Tuesday, September 13, 2016

MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death (Nathan Green)

Labyrinth of Lost Potential

Video-games and ideas go hand in hand. Some of the most memorable and treasured video games of all time were the games that pushed the innovative concepts that at the time many people thought were some sort of pipe dream. Chances are if I said the words “3D Platformer” the first game that would come to your mind is Super Mario 64 for how it pioneered the invention of analog control in video games as well as bringing the 3D platformer to the forefront of the gaming industry at the time. Generally its innovative ideas that will separate an average or good game from an excellent one.
With that being said a game can have all the good ideas it wants but if it doesn’t do anything with them then it just amounts to wasted potential. If there is anything No Mans Sky has taught us, it’s that the execution of an idea matters just as much as the idea itself.
So what happens when you take a game that has good ideas and just doesn’t do anything with them? Well you get something like MeiQ Labyrinth of Death.
So MeiQ’s story is… Simple to say the least. You play as Estra, a Machina mage who is called along with 4 other Machina mages to basically restart the very world under your feet by quite literally winding it back up.
Now I already hear you asking “What’s a Machina Mage?”. Well the game never quite explicitly explains what they are but in essence they are Mages who can use a special form of magic called Machina Magic and command giant mechanical looking guardians.
Anyway to restart the planet you are told you have to go through 4 towers in order to get access to a fifth, final area which is where the key to rewind the world is found. It’s a simple concept with simple characters. That is until you read into it a bit.
So throughout the game you find little booklet type things lying around in dungeons which talk a little about the games world. The most interesting of these booklets that you find in the first dungeon actually tells us that Machina magic in fact, isn’t magic in the traditional sense but instead is magic that uses tiny nanomachines. Yes, really. What I found interesting here is upon looking up the word Machina on the internet I found that translated literally Machina means Machine. So Machina magic is technically Machine Magic.
Now that sounds pretty cool. I was interested in what the game had to offer in that department and was looking forward to what the story would have in store for me… The answer as I found out later on, was nothing.
This is a common theme you’ll be seeing in MeiQ. As a game it has a lot of good ideas which it does make known but the game just doesn’t do anything with them. Ideas are all fine and dandy but if a game doesn’t actually do anything with that plot device then it really shouldn’t have been put in there in the first place.
The sad part is that these ideas sound excellent on paper and the revelation of the nanomachine thing caught me completely off guard. It’s a game which knows how to get its players interested in its narrative but it doesn’t know what to do once they are interested and it’s a damn shame. The story in general kicks off interestingly enough but it just grinds to a screeching halt very quickly and decides to go the cliché save the world route instead. It’s like the developers decided in the early stages of development to just go the lazy route and then forgot to remove all the ideas they had originally that were never going to be used and because of this I couldn’t help but think of what MeiQ could have been if they had expanded on those plot devices.

Sadly MeiQ’s list of good ideas with wonky execution don’t end with the story. Gameplay wise MeiQ is a traditional dungeon crawler. You explore a dungeon in first person, fight monsters in random encounters and gain experience points in order to level up.
Now while the overworld exploration is incredibly basic and, dare I say kinda boring the battle system is a little more interesting.
So here’s how battles work. By default you don’t control the Machina Mages themselves but instead you control their guardians which are basically giant robots which are specifically designed to beat things into a pulp. Unlike your average dungeon crawler these guardians have their own set of attacks which change depending on what parts you equip. For example I could equip a sword on one arm and a fist on the other arm and I would get sword specific attacks on the sword arm and punch specific attacks on the fist arm. It’s a simple system which is easy to get to grips with.
You can also control your Machina Mage directly which allows for a more traditional style of fighting that you would see in other dungeon crawlers. One thing of note is that most of the time enemies will attack the guardian first and not your Mage and because the guardian has a separate HP bar to the Mage it means you can usually leave your guardian on the forefront 99% of the time to deal with enemies.
Now here’s where the problems start. Firstly, you are able to get extremely overpowered extremely quickly in MeiQ which negates almost all challenge you may end up running into. What this results in is most battles simply boil down to hitting the enemy once or twice for you to win. As a result of this dungeon exploring in general becomes incredibly tedious with the monsters serving as more of a minor nuisance than an actual threat. This is made even more apparent by the fact that the game actually gives you a button to repeat the same actions that you did previously in battle. Sure it’s convenient but it means that most of the dungeons boil down to trying to find the stairs while pressing R a few dozen times to get rid of whatever small fry enemies there are that you run into.
Thankfully the encounter rate in the game is surprisingly low especially for a dungeon crawler but that still doesn’t rectify the fact that battling is a boring and tedious experience which for an RPG is not ideal in the slightest.
Outside of the main quest there are also side quests you can take which usually involve backtracking to a previous tower to find and kill an enemy that drops a specific item.
These quests SUCK. Oh my goodness do they suck big time. Most of the time you’ll be spending more time trying to get the damn enemy you need to kill to spawn than you will actually fighting said enemy! One of the first quests in the game involves you having to locate an item called the “killer crab scissor”. This mission took me around 2 hours to complete and most of that was spent trying to get a killer crab to spawn in the first place which is made even more of a chore due to the games surprisingly low encounter rate.

