First person dungeon crawlers are kind of rare these days, but in recent days they seem to be facing a small boom in terms of numbers, with Soul Hackers dropping this month and Shin Megami Tensei IV getting a US release recent it seems that NIS and Atlus are trying to fill this niche. So when presented with Etrian Odyssey I got to see if the genre appealed to me at all and well, it did.
Etrian Odyssey isn’t exactly friendly to new players but isn’t so off putting that you will throw your DS aside if you fall flat, throwing the player straight into the fray with a form of playable tutorial that places the player into immediate danger of a dungeon, you’re shown how to put together the mechanics of the gameplay quickly and clearly. Mapping is a big part of the game allowing the player to keep notes about the dungeons as you progress through them, making notes of points that are strategically beneficial or where you may find a great deal of resources.
Party customisation is an important thing, allowing you to set up a fair number of your own party members that you will level up and control as you make your way up the path to Yggdrassil, being your ultimate aim. The story is fairly patchy for the most part and acts as window dressing for what is essentially a game that hinges greatly on player progression as its main aim as opposed to plot progression. Your skill comes from your ability to plan ahead and ensure that your party is as protected as possible.
The battle system is simple and rotates around a basic buff, debuff and exploit system making you think about the combos and chain that you create. Your characters won’t move forward purely by brute strength (although that is an option) you’ll have to use your brain to figure out the best way to take out bigger enemies, those that may be stronger than you and think about ways to prevent them from attacking you by forcing them with status debuffs and elemental weaknesses. Due to this your focus becomes less on levelling up and more along the lines of how you’ll get past this next boss, through tactics your characters eventually topple foes that were worrying road blocks and just stride past them.
Your chosen characters won’t really express much joy or personality, this isn’t their role. Your initial customisation is drawn from a series of archetypal anime designs available for each class, with a gender appropriate option for each, letting you choose from a series of classes and form a team based on your choices. You could choose six healers, you could choose six warriors. It’d probably not be a good idea – but you could do it. From there you slowly but surely unlock more and more points that let you select talents for your characters, these talents make each class differentiate slightly and unlock benefits for you, such as a passive heal ability for post battle or moves that trigger fire damage on following attacks – planning what points you put where is a massive part of what you’ll be doing. Their equipment is gathered by grinding for monster parts, which can be a little annoying but most of the items tend to drop naturally.
The soundtrack is also well done, with catchy memorable tunes that infectiously sneaked their ways into my head and wouldn’t let go. I found even after I closed the lid of the 3DS I would be humming them. Fitting the anime style well, when you jump into battle it reminds you of some shonen manga world, as well as classic RPGs like Dragon Quest.
Whilst this isn’t a game that is designed for everyone, having no familiarity with the series prior to this installment I didn’t really find it difficult to engage myself and learn about the game systems. Etrian Odyssey tells you everything important you need to about it from the get go, and whilst everything else is left to you, the rewards you gain from learning about everything is worth it alone.
There isn’t really much to say about Etrian Odyssey ultimately, if you’re an RPG fan and you’re looking for something to eat up your time you couldn’t go wrong.
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