Dungeon crawlers aren’t historically associated with having particularly strong stories, perhaps largely due to their origins as mechanics-heavy games with player-created parties.
A number of recent Japanese takes on the subgenre — including, among others, Demon Gaze, Operation Abyss and Dungeon Travelers 2 — have proven it is possible to blend mechanically sound, deeply absorbing dungeon crawling with a strong sense of narrative, however.
MeiQ is the latest game to follow this trend, featuring an imaginative steampunk-cum-sci-fi tale revolving around a strong, all-female central cast of characters.
Continue reading MeiQ: Narrative, Themes and Characterisation
A good dungeon crawler has two aspects it has to nail in order to be successful: combat and exploration.
Japanese takes on the genre often tend to incorporate a strong sense of narrative and characterisation to the experience, too — and certainly MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is no exception to this — but at its core, a dungeon crawler is about 1) navigating your way through a series of increasingly complicated mazes, and 2) kicking the snot out of any monsters who appear to block your path.
We’ve already talked about MeiQ’s interesting and unconventional combat, progression and equipment mechanics. So now let’s take a closer look at its approach to dungeon design.
Continue reading MeiQ: Building a Better Dungeon
By attempting to provide an accessible dungeon crawler experience, MeiQ has put itself in an interesting position.
Too much mechanical depth and it will alienate the very people it’s hoping to attract. But not enough depth and the hardcore gridder enthusiasts will tire of it long before things get interesting. How to approach this, then?
Through a combination of approaches, as it happens, and the result is both effective at what it does and surprisingly distinct in a subgenre that is sometimes accused of taking a bit of a “cookie-cutter” approach.
Let’s take a look at the game’s mechanics in more detail.
Continue reading MeiQ: Girls and Guardians
First-person, grid-based dungeon crawlers have, over the years, become the place to go for those who like hardcore, mechanics-driven, combat- and exploration-centric role-playing games.
Often de-emphasising narrative in favour of deep customisation, challenging encounters and devious level design, the dungeon crawler has gone from strength to strength over the last few years in particular, but also remains a subgenre that is notoriously difficult to get into.
Its with this in mind that Idea Factory and Compile Heart developed MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death (or Death Under the Labyrinth as it was known in Japan) — it’s designed to be accessible and enjoyable even to newcomers, yet incorporate the elements of the genre that longstanding fans enjoy so much. And it’s very successful at what it does.
So how did we get here?
Continue reading MeiQ: Introduction and History
Writing for The Atlantic, academic and media commentator Ian Bogost put forth the rather bold claim that “video games are better without stories” and asked “film, television and literature all tell them better, so why are games still obsessed with narrative?”
This is an interesting question to ponder in light of any discussion of video games, but it’s a particularly pertinent discussion to have when we’re considering something as ambitious and audacious as Nier: Automata — a game which not only tells a compelling story, it tells it in an incredibly fascinating way.
Bogost’s article meanders around the point somewhat, but ultimately seems to come to the conclusion that purely environmental storytelling — be it through the use of audiologs, a la BioShock, or less explicitly through the environment itself, as in “walking simulators” such as Gone Home — is not a particularly effective approach to presenting an interactive narrative, though it can provide an interesting playground for a player to explore.
And he’s not really wrong in this regard… apart from the fact that it’s only in relatively rare cases that a game exclusively relies on this approach.
Continue reading Nier Automata: A Game Better With — And Because Of — Its Narrative
Nier creator Taro Yoko is particularly fascinated with death: not only the concept itself, but also how different people respond to it.
Yoko’s interest in the subject, as we’ve previously discussed, stems from a traumatic experience in his youth when he witnessed the accidental, easily avoidable death of a friend and discovered, to his surprise, that there was something oddly humorous in the moment as well as it being horrifying. Someone’s existence had come to a premature end, yes, but there was something fundamentally ridiculous about how it had happened; how sudden it was; and how everyone was powerless in the moment to prevent it from happening.
The inherent ridiculousness of death — particularly accidental death — is something that gamers have been familiar with for many years. And so what better medium through which to explore the concept itself — and what better characters to do so with than those that can’t die through conventional means?
Continue reading Nier Automata: Narrative, Themes and Characterisation
Nier creator Taro Yoko has some strong opinions about how to keep games interesting.
Last time, we heard how he felt that modern triple-A games were often fun for the first twenty minutes, but that he often became concerned these initially impressive titles would become tiresome after twenty or more hours. It was this mindset that caused him to design the original Nier with so many unusual features to it, and many of these — and more — have carried across to Nier: Automata.
Today, then, we’ll take a look at Nier: Automata’s mechanical aspects — and how Yoko’s collaboration with Platinum Games has helped him to realise his vision better than ever before.
Continue reading Nier Automata: Creating a Game That is “Unexpected”, That “Keeps Changing Form”