Etrian Odyssey is a game neither for sissies or those expecting instant gratification. It’s “rape me in the ass” difficulty presents the player with ever-frustrating floors that increase seemingly exponentially in difficulty and prides itself on forcing you to grind as well as deal with constant trial and error. While it may not be for everybody, hardcore fans of this particular blend of dungeon crawler will not be able to put this title down.
Available For: Nintendo DS
Developer(s): Atlus, Lancarse
Publisher(s): Atlus, Nintendo
Release Date: 2007
Archetype(s): Dungeon Crawler, First Person Perspective, Hardcore, RPG.
Recently I picked up a Nintendo DS emulator that actually works. I’ve been super broke lately and trying to recap on old titles I either never got a chance to try, never got a chance to beat, or just never paid much attention to. One particular type of game that I started getting addicted to was the dungeon crawler. The dungeon crawler archetype is a very simple form of RPG that taps at the very root of what makes most RPGs fun: grinding.
What, you thought I was going to say ridiculous and often nonsensical plots, amazing FMVs, melodramatic romances, or androgynous characters? Sorry, this isn’t Square-Enix we’re talking about here. No, this is your grandfather’s RPG. It’s a man’s man’s game. This game kicks ass and takes names. To put it shortly, this game will beat your ass over and over, but if you love this sort of game, you’ll take the punishment and keep coming back.
And why is that? Because it’s nearly flawless from a technical angle. Sure, the sequels improve upon the formula a bit, but they’re essentially the same game, just with different balance and slightly altered features. A recolor and not much else, really. So what IS the game, anyway? Well, Etrian Odyssey is a dungeon crawler in that you have a hub (the town) and the dungeon. You waltz into the dungeon, grind, then get the fuck out. Wash, rinse, repeat.
There really isn’t much to say from a general overview. This is, at its core, what you will be doing 99% of the time. Where the game shines is in all the little details. For example, you don’t get money from monsters. No, you get stuff. What kind of stuff? Well, it depends on the monster. Usually you end up getting monster parts and whatever else. You can also mine, chop wood, and pick various flowers and stuff.
This all amounts to having a crapton of…well, crap. For what purpose? When you go back to the town, you sell it all off. Certain things have higher value than others, but the purpose of selling is twofold. Sure, you gain a profit for selling, but you may also trigger the ability to purchase new items. This is very similar to what Persona 4 has done…in fact, it’s effectively the same feature. Instead of the shop going through various equipment updates, as you find more and different kinds of crap in the dungeons, more items and equipment become available.
Another interesting feature is the level up system. See, there are several different types of classes available here with a couple locked out until certain requirements are met later. So you have various warrior classes, a medic class, a mage class, and so on. When you level up, you get a skill point. Depending on what you’ve “purchased” in the past, certain things are available for that specific class.
It’s not inherently obvious what exactly will branch out or become unlocked to you when you purchase skills and enemies being as tough as they are, you have to carefully think both short and long term about how you want each individual character to develop and exactly what sort of role they will provide in combat. While some roles are obvious, such as the medic, certain classes like the protector are a little more interesting and require you to carefully think about how you want them to work.
The one aspect I could say potentially turning people off from this game completely is the constant necessity to grind and the often overbearing difficulty. I’m at level 17 with most of my characters, yet wandering into floor 5 can still be a death sentence. The worst part is I have a boss to fight, who is impossible enough, but often he’ll call in minibosses which could very well pass as a boss as is. It’s also not immediately obvious if you can run from these fights or not until you actually enter combat.
Another thing that could turn people off, but I find to be charming, is the mapping. See, TECHNICALLY there is an automap feature in that as you wander the dungeon, the basic floor plan is scrawled onto your map. However, nothing else is. So walls, chests, search points, doors, and much more aren’t automatically put on the map. No, instead the game opts for you to sit down and do it yourself.
At first, that sounds unnecessarily time consuming and obnoxious for a game that may already turn people off, but I actually enjoy it. I can make it however I want with all kinds of notes and stuff. As far as the grinding goes, especially when I’m not interested in a bunch of fancy storylines and I just want to sit down and game, the necessity for grinding is refreshing because I’m continously improving both my characters and my map and continuously plotting out how I want both to work.
So would I recommend this game? Actually, yes. But again, this is a niche within a niche quite possibly within another niche. It’s not a bad game. Not by a long shot. But I can see how it would easily turn people off. Bottom line, if you like dungeon crawlers and you really enjoy tough RPGs, this is right up your alley, especially if you’re looking for something portable.