Title: Etrian Mystery Dungeon
Developer/Publisher: Spike Chunsoft/Atlus
Release Date: April 7, 2015 (NA)
Etrian Odyssey is a well-known franchise among 3DS-owning dungeon-crawler enthusiasts; Spike Chunsoft’s Mystery Dungeon series has had a crossover outing on the 3DS before in Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity. This particular crossover is so seamless in combining elements from both games that you might not even think it is one. Crossover aside, is it worth playing?
Etrian Mystery Dungeon takes place in a town near the Amber Yggdrasil, the ‘tree of life’ in Norse mythology. Skyships take adventurers to different branches of the Yggdrasil; these branches, complete areas in themselves, constitute the dungeons in the game. Adventurers are important: the town provost is keen on keeping plenty of adventurers in the town guild and having them explore the Yggdrasil as much as possible, in preparation for the Day of Reckoning, when the town will have to sustain a repeat of the monster blitz that all but destroyed it a year ago.
There is certainly more focus on story than in lots of other dungeon-crawlers. The story is slow-moving, especially at first, but it holds your interest throughout. The quests are the main focus, but the characters become deeper the farther you progress: the provost and the guildmaster in particular, even though at first the slow-moving story made me mistake them for simple quest-assigning and guild-managing characters.
It’s in the gameplay that Etrian Mystery Dungeon shines, as it should, as any roguelike RPG should. Taking the basic Mystery Dungeon gameplay and then spiffing it up with Etrian Odyssey’s character classes and systems, it had me going, “Just one more quest, just one more dungeon crawl.” You can create characters from one of several classes, deck them out with weapons, accessories and armour, and then advance into dungeons. Your party can have up to four characters, although you can create and leave others in guilds and forts – they’ll earn small amounts of experience, meaning that if you form a rescue party when your primary one gets defeated, you won’t be horrendously underpowered.
The ten character classes each have their own pros and cons. Landsknechts are the most balanced class and your party can’t do without one. Protectors are defensive and can take a lot of hits before they fall. Gunners are good for ranged combat, Runemasters are weak against enemy attacks but can cast powerful spells, Medics are primarily meant for healing the rest of your party, Dancers can give your characters stat boosts, Ninjas are great for short offensive combat, Hexers are important for weakening enemies, Sovereigns and Wanderers fall somewhere in-between on the attacking/support spectrum. Having a balanced party is crucial to success. While having a Medic might appear to be a given, I managed to get by just as well using a Dancer with heal skills. A balanced party, in my experience, should have a Landsknecht, a Protector, a spellcaster and a support character. Characters get Skill Points when they level up, which can be used to buy new skills for them or enhance existing ones.
You accept story quests from the town provost, Magan, and side-quests from the town’s restaurant. The side-quests are mostly enjoyable, except for the solo quests which require you to fulfil certain conditions with only one character of a particular class. These were somewhat grating because of how important having a balanced party is to survival, but they let you unlock special skills so they are worth grinding through. You should complete all the side-quests, because as Imhotep from The Mummy would say, the rewards will be great.
While it might look like a real-time game, Etrian Mystery Dungeon, like other roguelikes, is turn-based. Each step your characters take or each action they perform counts as a turn – you take a step, enemies take a step. There are two kinds of maps: the dungeon map, which simply shows the floors of the dungeon, and the zone map, which fills itself out at you move through the dungeon. Dungeons are randomly generated and are different each time you enter, unless you build a fort. The upper screen shows your characters in action, along with their HUDs. Along with HP, they also have TP which is for using skills and FP which gauges their hunger – the longer they spend in the dungeon, the hungrier they get. If a character’s FP reaches zero, their health declines with every turn; consuming food items satiates them, or you can step on amber tiles scattered throughout the dungeons; they also restore TP. Amber is the energy in the game, and boss monsters absorb it to get to their hideous gargantuan powerful state. Fortunately only your leader character’s FP declines with each turn.
The leader is the character you control directly, whereas the others are controlled automatically except in boss battles. While the AI was generally good, often the computer-controlled characters would step on a trap tile that my leader had just stepped off of. You can switch between leaders any time in the dungeons. You have to progress deeper into the dungeons to advance, and you can build forts as well.
Forts are important. They freeze the dungeons’ otherwise random and ever-changing layout. Characters not in use can be stationed there, and they prevent D.O.E.s from getting to town. D.O.E.s are the most dangerous enemies, and usually you’ll have to run from them. If you’re really unlucky they might corner you and defeat is inevitable. Ariadne Threads are items that allow immediate escape from the dungeon, and you should never enter a dungeon without one. If a D.O.E. reaches town, they’ll destroy the facilities adventurers use there, and you’ll have to pay a princely sum to get them repaired. If your party gets defeated in a dungeon and doesn’t manage to get rescued, you’ll lose all your gear.
By the way, the game doesn’t let you cheat at all. If you close the game without quick-saving, it treats it as a defeat and you’ll come back to find all your equipment gone. Oh, and don’t even think about thieving from the wandering Red Lion Shoppe in the dungeons. Trust me.
Boss battles are the most exciting bits in the game. All characters have to be controlled manually, and you have to make sure your attacking characters manage to get right up to the boss to get some good hits in and your support characters keep them from dying (and dish out a few attacks themselves). And while the music is good in the other parts of the game, during boss battles it turns it up to eleven and is guaranteed to send shivers of electricity down your spine within five seconds, two if you like rock.
Once you’re done exploring dungeons, you can sell items and materials you recovered at the town’s retail store. This allows you to buy new gear, and if you have the proper materials, you can enhance your current weapons using Forging and Melding.
The graphics in Etrian Mystery Dungeon are good if not anything special. The 3D characters’ appearance is slightly cute, the enemy designs are all right, the bosses’ designs are excellent. The character art is well done. The visuals are not spectacular but from nowhere do they look bland or bad.
The music is something special during the boss battles, and is up to snuff in the rest of the game too. The sound effects are fine; the enemy-death sound effect has a satisfying feel to it. The menus are easy to navigate through, and there are button shortcuts to make managing one’s party and items easier; you can also assign shortcuts to skills.
The game comes with DLC functionality built in, and the inaugural DLC pack will be free for the first month. There are enough quests in the game to get you your money’s worth, but the developers included room for more, so you should grab the extra missions while they’re free if you buy this game, because to be honest at $1.49 each after the first month they are overpriced for extra quests. There are also Guild Cards which display your party’s stats as well as the leader you choose; these have StreetPass and QR code functionality and let you recruit other players’ characters.
Etrian Mystery Dungeon provides hours upon hours of dungeon-crawling fun. The difficulty, apart from several isolated encounters and those accursed D.O.E.s (well, it was meant to be that way), is balanced. The game is just as accessible for Etrian Odyssey newcomers as for longtime fans. It settles players into a comfortable groove of exploring dungeons and strengthening their party as they move forward in the story, and that’s exactly what fans look forward to.
Overall Score: 8/10