Preview: MeiQ walks you through dungeon crawling

Stakes are high when the world is apparently at an end. In the world of MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death, everything has stopped. There’s no wind, animals and birds have disappeared, two moons appear in an eternal night sky and monsters are everywhere. The only solution is to send Machina Mages into Southern Cross’ labyrinths and have one of them rewind the world. It’s a daunting task, as each tower has a guardian at the end, and are filled with obstacles.

Fortunately for people coming into MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death, the game is engineered in such a way that it will gradually walk you through the first few experiences, ensuring you’re able to properly prepare your Machina Mages’ guardians, explore a tower’s labyrinth, fight monsters and handle any bosses that could stand in your way. My first few hours with the game were absent of any troubles, as I quickly and efficiently cleared the Black Tower.

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Dungeon-crawling in MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death will look familiar to anyone who’s ever encountered a first person labyrinth, like the ones seen in >i>Etrian Odyssey, Wizardry and the Shin Megami Tensei series. The map generates as you move, with icons for traps, doors, switches, elevators and chests appearing on them. Special landmarks, like healing springs and star monuments, have actual in-game objects alerting you to their presence. You have a range of vision, meaning you don’t have to be right on top of something for it to register and appear on the map. Especially helpful is an option to have Estra, your heroine, automatically turn and keep moving if you’re dashing while moving.

Every once in awhile, a random battle will occur. These happen rather infrequently in MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death’s Normal difficulty level and, from my experience in the Black Tower, at most two enemies will appear at a time. Players can have up to three duos in each battle, made up of a Machina Mage and her guardian. In the Black Tower, this is Estra and her earth-based mech. When her turn comes up, you can have either her robotic ally or her attack. As long as the mech is an active participant, it will shield the mage from all attacks. In this first area, the boss was the only opponent that took more than one hit to defeat.

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The Machina Mages’ guardians’ abilities are dictated by their equipment. At the outset, Estra’s earth guardian has one left skill and one right skill, as the base equipment isn’t all that powerful, and the body core makes defending possible. Additional parts from the Black Tower’s chests offers new options, like a Metal Sword, which adds Metal Sword and Flash Thrust abilities. Though, additional mech parts can also be forged with the proper materials and magic at the town’s Machina Factory.

Even MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death’s Machina Mages have their own sorts of customization options. Machina Mages’ spells aren’t tied to equipment, as they becomes more proficient and powerful as they levels up, but have seeds and gems that alter stats. Each one has an equipment cost that determines which seeds and gems she can equip, offering parameter bonus and determining her dominant elements. Estra is unique in that she also gets an additional form after completing each tower, offering a new trait that influences the entire party and adjusts her stats. She begins with a Central Form, with a Star Stick attack and Yellow Dragon Breath trait that increases the entire party’s attack by 10% and gets a Winter Form with a Black Parasol attack and Breath of Winter trait that boosts the party’s magical defense by 10%.

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Maybe the best indication that MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death was here to do all it could to help was a bit of dialogue that came up as Estra approached the Black Tower’s boss. Maki, one of the other Machina Mages, was waiting in front of the door. She’d failed to defeat Genbu, and when said she didn’t think I was ready for the fight either. I healed at the nearby spring, ignored her advice and fought Genbu. I lost. After reviving and saving in Southern Cross’ inn, I went back to that spot, gaining another two levels as I headed for the rematch. When I reached the door for the second time, Maki’s dialogue changed. This time, she said I “might” be ready. I handily beat Genbu.

I never felt like MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death was really testing me as I went through the Black Tower. This first labyrinth, with its infrequent enemy encounters, simple map and guiding voices, was a cakewalk. That isn’t a bad thing. RPGs can get complicated quickly, and this one takes its time easing you into the experience. This means you’ll be able to have time to experiment with mech builds and preparing yourself for bigger, badder dungeons.

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