A Surprisingly Successful Mash-Up
If you’re a handheld gamer, chances are you’ve heard of both the Etrian Odyssey series and the Mystery Dungeon series. These two games are at complete opposites of the RPG spectrum. Why then, when mashed together does Etrian Mystery Dungeon work so well? I remember the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games froma few years back, but I’ll admit I’ve never really played them. The same could be said of Etrian Odyssey. I’ve dabbled in EO4, but the series never hooked me.
It’s weird then that Etrian Mystery Dungeon (EMD) has locked its deceptively simplistic claws into me since I was first given the review code about a month ago. The basics of the Etrian series is that you create and manage a party (or parties) of adventures of varying skills and classes, and send them into randomly generated dungeons. Usually you do this in the first person, but when combined with the Mystery Dungeon series, said random dungeons are now tackled from a top-down view with turn-based strategic battles from room to room of each dungeon.
In all fights except boss battles, you only ever control the leader of your party, which can be switched at will. For most of my adventures, I took control of the tank and rounded out the party with another melee, a healer, and a ranged DPS. During regular fights, AI options can be easily set to make sure your healer’s doing their job and your other fighters are using their skills. It’s standard enough dungeon-delving RPG fare, really. But the catch with EMD is that the game is also something of a roguelike. If your whole party falls in the dungeon, you lose all your progress and possibly some items. Your party will need food to keep from getting hungry, and dungeons are long, dangerous affairs that you will fail to clear sometimes. EMD is not exactly Darkest Dungeon or Bloodborne, but its cute chibi anime graphics might fool you into believing it’s child’s play.
The many, many characters you’ll recruit and form into parties and level up are just one layer to the game’s micromanagement mayhem. You’ll also be building and managing forts on different levels of the game’s many dungeons. These forts will not only help your adventurers stay leveled on par with your more active parties, but they’ll also keep the floors of the dungeon they’re built upon static (not randomized every time you enter). And most importantly, they’ll help fight off D.O.E.s: much stronger versions of normal enemies that will eventually begin to try and invade your town. In doing so they can destroy what you’ve built up and take away all the bonuses you’ve earned through your many adventures in the dungeons.
It’s a marvelously complex system that really makes sure players are doing more than just running through dungeons looting and leveling. I mean, that’s still the biggest part of the game, it is an RPG after all, but Atlus and Spike Chunsoft have collaborated wonderfully here to bring two divergently styled games together in one addictively deep and lasting experience. You could potentially beat the game’s main story in about 30 hours or so, but I’m betting most folks will wind up taking much longer because there are so many side quests, dungeons to clear, forts to level, classes to experiment with, and loot to be crafted.
If you’re a fan of either series, this game’s a no brainer for you already. It’s the best of both worlds. But if you’re new to 3DS gaming and looking for a unique dungeon-crawling RPG, there are probably even better games to start with. Etrian Mystery Dungeon is almost confusing in its complexity beyond the first few dungeons, though seasoned RPG-ers will relish in this aspect. It’s a game with few real faults, and well worth every penny.
GAMEPLAY – 7: There’s so much to do in EMD, you’ll certainly be kept busy. The lack of true navigation of the town may be a downer, but it’s an ode to how town navigation works in the Etrian series, so it’s hard to fault. Of all the game’s systems, the one that’s probably weakest is the fort building, but it’s also one of the most necessary deeper into the game. The combat outside of bosses can also seem more like a chore than a game, because you can only ever control one character.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND – 7: In comparison to other more recent 3DS games like Monster Hunter, EMD looks a little dated. Its dungeons merely a series of winding halls and open rooms, and the 3D effects are hardly used at all (you’ll be better off setting the game to 2D). Still the music and sound effects are charming, and the combination of Etrian and Mystery Dungeon styles works well.
LONGEVITY – 9: With dozens of hours for a single playthrough, planned free DLC, and loads of replayabilty through randomization, EMD could last you months.
POLISH – 10: What can I say? I didn’t run into any bugs or glaring issues and the game was basically ready to launch when we got our review codes back in March. Proof positive that Atlus and Spike Chunsoft take pride in their work.
VALUE – 10: $40, the standard 3DS price for a game, and dozens of hours of dungeon delving? You can’t really go wrong there.