Tag Archives: dungeon crawler

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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Dungeon Travelers 2: Sights and Sounds

A big draw of Dungeon Travelers 2 is its gorgeous presentation. This shouldn’t be surprising, given its heritage, but it really does have a distinctive look and feel to it.

Its visual aesthetic also proved to be the most controversial aspect of the game, with commentators such as Polygon’s Phil Kollar refusing to take the game seriously due to its appearance. This is particularly sad, as the game has some lovely art, some distinctive character designs and a very strong sense of style to it.

Let’s take a look at the art and sound of Dungeon Travelers 2, then.

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Dungeon Travelers 2: Narrative, Themes and Characterisation

The dungeon crawler genre isn’t particularly renowned for its storytelling, though this isn’t necessarily a criticism.

The genre grew out of tabletop adventures where the players just wanted to hack and slash their way through some monsters and take their treasure, after all, so it’s understandable that a computerised version of this type of adventure would emphasise mechanics — particularly combat — over narrative.

That doesn’t mean that your average dungeon crawler is completely devoid of plot, however, and in recent years Japanese developers in particular have shown how to strike a good balance between narrative, characterisation and satisfying mechanics. Dungeon Travelers 2 is a prime example.

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Dungeon Travelers 2: Historical Context and Mechanics

The dungeon crawler subgenre of role-playing games has a long and proud history that stretches right back to the dawn of gaming.

Dungeon Travelers 2 perhaps doesn’t deviate particularly significantly from the more well established conventions of the genre, but it executes them with such polished competence that it becomes clear shortly after starting to play that it is a game that has had a great deal of thought put into its mechanics.

But how did we get to this point? Let’s take a look back at the history of the genre, and how it relates to Dungeon Travelers 2 in particular.

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