Worlds collide as two major Japanese studios come together to bring you Etrian Mystery Dungeon, a mash-up of all the best parts of the Etrian Odyssey and Mystery Dungeon series’ of Japanese role-playing games. With the potential for dozens upon dozens of hours of dungeon crawling, rogue-like action, this is one collaboration worth checking out for more than just the crossover fan service it provides.
Etrian Mystery Dungeon is developed by Spike Chunsoft/Atlus and published by Atlus
Release date: April 7th, 2015
Rated: E 10+ (Everyone 10+)
Genre: Role-playing game
Consoles: Nintendo 3DS
It’s My Party
Having played previous games in the Etrian Odyssey series, I was instantly at home in Etrian Mystery Dungeon’s familiar class/party system, which borrows primarily from the former. Prior to jumping into your first dungeon, you’ll assemble a team of four adventurers chosen from a pool of different classes (eventually you can unlock as many as 10) each with unique roles and abilities. This isn’t the right time to choose a party based on who looks the coolest or strikes the best pose – balancing your party matters. It’s up to you to find a proper dynamic that will allow you to plunge further into the depths of each dungeon’s increasing difficulty. If you choose to dive in without a healer, you’re going to have a bad time. If you decide to roll with a full team of four ninjas (maybe so that you can name them all after renaissance painters for a laugh), you’re going to have a bad time!
Each class falls into one or more of the four main categories that veterans of party-based adventure games are likely familiar with: Tank, DPS (Damage), Healer, and Support. While it’s generally a good idea to bring along one character from each distinction, you may find a different formula that works better for you. It’s a ton of fun to play around with different combinations in search of the perfect party, and good thing too, because Etrian Mystery Dungeon isn’t going to hold your hand. If you accidently stray a bit too far down into that new dungeon before you’ve mastered your group or levelled appropriately, you will be defeated.
While the party system is drawn from the Etrian Odyssey series, the combat and gameplay itself is where the Mystery Dungeon series lends its style. Each dungeon is a multi-floor map made up of randomly generated rooms, meaning that no two trips will ever be the same. The objective is most often to reach the bottom floor of the dungeon and come out the other end, but various missions and side quests will give you plenty to do along the way, and reason to revisit dungeons again and again. You’ll want to be constantly levelling your party as well as farming items and crafting materials for the tough road ahead, so it’s a good idea to fully explore every nook and cranny before moving on rather than simply racing to the end and trying to advance to areas beyond your abilities.
In addition to gaining experience and increasing base statistics, levelling also provides each character with skill points, which are crucial to success. Each character has unique abilities which can be purchased and bolstered by investing those hard earned skill points, so do not forget to invest them regularly. I’m embarrassed to admit that I neglected to promptly assign the first few rounds of points I had earned, and was summarily disposed of by the first group of truly powerful enemies that I encountered somewhere around the fifth floor of the first dungeon. Only then did I take a look at my status to investigate why I was so seemingly underpowered, and discovered the shame that was my miserly collection of unspent skill-based currency.
Maneuvering the dungeon floor is a turn-based affair, with each action resulting in the passing of time, allowing for unilateral movement by any enemies in the area, as well as other events such as the regeneration of health, and the depletion of energy (measured in “hunger”). You will control only the group leader (a position that can be constantly cycled on-the-fly), while the rest of the party follows your lead, but takes their own initiative when engaging in combat. Given the time to think between actions, strategic planning can become your best ally when engaging the enemy whilst simultaneously managing health and hunger. Impulsive and rash decisions and movements – particularly when moving forward into a new area – are the quickest way to find yourself blindsided by unfavourable circumstances.
What’s The Story?
That’s a good question, particularly because I’m not sure there’s an answer, but frankly for once I’m just fine with that. One thing many Japanese role-playing games (JRPG’s) are notorious for is extended opening scenes and drawn out stories. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the time that’s what we JRPG fans love about them, but sometimes it’s nice to just dig into some action too. Normally when I start up a new JRPG for the first time, I don’t expect to reach any substantial “gameplay” for at least an hour, but Etrian Mystery Dungeon takes a refreshing approach in throwing you directly into the fray. You are an adventurer in a time of adventures … what else is there to know? Within five minutes of stepping foot into the town of Aslarga, I was given a hearty welcome, a slap on the back, and a bit of gear. Then somebody pointed me in the direction of the first dungeon, and I was on my way. Perfect.
Why It’s Best On 3DS
Handheld consoles are generally my favourite place to play JRPGs, so the fact that Etrian Mystery Dungeon is a 3DS-only title suits me just fine. In fact, I’d say it’s crafted perfectly for playing on-the-go. The 15-30 minutes on average that it takes to explore a dungeon, level up, sell junk, and craft/forge new gear is the perfect chunk of time for a train ride or a coffee break. I love games where I can jump in, accomplish something, and jump out when I have just a few minutes to spare, and Etrian Mystery Dungeon’s explore and upgrade loop scratches that itch perfectly. For that reason I expect this game to be kicking around in my sleeve of “currently playing” 3DS cartridges for weeks, maybe months to come.
Unfortunately Etrian Mystery Dungeon doesn’t make particularly great use of the 3D capabilities of the console (a feature I’m much more acutely aware of and interested in since upgrading to the New Nintendo 3DS XL), nor is it very astounding on the graphical front in general, but I can forgive the lack of shine where it’s made up for in fun and addictive gameplay. The dual screen feature of the 3DS is always a feather in the cap of map and inventory dependent JRPG gamers, and the ever-changing layouts of the dungeons in Etrian Mystery Dungeon make having that information visible at all times all the more useful. I always love when a game comes across as intentionally suited for the console it has been developed for, and all-in-all this one is a great fit.
Etrian Mystery Dungeon is a fantastic addition to the strong family of JRPG’s that exist for the Nintendo 3DS. Its pacing is broken up perfectly, allowing it to be equally as suited for little bouts of gaming on-the-go as it is for longer sessions on the couch. The crossover elements of the game are well thought out, taking some of the best parts of each series and fusing them together in an intuitive way that works. This isn’t two games forced together for the sake of fan service or a quick cash grab – Atlus and Spike Chunsoft have done right by their respective properties here, working together to meld two great properties into one very fun title.
+ Well-paced, addictive gameplay
+ Strong party system
+ Well thought out crossover elements, not just mashed together
– Nothing particularly special about graphics/presentation
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5/5
Overall Rating 4/5 (80%)