does with the seeds. Effectively making the guardian more suitable for certain combat scenarios.
Combat, as it were comes both in the random labyrinth encounters (think FF7), and intended boss fights with guardians which once defeated will accompany you to the end of the game. In combat, whether random or not Estra, her guardian, and her other partnered friends will take turns attacking, defending, and using items in a way that is beneficial for the entire party. At least that's the way it should be done. You definitely want to outlast the enemy, but at the same time want to keep your main characters alive. Guardians, while good for damage cannot function without their Machina Mage.
Exploring Labyrinths, and getting to the point where you participate in said battles is a fairly straightforward task. You will be using a map as your guide (left thumbstick to change map size) within the multiple floor mazes found within each of the Southern Cross towers. Along with the map's markings you'll work your way to various points of interest including elevators, warps, and doors as you make your way to a top, or basement floor where that tower's guardian awaits. It's a rinse, and repeat sort of cycle that is made different through the types of enemies you encounter, and the environmental structures that you encounter. Your ultimate goal being that of besting the Machina Mage of Darkness and his minions while making your way to the world key so that you can wind it.
Beyond that you can engage in guild tasks which once completed reward you with items, in-game currency, and aether. Earned experience, currency, and aether can also be obtained from successfully completed battles. Speaking of aether you'll be using this gained material along with some other materials to craft guardian parts in the game's smithing menu. The parts crafted in this manner can be equipped in the same manner as bought, our found guardian equipment ...
Graphically the visual journey that is "MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death" is one that is unlike previous IFI releases. It does not conform to the likes of Neptunia, or any of those previously released games that stick to a similar presentation. The character design is noticeably different, and the characters a little more sexy than usual. Their design is accented by good English voice-overs (I think there's Japanese as well?), and a soundtrack that is akin to the more retro anime. It definitely has a charming atmosphere about it that is quite magical. I'd say the game's shining accomplishment is the animated character conversation panels which feature anime inspired depictions of each of the Machina Mages, and those other individuals who contribute to the story from time to time. As far as the environments go they are a bit repetitive, and bland compared the 3D character models, and character panel art. That being said it's not too bad.
For those of you looking for extras you'll find that all the items, and enemies you encounter within the game can be viewed within the game's library. Not only is this a bestiary intended for reference, but it helps you better understand the enemies that you face, and have faced in combat. Even the guardian parts are listed for reference purposes. I think outside of all of these things one of the neatest features is the ability to save while in a dungeon. By bringing up the "TRIANGLE" menu outside of combat you will find this option listed, and can save the game where you are within the labyrinth. This is good for when you are about to enter a boss battle, and want to take a break before dedicating to the fight. Aside from that there's also battle shortcuts which make the fights less tedious. By pressing "Right Shoulder" after doing a guardian attack you will use said attack without having to use the guardian's part menu. You can also press "X" during battle to speed things up if you don't want to watch the attack animations play out. Before I forget let me also mention the fact that you can name the guardians as you see fit. In the end it's these little tidbits that help to flesh out the otherwise straightforward experience.
The Verdict ...
MeiQ isn't really all that complicated. I think that's why I fell in love with it. It's not like traditional dungeon crawlers with extremely difficult battles, and complex management menus. It instead eases you into the game gradually, and allows you to manage things with ease. Not only that, but it is obvious from the start that the developer wanted the Machina Mage gals to be the main focus, and in that sense they succeeded exceedingly. While some might complain about the repetitive labyrinths, and battles said character focus really outshines any of it. The character interactions, the story that unfolds as you fight your way to find the key, and amazing soundtrack really come together in a way that draws you back in. Even the odd turn based character, and combat system works quite nicely to effectively draw the player back into the battles. It's something new, and not something a lot of you will be accustom to. With that having been said I feel this may be a little more niche than most IFI releases. With it being a dungeon crawler, and not the traditional Neptunia experience it may or may not entice some of you. If, however you like charming characters with quirky personalities I think you may enjoy it. Just know it isn't really too deep in regards to gameplay, and that things do get repetitive to a point. For those of you wondering about price I'm fairly certain you can buy MeiQ at the usual $39.99 price mark. There may or may not be a collector's edition. MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is scheduled for relaese on the 13th of this month!