Etrian Odyssey III ReviewJordan Weagly
Before plunging into Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City, make sure you know what you're getting into. This game demands hours of toiling in the unforgiving depths of a dungeon, obsessively mapping that dungeon, fighting enemies you shouldn't even be near and slowly advancing the characters of your 5-slot party. The storyline sticks together well but is nothing spectacularmildly interesting at bestand is obviously secondary to the actual gameplay. If all this sounds wonderful, you're in for a really enjoyable experience with Etrian Odyssey III. Players new to the series will experience a sharp learning curve that could be frustrating but veterans and hardcore RPG fans will enjoy Etrian Odyssey III for what it is: an engrossing, familiar, and carefully polished RPG.
The Labyrinth is split into distinct stratums (the first is a forest, the second is water-based, the third is lava, and so on), and each stratum is split into different floors. When talking to NPCs, conducting battles, and managing your party, everything is two dimensional. Far from detrimental, the simple 2D graphics strengthen the game's focus on leveling, battling, and configuring the party. The interface is clean, readable, and contains all features you would expect from an RPG.
The dungeon is a bit more complex. Players explore the Labyrinth in first-person. This 3D world reminiscent of the Windows 95 maze screen saver is fleshed out with fauna, water, lava, shiny harvesting spots, treasure chests, and everything you might expect from a dungeon. There are only three or four wall textures for each stratum but excellent room design and strong differences between floors overshadows this weakness. Though the game designers clearly made some rooms and passages misleading, an accurate map makes this irrelevant.
Each floor must be mapped much like graph paper dungeons for table top RPGs. All of the mapping takes place on the bottom screen and remains as a separate entity from the action-packed top screen, even in battles. The mapping tools include a wall pencil, three floor tile colors, and 18 icons (including a little tent, a pickaxe, and a door). Unfortunately, there is no key for these tools so it may take awhile for new players to get acclimated. Once you understand the purpose of each icon and how to use each tool, the mapping system work well. After totally mapping a level you can proceed through the floor as if the game had given you the directions. Just don't make any mistakes! If there's a wall drawn on the map where there's actually a hallway, you could end up walking in circles reinspecting every wall to find the inaccuracy.
This is a grind heavy game, so be prepared to spend a good deal of time running around in circles anyway. An auto-pilot system which allows the player to walk in unlimited, automatic paths can help to facilitate the grind. If you can, determine a party configuration that works for you early in the game. This will prevent you from leveling characters that you won't use (which can be frustrating and monotonous). If the party configuration isn't strong, enemies take full advantage of that weakness and may summon the Game Over screen faster than expected. Much of the game is spent looking at an enemy and orchestrating its death, and the game has a strong combat system to support this necessity.
Battles are smooth and well-configured. Random encounters occur when a small glowing orb at the bottom right corner of the screen changes from blue to red. An auto attack function helps with easier fights and grinding sessions and holding A after inputting commands speeds the battle substantially. Especially hard enemies called FOEs (field-on enemy in Japanese, freaking overpowered enemies in colloquial English) mean almost certain death when you first see them on a floor. Yet FOEs can be identified (they are clearly marked on the map), avoided, and killed eventually. Appropriately wimpy or scary enemies inhabit the Labyrinth, including bugs and scary furry critters on early floors and mean-looking monsters with big nasty teeth on later floors. Survival in all battles, even early in the game, depends on a solid party configuration.
There are 12 classes to start and 2 unlockable classes that require a playthrough of the game each, which adds a bit to this game's strong replay value. At level 30 characters can take a subclass and the max level is 70. Each class have two or three skill trees with completely different effects and requiring massive skill point allotments. It takes awhile to level and progress through a skill tree, but there's plenty of loot to keep the grind interesting enough. For instance, rare items drop when enemies are killed in certain ways, like with a spear or without using magic. It's refreshing to play with a system for rare drops that removes the sheer luck element of many RPGs.
One of the important additions to the series is the sea exploration mode. Early in the game, you are encouraged to navigate a massive ocean in your (free) ship and draw a map with an entirely new set of tile colors and icons. As the game progresses, you can go father on the ocean, gain access to profitable items, new locations, and special co-op multiplayer missions (these can be played solo). Sea exploration isn't necessary to the main storyline, but it's a great cash farm and a nice break from dungeon crawling.
Etrian Odyssey III is an excellent game but it's a pretty hardcore RPG (if such a thing exists...). As a retired MMO player, I'm no stranger to long grinds, trash loot, and slow character progressionin fact I thrive on these game elements. There is no doubt that certain gamers will love the mapping, grinding, and dugeon-crawling experience and other gamers will return their cartridge immediately. Nonetheless, Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City is a polished and immersive experience containing all of the steadfast RPG elements.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.