Dungeon Crawlers are not strangers to the PlayStation Vita, as the genre had a lot of appearances over the years. The heavily polished title Demons Gaze, interest adventure that was Dungeon Travelers 2 and the beautifully animated Ray Gigant all demonstrate the genre being successful on the platform.
Idea Factory dives into the Dungeon Crawler genre on the Vita with MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death with some creative battle mechanics, charming story and slick presentation. But does the game offer a fun, polished experience like other DRPG’s on the Vita platform?
The story opens with our main character Estra meeting other Machina Mages, who are powerful woman with the ability to use special magic and take command of lumbering guardians. Told by important figure Elder, Estra and the other mages are tasked with the goal of defeating each of the guardians of the four towers and complete a special ceremony that will save the world.
What makes the story enjoyable is the colorful cast of characters. Estra is bubbly and full of energy, being friendly with her fellow mages. Maki is the calm and collected mage who is the first to join Estra on her journey to save the world and Flare is the hot tempered mage that warms up to Estra over time. The rest of the cast is fleshed out as the game progresses, with events happening as you explore the many floors of the four colored towers.
I laughed at some of the events during the story and it was helped by a strong voice cast. I played the game in English but it offers Japanese Voice Acting for those who do not like the dub. Having many familiar voices from the Neptunia games which is also developed by Idea Factory, the English Voice Cast work well with this localized script.
The character of Estra stood out the most, as she is ready to take action when needed but is more than willing to share her impressions on what is happening around her. Another touch I enjoyed about the story is that the dialog (in both English and Japanese) is lip-synced with the animated portraits during cut-scenes. It is a detail that shows a high level of polish across the games presentation.
Side characters get introduced as you play through the game and they added to the experience. A Team Rocket like team that keeps butting in during your dungeon exploration or rival set of Dark Mages trying to halt your progress are some examples of solid side characters.
Overall I enjoyed the story of this game and felt that while it could have been more serious at points, it does a great job defining each of the games characters all the while ensuring the presentation of the story is consistent across the game.
Gameplay & Design
The game is split up into different chapters that you complete, with the chapters having you visit the four towers that you need to clear. Before you head into the towers, you are offered the ability rest up at the local Inn to save your progress and restore lost health for your party. You can also visit a shop to get items for healing or for your guardian, go into the Church to get quests to complete and a Blacksmith that allows you to create new parts for your guardians.
Once you are all set, you can then head into one of the four towers and explore the many floors they provide. They seem simple at first, with the first tower (Black Tower) having basic design for the first few floors but once you go into the Red Tower, things get more tricky. You have to avoid the sight of dragon statues or get trapped in a fight and backtrack to a new part of the Black Tower in an effort to find a special item to unblock your path in the Red Tower. That is just one example of inventive dungeon design, as a special floor of the Black Dungeon introduces Ice Floors that has you sliding all over the place, making it a puzzle in simply exploring.
This kind of level design keeps ramping up as you explore the other towers, giving the dungeons a lot of depth to them. But the core gameplay isn’t just moving around in dungeons, you duke it out in battle as well. When you go into battle, you unleash your Guardians and with a team of three mages, start combat. Each character can use melee attacks, items or magic while the Guardians are stuck using the abilities linked to equipped arms which you get across the game (finding them, buying new ones or forging them inside the Blacksmith).
You swap between the Mages and Guardians with the Triangle button, but only one can use an ability in battle. This creates a level of strategy; do you use powerful magic abilities that can attack all the enemies at once or do you stick your guardians and avoid taking a lot of damage for the mages. Though this tag-team system, battles are intense.
Later bosses and mini-bosses unleash a lot of damage, causing you to be very careful with how you set up your party for battle. Boss fights are a great example of the battle system coming alive, as you will fighting them often if you are lower leveled. You learn the pattern of each boss and when you take them out, it is such a good feeling. More so from the fact once you defeat a Guardian, they are yours for the rest of the game. Meaning you can equip them to one of your party members, giving you a new set of moves/abilities to mess around with.
The battle system has issues though, as trying to forge parts for your Guardians is tricky at first but once you get more resources and recipes, it makes getting your Guardians set for battle easier. Battles also have some great quality of life elements that streamline the experience; the R Button making you do the same move again or holding down the X button making battle animations faster.
I enjoyed the gameplay and design elements of this title quite a bit, as everything felt streamless and natural despite a few issues regarding forging parts for your Guardians.
This game offers a lot of content, with each chapter taking a long while to complete. In addition, finding the different Guardian parts makes exploration for each Tower longer compounded by a goal of fully completing floor maps and opening every chest in a tower. You also have extra Guardians to fight for each tower after you defeat the main one. They are harder and more challenging but once you beat them, you can put them in your party.
It is another incentive to go back to Towers you completed in order to get these very powerful allies on your side.
MeiQ is a nice looking title, with the character designs being quite colorful and the cut-scenes have nicely animated character stills. As mentioned in the Story portion of this review, the cut-scenes have lip-syncing with the character stills which helps make the characters feel a bit more realistic despite the anime-esc art style.
The art work for the game is also well done, matching the bright colors the cast shows off. 3D Assets for this title are polished as well, with the different Towers having unique themes that look nice on the Vita’s screen. Battles are in full 3D and they run at a stable 30FPS at native resolution.
Musically this game is great, with each Tower having it’s own special theme. The White Tower has this ‘magical’ feel with it’s musical track while the Red Tower has this booming score that builds up the longer you are inside it. The music is also quite varied, with the Battle Theme having a very heavy rock sound that gets you pumped for battle while the track titled Lovely Twinkle uses a nice mixture of instruments to create a very happy sounding track. My personal favorite track is the relaxing and tranquil tune of the Black Tower which creates this otherworldly vibe through nice mixture of piano and flutes; you feel at peace while exploring your first major challenge.
Overall the presentation in this game is very solid and I enjoyed it a lot.
Story – 4 out of 5 / Gameplay & Design – 4 out of 5 / Lasting Appeal – 4.5 out of 5 / Presentation – 4.5 out of 5
MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death provides Vita owners with a solid and well done Dungeon Role Playing Adventure that has high production values, solid gameplay mechanics and a charming story with well realized characters. While some issues might pop up early in the game with trying to craft parts for your Guardians, the game overall has few problems holding it back. I enjoyed my time greatly with this title and recommend it to all fans of role playing games on the PS Vita.
Overall Score: 4 out of 5
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita with a review copy provided by Idea Factory International. All music linked and cited is owned under the trademarks of Idea Factory & Idea Factory International. You can play MeiQ right now on your PS Vita in both NA & EU. This title is also playable on the PlayStation TV platform.