The PlayStation Vita is a lot like the PlayStation Portable; it has become a haven for all sorts of JRPGs. This has its benefits, as it means there’s always something for someone who likes that particular sort of game to play. It also means we can become inundated, keeping certain titles that are more than adequate from standing out. MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death reminds me a lot of Hexyz Force on the PlayStation Portable. Both are absolutely fine JRPGs that fans of the genre will likely enjoy, despite their faults, but they’re releasing at a point where the library is packed and they won’t stand out. Or, if they do, it’ll be for the wrong reasons.
The world has pretty much stopped. There’s no transition from night to day, leaving everyone trapped in an eternal night. Monsters are gathering around towns. Even natural elements, like wind, have taken a break from doing that thing they’re supposed to do. As part of the natural cycle of things, a Machina Mage must get the blessings of Deities from four towers, then descend into a labyrinth below Southern Cross city to turn the Planet Key to get things going again.
MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is a JRPG, which means that task of saving the world falls to a young woman who appears to be the most ill-suited candidate.
MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is a JRPG, which means that task of saving the world falls to a young woman who appears to be the most ill-suited candidate. Estra is one of five Machina Mages chosen to undertake this task. She knows little about big city living and is unfamiliar with optimal dungeon delving, yet naturally finds herself in the perfect position to be some sort of savior. She not only wins over her fellow Machina Mages, women with whom she’s supposed to be competing, but seems to be more than capable of standing against people who seem like they want the world to stay the way it is.
This means you start with a party of two characters, eventually building up to six. Each pair acts as a duo, with a Guardian that (hopefully) takes all the damage and deals attacks and a Machina Mage that can occasionally swap in to perform a spell or two to heal a Guardian or person or deal massive damage to an enemy. It’s a turn-based affair where you want to keep the Guardians functional as long as possible, because the mages are strong in terms of attacks, but weak when faced with an actual threat. Not that failure is the worst. It means you get tossed out of the dungeon. But, it is an inconvenience.
Fanservice overshadows most things in MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death. It isn’t handled in a way that makes the characters more attractive or adventure more scintillating. Rather, it’s like the fanservice is embodied by two elephants in the room. We’ll call them the EEs for short. The EEs are constantly there, in the same position, occasionally awkwardly moving when the characters breathe. Every heroine, save one, is accompanied by these EEs. The same goes for every female NPC or antagonist. They aren’t presented in a way to encourage or hint at “scandals,” as in Senran Kagura. It isn’t tasteful or distasteful and adds nothing to the experience. It is there and probably shouldn’t be.
Especially since its presence detracts from an actually worthwhile mechanic. Our main heroine, Estra, can earn new forms in dungeons, changing her costume. Each outfit provides elemental bonuses, changes her attack, offers a bonus trait that alters the entire party’s stats and tweaks her guardian’s abilities. These outfits even level up as you use them, becoming more potent and powerful. But, instead of being able to focus on the good they do, the ever present EEs make it all about how much skin we see.
MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is a very easy JRPG; it is a pushover at its normal difficulty level.
Thankfully, such pandering is largely absent in MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death’s other customizable highlight, the Machina Mages’ guardians. But then again, you could also consider this part catering to the mech fandom. Each of these machines has a core, body and two arms. Their equipment determines their possible attacks and capabilities. For example, the core can equip magic stones. I have one in Estra’s Earth Guardian that allows it to attack between one and four times on its turn with one of its available skills. Arms can have multiple skills, with varying combo and critical rates. If your Guardian’s magical attack is high, you can outfit it with parts that only depend on that stat. These parts can be bought, found in dungeons or forged from items dropped by enemies. It’s probably the best part of the game.
Though, acquiring those enemy drops isn’t as much fun. MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is a very easy JRPG; it is a pushover at its normal difficulty level. However, part of this stems from an obscenely low encounter rate. On a good run, I can get through a massive, at least 30×30 grid labyrinth floor and only deal with three encounters. Combine that with most encounters only having one or two enemies, and it’s all rather crazy. You aren’t getting the opportunity to properly grind for both levels and parts. This is to your detriment, as the game flat out tells you if you’re going to be able to beat a boss once you approach it. Which leads to backtracking, hoping for enough encounters to at least let you meet the minimum.
There’s really only one good kind of backtracking in MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death, and that’s the story-prompted sort. The earliest example comes in the Red Tower; it’s the fire dungeon. After an antagonistic thief and her cohort result in a sensor being tripped, pillars of fire appear throughout the floor. Two of the other Machina Mages, Flare and Connie, find themselves trapped in an alcove behind one of these pillars. Estra has to backtrack to the basement of the Black Tower, defeat another boss and then return to set them free. It’s a helpful way to encourage people to replay a portion of the game they’d probably never return to otherwise.
MeiQ: Labryrinth of Death isn’t a bad game, but I’m convinced it is one that will be remembered for all of the wrong reasons. Five years from now, people aren’t going to fondly reminisce about the guardian customization. They’re going to remember the skimpy outfits all of the girls wore that barely, just barely, covered their most private parts. They won’t remember a game that offered dungeons that encouraged backtracking and exploration, only uneven encounter rates that let you breeze through and reach important miniboss and boss battles at far lower levels than advised. Its unevenness is its undoing.