Thankfully the quests are optional but if you’re one of those people who likes to complete every side quest in a game then MeiQ will have you tearing your hair out at points, not because of difficulty but because of tedium.
There are a few other gameplay bits and pieces lying about such as a basic pokemon like elemental strength and weakness system along with Machina Mage “forms”. These forms are probably the most poorly implemented part of MeiQ because while these forms do indeed level up the game never actually tells you HOW you level these forms up. This is something I have discussed with other people who have been reviewing the game and none of us can figure out how exactly these forms are supposed to level up. It’s like the developers left it in the game and then completely forgot about it until the last minute.
In general, MeiQ suffers from honestly very bland gameplay. It’s the bare bones basics of dungeon crawler gameplay and the few ideas it does try are sadly poorly executed despite being clever ideas on paper.

Graphics and Sound:
On the flipside the game does at least have one thing going for it and that is the presentation. MeiQ’s visuals are bright and vibrant especially if you’re playing it on an OLED edition Vita. The character art is very well done and is even lip synced to both the Japanese and English audio tracks depending on which one you select.
Really my only complaint about the graphics is that sometimes they’re a little “too” pretty which is something that became a major problem once I entered the second dungeon. Compared to the first dungeon the second dungeon is very large with lots more open space which is made quite a bit harder to navigate by the fact that it’s hard to see where you’re actually going due to the high amounts of fire and smoke effects. Sure they look pretty but in practice they simply end up getting in the way which makes me resort to having to navigate almost exclusively using the Map which is a bit irritating.
Sound wise MeiQ has a surprisingly good OST attached to it. It offers a very interesting mix between ambient, rock and electronic genres which surprisingly works pretty well for the most part. The one gripe I have however is some music tracks feel more out of place than others and the battle theme itself is rather forgettable and can get kind of irritating after a while (the boss battle theme on the other hand is excellent and one of my favorite tracks in the whole game).
MeiQ does include both an English dub and the original Japanese dub and if I were to recommend one I would have to pick the Japanese Dub by an absolute landslide. The English dub is okish but some characters in the English dub have voices akin to nails down a chalkboard (looking at you Connie). From a company like idea factory who are usually pretty good with English Dubs I really expected a bit better than what we actually got.

MeiQ is a classic story of great ideas being ruined by poor execution. It’s a damn shame, because the potential for MeiQ to be a great and memorable experience was certainly there. If MeiQ had maybe had a little more time in development, I could see myself saying very different things. Unfortunately as of right now, MeiQ is a very difficult game for me to recommend.
If you like dungeon crawlers then you’ll probably still like MeiQ despite the flaws it has but if you aren’t a gigantic dungeon crawling fan then I’d steer well clear of MeiQ. There are far better Dungeon-Crawlers out there for your money which makes MeiQ a hard sell to anyone but the most dedicated Dungeon-Crawler lover.

MeiQ Labyrinth of Death Gets a Not Recommended.

This has been an exciting year for the Vita with a gigantic swarm of games rolling out for the little handheld and there is still more to come. I don’t quite know when my next review will be but I can assure you that you’ll be seeing a few more reviews from me before the new year rolls around. For now though this is BDVR Author Nathan Green signing off.

MeiQ Labyrinth of Death will be releasing on September 13th in North America and September 16th in Europe (excluding Oceania)

PEGI: 12
OFLC: Well let’s just get onto that quickly.
A quick note about the OFLC rating for MeiQ. Technically the game has been Refused Classification in Australia and is therefore banned in the country. Don’t ask me why (I’d chalk it up to the Australian Rating board being overly sensitive) but if you live in Oceania then you’ll have to either import the game or buy it off the US PlayStation Network. As for New Zealand the game wasn’t actually submit for rating here after that refusal of classification (for unknown reasons) so the game is not available to buy here either off PSN. However, websites such as MightyApe are listing it for sale online in physical form so you should have overall an easier time getting ahold of a copy if you really want to. 

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Game provided for review by Idea Factory. Cover image provided by Idea Factory.