The MoeGamer Awards are a series of made-up prizes that give me an excuse to celebrate games, concepts and communities I’ve particularly appreciated over the course of 2017. Find out more and suggest some categories here!
Today’s category comes to us from SoriasSire, who left some great ideas in the comments of this post just like you (yes, you!) should go and do right now. SoriasSire is also a longtime supporter of the site and Japanese gaming in general, so a hearty thank-you for your ongoing support!
It’s a popular misconception among people who don’t know any better (or do any research) that we have a shortage of badass female lead characters in video games, but nothing could be further from the truth — particularly in Japanese gaming. This award aims to celebrate an awesome example of an all-female ensemble cast that we’ve explored over the course of 2017.
And the winner is…
MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death
It will doubtless come as no surprise that a Compile Heart game takes this award, as this is a developer that has proven itself over the course of the last couple of console generations to have a solid grasp of how to create appealing female characters that appeal to a broad audience. Its flagship series Hyperdimension Neptunia is an all-girl affair that has grown to cult classic status since its launch in 2010, but don’t sleep on some of the team’s lesser-known titles, like MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death.
MeiQ is an interesting game in that it’s a dungeon crawler that isn’t designed to be brutally difficult, at least not on your first playthrough. Rather, it’s designed to be friendly and accessible for newcomers while retaining the subgenre’s typical endgame challenges and strong degree of customisation.
A big part of what gives MeiQ such a friendly face up front is the fact that it involves a fixed cast of lead characters rather than allowing the player to create their own fully customised but voiceless party. We join the story with the somewhat ditzy Estra, who acts as the main protagonist and helps introduce us to the setting of the story, then as the game progresses through its various challenges we meet four other girls, each of whom have their own distinct personalities and ways of looking at the world.
A real highlight of the MeiQ experience as a whole is how these characters interact with one another both between and during their adventures. The characters are written in such a way that they retain an appealing degree of femininity about them while still obviously being highly capable young women who have been chosen for their grand purpose with very good reason.
There’s a particularly appealing scene late in the game, for example, where the character Maki, who lives in the town the game is set in rather than coming from afar as the others have, expresses frustration that she doesn’t get the chance to hang out in the local inn with the other girls. Since the girls have developed a pretty strong bond of friendship with one another by this point, there’s no hesitation in the rest of them suggesting that she should just come and have a sleepover with them before their next adventure — an invitation which Maki graciously accepts. This whole exchange is made all the more heartwarming by the fact that, up until this point, Maki has typically been the most responsible and “motherly” member of the group, so to see her expressing some selfish desires for once is rather nice.
The friendship between the girls doesn’t come about straight away, mind you. Much of the first part of the game is spent with Estra dealing with the other girls as rivals rather than comrades; everyone, it seems, is initially keen to obtain glory for themselves, but each of them discover in their own way that going it alone is rarely the best way to handle things. The rather one-way rivalry between Estra and Flare is a particular highlight of this, for example; the fiery tsundere personality of Flare makes her an intimidating opponent, but Estra repeatedly beats her without breaking a sweat, only making Flare more determined to prove her worth the next time they meet. After a while, Estra is expecting Flare to jump her almost immediately after she enters a new dungeon.
The most obvious scene of close friendship in the game comes later in the game where the group as a whole becomes trapped in a room filling with poison gas, with seemingly no means of escape. As tends to happen in such seemingly hopeless situations, many of the characters take the opportunity to share their true feelings for one another at this point, including the typically rather standoffish Flare. Of course, cliché dictates that the group will find themselves getting out of this situation at the last possible moment, leaving everyone a little embarrassed about how much they had opened up to one another — particularly if it’s not something they normally do.
While MeiQ only allows you to use three party members at once out of the available five, there are plenty of good incentives to make use of all of the characters over the course of your adventure. In particular, a strong emphasis on elemental affinities encourages you to mix things up with each dungeon, which tends to primarily be themed around a particular element. The characters also have unique skills such as healing, repairing the mechanical Guardians or providing boosts to their companions so there’s no one “best” party to take on the game’s challenges with.
MeiQ is a fun, accessible adventure with plenty of depth and longevity for those willing to take the time to explore its late-game challenges and indulge in some higher difficulty replays. Its mechanics and customisation are solid, but its all-girl central cast and the delightful way in which they are depicted throughout makes up a core part of the game’s appeal.
It may not be the best or the most complex DRPG ever created, but it’s certainly a very enjoyable time — and proof if proof were needed that it is indeed possible to Save the World with Only Girls.
More about MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death
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