It’s always entertaining when a game comes along that repeatedly punches you in the face, kicks you in the gut, and expects you to love every second of it. Anyone who’s played either of the past two Etrian Odyssey games will be well acquainted with the terror that sets in when you’re deep inside the labyrinth with a party of warriors barely clinging to life. Fighting your way back to the surface in order to save the game before a nasty monsters chows down on your band of spent adventures, instantly eradicating the last hour you spent meticulously grinding away to beef them up, makes for some intense dungeon crawling. Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City is every bit as brutal as its sadistic predecessors, but a bevy of new classes and some awesome features make the punishing trek back into the death-dealing underground catacombs a truly worthwhile adventure.
The partially submerged catacombs beneath the coastal city of Armoroad sure do look pretty familiar, and the blanket call for adventures to dig deep into their depths to chart every nook and cranny of the monster-filled caverns offers the same core setup of the previous games, even if the plot itself grows more interested the deeper you go. Much of the newness in Etrian Odyssey III’s classic dungeon crawling RPG gameplay comes in the form of subtle refinements to the original formula. You’ll still craft a custom party of armed sword wielders and spell casters, venture down into unknown dungeons, battle unruly beasts and hunt for treasure, and map out every step of the way using the game’s excellent touch screen cartography system. A substantial number of small tweaks make the gameplay flow better, but a few of the more drastic updates really add a lot to the experience.
With 10 completely new character classes to pick from at the get-go (and several super sweet secret unlockable classes opened up later in the game), fine-tuning your party of dungeon explorers and unlocking their various unique abilities is just as absorbing as ever. Among some of the more interesting new classes, Wildlings can call various woodland creatures into battle, Ninjas can split themselves in twain for double the fighting power, Farmers can provide serious benefits during exploration, and Buccaneers can capitalize on friendly attacks. Further along in the game you can even assign subclasses to characters to really tinker with them if you choose.
This variety and flexibility in character customization makes the many hours of inevitable grinding you’ll need to plow through in order to spelunk into the deepest levels of the labyrinth more enjoyable. Limit Skills also lend some serious killing power to your party, and they’re essential for slaying the über powerful FOEs and boss creatures that roam the wilds. These abilities can be slotted across your entire party in different configurations, and when triggered, they let you take an extra action like delivering vicious multi-pronged attacks, boosting your entire party’s defenses, and ramping-up attack power, among other things.
When it comes to map-making, which is still a lot of fun, Etrian Odyssey III is almost identical to the first two games. The simple drag-and-drop icon placement mixed with grid-based line doodling and painting lets you easily recreate the 2D map version of the environments you’re adventuring through in 3D on the top screen. Aside from a few new icons, the only noteworthy addition is a fantastic auto route system that lets you drop arrow icons onto the map to create moving escalator like pathways. When turned on, your party will automatically walk the programmed route until, though they can also be turned off just as easily. They make trekking back and forth through long stretches of dungeon much easier, and they’re also an awesome way to generate non-stop circular auto loops that save your hand from cramping up during long grinding sessions when you’re searching for random monster battles.
For the moments where you get sick of venturing through Etrian Odyssey III’s exhaustive and expansive dungeons, there’s a whole ocean to explore topside, which presents its own unique spin on the core gameplay. Bouncing back and forth between the two offers a great balance and changes up the game just enough to freshen things up. Decking out your ship with food and other gear, you can sail on the seas beyond Armoroad’s coast. Beyond a visual change of pace, these oceans provide a whole new realm of space to map out, unique missions to take on, and new means to procure money and treasure. However, every square of the ocean grid you sail consumes one day’s worth of food, limited how far your can travel based on the kinds of food you have. It also costs money to sail, so you must also balance your income from fishing and treasure hunting with the expense of loading up your ship with the necessary equipment. The ocean also facilitates a very limited multiplayer component that lets up to five players join a single party to battle bosses on the seas – it’s not quite the level of co-op adventuring we’d like to have in the game, but it’s another option worth exploring nonetheless.
Though it’s very similar to the first two games, Etrian Odyssey III offers up enough cool new twists to merit another lengthy round of catacomb cruising and FOE crushing. It’s a ridiculously challenge old-school RPG experience to be sure, and you can expect to have your party wiped out frequently amidst streams of curses and a few rage quits. But even so, it’s a dungeon crawler we heartily stand behind.
Oct 1, 2010