Tag Archives: Compile Heart

What’s in the Box: Mary Skelter: Nightmares

Another recent release and a recent acquisition is Idea Factory’s Mary Skelter: Nightmares, an intriguing-sounding dungeon crawler featuring interpretations of numerous fairy tale characters and some cool mechanics.

Once again, this is a game I’d like to spend a full month giving the full Cover Game treatment, so today we’re primarily focused on what’s in the limited edition box. Idea Factory’s limited editions have typically been some of my favourite to date — helped along rather by the fact I’m yet to play a game by them that I haven’t enjoyed immensely — and so I was excited to get my hands on this one.

So without further ado, let’s take a look inside.

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MeiQ: Narrative, Themes and Characterisation

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.

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MeiQ: Building a Better Dungeon

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.

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MeiQ: Girls and Guardians

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.

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MeiQ: Introduction and History

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?

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Fairy Fencer F ADF: Sights and Sounds

Fairy Fencer F and its Advent Dark Force counterpart represent an interesting melting pot of influences.

We’ve already talked about how the gameplay includes influences from Compile Heart’s own Neptunia series, and how the narrative includes influences from classic JRPGs of yore, but Fairy Fencer F’s diverse background is perhaps most apparent when it comes to its audio-visual aesthetic.

Featuring concept art by Yoshitaka Amano of Final Fantasy fame, character designs by Tsunako of Neptunia fame and contributions to the soundtrack from longtime Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu and his band Earthbound Papas, Fairy Fencer F certainly has some impressively heavyweight talent behind it.

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Fairy Fencer F ADF: Narrative, Themes and Characterisation

Compile Heart games, as we’ve previously discussed, don’t exactly follow the mould of the stereotypical JRPG. However, this doesn’t stop them from having a strong sense of worldbuilding.

You may not be able to freely wander the whole world in a Compile Heart game as you can do in a more open-world adventure, but physically representing something isn’t the only way to give the player a feeling of time and place. You can also do it through the writing.

And this is exactly how Compile Heart builds its worlds, both in its popular Neptunia series and in its outlier titles such as Omega Quintet and Fairy Fencer F. The latter, in particular, demonstrates that the company is more than capable of building a convincing world with an interesting mythology using relatively minimal resources.

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