Tag Archives: Labyrinth of Death

Mega Drive Essentials: Fatal Labyrinth

Roguelikes have been around for many years now, but in recent years we’ve seen an explosion in popularity of more accessible games that present a friendlier face to this notoriously obtuse genre.

Well-received Western indie titles such as Spelunky, Rogue Legacy, Dungeons of Dredmor, FTL and numerous others helped popularise (and, some may argue, dilute) the roguelike genre. At the same time, games such as One Way Heroics and the Mystery Dungeon series helped develop the genre in a distinctively Japanese direction.

But this development isn’t quite as recent as you might think. In fact, we’ve had accessible console-style roguelikes since the 16-bit era, though many may not have been aware of “roguelike” as a genre at the time. And a great — if particularly punishing — example can be found in the form of Sega’s Fatal Labyrinth (aka Shi no Meikyuu: Labyrinth of Death, no relation to Compile Heart’s MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death) for Mega Drive.

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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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