Etrian Mystery Dungeon Review (3DS)
Tom Freeman goes exploring…
Dungeon heavy, mystery lite
Spike Chunsoft’s Mystery dungeon games are usually lighter on story than traditional RPGs, instead focusing on repetitive yet addictive randomly generated dungeon crawling.
The latest addition to the genre, Etrian Mystery Dungeon is no exception. Set in the world of the Etrian Odyssey games made by Atlus, this game wastes no time with exposition or scene-setting and gets straight into the dungeons.
The extensive cut-scenes and character development a la Final Fantasy Tactics are notably absent, even if the child-like anime character design and nice score culled from previous Etrian Odyssey titles give it a certain charm.
Only the lead character is directly controlled by the player, with the other three members of the squad following along and providing support during battles. If the leader gets badly wounded, you can swap them out for one of the other characters, tag-team style.
If your squad dies, the party is sent back to town without their gold and items, so this provokes a cautious playing style. If you fortify a room in the dungeon you can lead a team of other characters in a rescue mission to get their stuff back, which is neat. These forts represent portable load points, and clever use of them turns the game’s difficulty level down a bit in a fun and creative way.
Sending standby characters to man these forts also levels them up faster, which comes in very useful in later parts of the game when the stakes, and monsters size, is taken up a notch.
Starting Etrian Mystery Dungeon, players can be forgiven for mistaking it for a Ys-style action rpg because the turn-based strategy element is hidden and takes some getting used to. Characters move freely and only once combat has started does it become apparent they are taking turns. This makes the controls quite fiddly, and you have to remind yourself to be patient and think about the strategy, because the visual style is screaming at you to hammer the attack button whilst trying to flank the enemy.
Even when acclimatised, this is fast-paced for a turn-based strategy game. The analogue nub on the 3DS is not brilliant at diagonals, and this can lead to some frustrating mistakes during tough battles. Indeed, a rather clunky interface and some questionable NPC AI also add to the frustration.
Having said that, the strategy is deceptively deep, and things like managing your party composition and formation are increasingly crucial as the dungeons get progressively more epic.
There are some interesting hybrid classes to choose from including Ninjas, Dancers and Royals so there are loads of combinations to experiment with, and swapping them about to make sure they level up quickly also makes for some quite tense dungeon bashing as you try and protect your weakest character.
Each dungeon is a challenge, even during the early tutorial-level missions, and there will be frequent forays into previously finished dungeons to grind for gold and experience. Every time you enter a dungeon the layout has completely changed.
Some may find the constant repetition of entering dungeons and levelling up regressive and repetitive, and may not have patience with what is quite a tough learning curve.
Those who stick with it will find a deeply rewarding experience suited to the 3DS. It’s one of the best dungeon crawlers on the platform.
It could with a bit more flavour text on the tenuous and tokenistic storyline to flesh out the setting and characters’ backstory, but even without being emotionally invested in its protagonists, Etrian Mystery Dungeon does have you coming back for more.
7 dead guild members out of 10